Bill Ferriter tagged me a few weeks ago to participate in the “This I Believe” meme. Started by Barry Bachenheimer, the meme is patterned after National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” and is an opportunity to share one’s philosophy of education. It has taken me some time to respond to Bill’s invitation because, quite simply, I found it difficult to express in words what I try to exemplify through my actions. That said, here is my contribution:
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a discussion on “the future” with a group of third graders. As the children shared their visions of flying cars, living on the moon, and McDonald’s home delivery, one child turned to me and asked, “What do you think the future will be like?” After a moment’s consideration I replied, “Well, Bobby, I don’t know for sure. It has been said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Upon hearing this he promptly declared, “Cool. I’m gonna build a robot that will do all my chores for me.” Take note, Alan Kay; these kids have ideas.
Listening to those young minds trying to imagine what lies ahead gave me pause to reflect on how much my profession, approach to education, and the world itself have changed over the last 17 years. When I began my teaching career in Texas, the World Wide Web was in its infancy, educational software titles were limited, and multimedia authoring left much to be desired. The textbook was our primary classroom resource, learning activities revolved around my content-area expertise, and assessments typically involved pencil and paper. Although I believed I was a fine science teacher, I failed to recognize that my students had limited options for acquiring knowledge, processing information, and demonstrating understanding. We were working in a vacuum and none of us knew it.
I continued to apply my well-intentioned but ill-informed approach to teaching as a department chair. Shortly into my tenure at my current school, however, I was presented with a set of laptop computers and a networked classroom. In addition to Bunsen burners, scales, and test tubes, I suddenly had a new array of equipment at my disposal…and no idea how to use it. As my students and I slowly began exploring technology’s potential, I came to the realization that they were being empowered, as never before, to take ownership of their learning. They were no longer dependent upon my finite knowledge or limited teaching techniques; current information and alternate explanations were only a click away. Media-rich, creative projects found a place alongside tests, quizzes, and research papers. A truly student-centered environment was being formed; the vacuum was preparing to burst.
In my current role as a technology coordinator, I step into classrooms each day that are without limitation. Students and teachers have ubiquitous access to information, concepts can be discovered and explored in myriad ways, and ideas shared through a variety of forums. The challenge today is not a lack of choices but rather how to select and implement the appropriate tools and strategies to make collaboration global, instruction more individualized, and assessment truly meaningful and relevant. If deployed without purpose, technology, like any methodology, will not promote critical thinking and self-awareness. My charge, my passion, is to facilitate the integration of technology while honoring the fact that the heart of education still lies within the human interaction between children and adults.
For Bobby to one day build his robot, he will need teachers who can spark his imagination, nurture his development, and foster a love of learning. If he is to invent the future, he must first come to appreciate the rapidly changing world around him. Although I cannot predict what is to come, I do know that it is my obligation, and privilege, to assist in preparing his generation for the challenges, and opportunities, that surely await.
This I Believe.
To continue the meme, I hereby tag the following and hope they will accept the opportunity to participate:
**Photo courtesy of Xeni on flickr (Creative Commons, non-commercial).