Chasing the Golden Techie.

Why I'm going to teach handwriting...
Why I’m going to teach handwriting…

What are we doing with technology integration these days, anyway?

Sometimes the cure for curiosity is a good, old-fashioned esoteric conversation, even if it’s only with oneself. An issue, a debate, is percolating, brewing rather, and using my Powers of Subtextual Hearing, need to explore some ideas that have fanned before me: I think technology integration is in trouble at my school.

Here’s the situation:

My school, since its re-opening eleven years ago, houses a ‘technology academy.’ (And for the sake of full disclosure, this accounting is from my own anecdotal observations. I am open to others who may read this to add their insight, perspective, and most importantly, corrections to this.) The technology academy consisted, and still does, of two teams, one 7th grade and one 8th grade. The content teams include Humanities (social studies/language arts), Science, and Math. The schedule altered from the rest of the school (I’ll label that Regular MC), using blocks, and rounding out the day with PE/Health and an elective (usually band or orchestra). The students were, and are, (there needs to be a tense that covers all of time) chosen by a lottery system to all of the elementary schools. The program was touted as something unique, elite (in the good way) and supportive of those kids whose interest in technology would be singled out (again, in a good way) and would be inclusive to all students, too. Special Education, Honors, all demographic backgrounds/class, etc. are invited to cast their hopes and chosen. If the student’s home/local elementary or middle school was outside of the boundaries, special arrangements for transportation are made. When I began at the school, the program was in its second year, and had phenomenal leadership, and the teachers worked functionally in their teams, augurs of PLCS to come. When asked, the teachers of the tech academy would offer professional development or guidance, but for the most part, the majority of my tech instructional development has been on my own. There seemed to be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture, sustained by the notion that the students, and teachers, in the tech academy were something special and other. They were the vanguard, the proof of concept, the leaders in technology integration. Some years, the district brass would come to their spring PBL showcase–strongly integrated content areas using the best of the technology and exploration available at the time.

victor courtright

Meanwhile…back in the Regular MC…staff changes, administration changes, etc. made for some instability. However, some of this change proved golden. During these years I, being a nerd/techie/geek myself, loved having the technology for all students, and worked very, very hard to integrate engaging lessons using the technology and best practices for 21st Century Learning Skills. Most of this I did, and do, on my own time and dime. It was often my desire to see how to get the Regular MC kids to feel the same about their school experience as I saw the Tech Academy students. There was a clear difference. Was it about buy-in? Tipping points? Staff trained better, or just simply better? There was no time to think about causes and correlations, because just the job of teaching, getting my Boards, maintaining responsibilities in curriculum leadership and planning, etc. kept my focus, and I could embed engaging technology on my own terms. New teachers infused the staff with their passions about brain research, and another set of colleagues provided whole staff inspiration on their ‘water’ project. In other words, they tried to recreate on a larger scale what the enclave of the academy achieves regularly. But without support as a whole-school vision, these programs would stumble a bit, but overall, a great start. When we had teams at Regular MC, we planned Student Led Conferences, once the singularity of the Academy, but for years we incorporated and planned them, too. So that’s another area where the Academy wasn’t unique. But what were they doing and providing that was value-added? This question isn’t intended to make anyone defensive–having a cohort of students who get focus and attention with an excellent staff (although there has been a high turn-over in the 7th grade team), who continue up to the tech academy in high school, have a block schedule, (more time for instruction and learning), hands-on projects, and perhaps most importantly (speaking for my own bias) true integration with ELA/SS– this is what Common Core and great instruction is all about –learning about history with writing, reading, and critical thinking. These are great benefits to students in the academy. Could they be replicated whole school? 

But now I’m on the other side. I’m the 7th grade Humanities teacher. I’m included in the conversations. One such the other day has got me to thinking– I sensed there may be a misconception about what “Regular MC” teachers have been doing while the Academy was chugging along. The idea that we were not doing PBL, or integrated content, or Student Led Conferences, or 21st century technology best practices, or or or….and that simply isn’t true. Did these misconnections create or sustain an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ with the students? One student this year said in an ASB election speech at first she didn’t want to come to our school (fear? reputation for fights?). The students actually gasped in the audience. (Don’t worry: she was still elected. But this is clearly more than a PR problem.)

A colleague mentioned that during parent conferences, some Academy parents worried we weren’t ‘tech enough.’ I didn’t get a chance for clarification, but perhaps that’s not necessary. If any parent’s perception is that we’re not tech enough, or creating a culture innovation, perhaps they have a point, because I’m not sure anyone is anymore.

Has technology integration caught up with itself? Meaning — what is the place for a technology academy? How are we keeping ahead of technology integration–and my biggest question: how are we sharing this with the entire school?  John Spencer recently wrote an article about how teachers sometimes blame the devices, and that led me to a link about the stages of technology integration journey. The point being, if only one area of a school has evolved to actualized technology integration, thinking the rest of the school is behind, there will always be a huge gap. Technology instruction means nothing if 90% of the students aren’t receiving the benefit. The Regular MC kids have a tendency to break their laptops, leave them behind, ‘lose them,’ shove them in lockers, leave them at home, not charge them, and generally treat them with disdain, as if the laptops give them nerd-cooties. We teachers shake our heads and wish there was some way for them to care–knowing full well that this laptop isn’t going to immediately feed an empty tummy or find their parents a job. The laptops tend to be one more thing to make them feel stupid and marginalized.

In some ways, my district has become a shill for one brand of software products, and support for  others is discouraged. And, as if the Internet read my mind, just as I’m contemplating the role of teacher and technology, Mindshift publishes this article, “Rethinking the Role of Educator as Facilitator Amidst Tech Transformation.’ Well, I do believe students still want a human present in their lives to guide them, to smile a genuine smile, be happy they’re here, and listen to their ideas. It can’t be all Khan Academy or whatever new software/on-line class of the day.

But this is important: we teachers can help guide access and relevancy.

Listen to the story, “As Tech Firms Come to Oakland, So Do Hopes of Racial Diversity.”  Our students will forever be disengaged, and fearful, if they never see what the point is. This pragmatic and honest answer is the other side of this question: all the tech in the world means nothing if we don’t show greater possibilities for job, to show how to make a living, how things might look. The old conversations (horrible ones) of “you’ll be flipping burgers if you don’t do your homework” is grossly destructive. Many of their parents are in their 30s doing low-wage jobs, sometimes multiple ones, because doors have been closed or sent overseas for jobs that pay a living wage. So perhaps it’s up to us educators to learn about what are the new paths. And then show them the path. Help them map it out. Talk and teach them how to change or alter if something happens along the way.

Perhaps parents have the new American dream that their children will be giving TED talks on their genius invention, their children are prodigies and have the potential to invent, make, do, and create. Well guess what? Yes. This is the dream, the hope. So it’s up to the educational leaders, especially the classroom teacher, to help see this through. The very definition of leadership is just that — you take others to great places.

In terms of teaching, I am loving my double-content of social studies and language arts. I love my students, and love how they bring engagement, kindness, and yes–charged laptops– to class every day. What an honor. As far as my content area, I’m good at it, I planned it, and know how to garner resources and organize it. However, I’m on a island of one right now, though, and that’s not okay. I vow to continue to share ideas, both using technology, and when not to, and my expertise with the entire staff and students. It cannot be kept in bottle, and anyone who thinks it’s the domain of an enclave is not thinking of the whole vision, perhaps.

Integrating technology is not just for the young, or the experts, or the few. It is one of the last truly democratized, public and free sources of intellectual and academic pursuits.

Question: what role do academies have today? What should their mission statement and purpose include to their students, parents, school, and even district? 






6 thoughts on “Chasing the Golden Techie.

  1. I agree with the bulk of this. I believe that the Tech Academy needs to be used as a proof of concept creche for all kinds of new types of technology and lessons, units built around PBL and tech and then rolled out to the rest of the school. The innovative role could continue past its original mission of introducing one to one laptops. This statement is something I disagree with, however – ‘The Regular MC kids have a tendency to break their laptops, leave them behind, ‘lose them,’ shove them in lockers, leave them at home, not charge them, and generally treat them with disdain, as if the laptops give them nerd-cooties.’ It sometimes feels true of all kids in the general population of MC, especially on days when my lesson is planned to revolve around laptops. But in reality, it is only true for 5 or 6 of my total caseload of students. I know that because for the past two days I have been doing an intensively laptop necessary lesson, and that is how many phone calls I made home to students who hadn’t brought or charged their laptops. Of the three students literally had NO laptop at school, only one was because of the student’s irresponsibility. Two students had no laptops because the district refuses to reissue them a new laptop after having lost one last year, unless their family repays the district for the loss. Neither of these students are from families who can repay the cost. We have a ‘day use’ program in place for students that was working well at the beginning of the year, but because of lack of support for the program from the district, the number of ‘day use’ laptops has dwindled to 4, and all were in use for making up the SLC meetings. These students are put into a terrible Catch-22, in which their parents can’t pay, and the district won’t support an alternative. With very few exceptions, one or two students per class period, all of my MC students come to class with a laptop. Some come without it being charged, and are again caught in a Catch-22. The school has told them that bringing their charger to school is a tech violation. The older laptops the 8th graders use don’t always hold a charge all day. Some students don’t take their laptop home daily to charge. Some because they don’t see that as important, but some because they have to walk over a mile to and from school. Who would want to carry the extra weight? Some leave them at school because they genuinely fear that something will happen to it in the chaos at home. I would love to have chargers available for them to use during the day, waiting in my classroom. I have exactly one charger. Sometimes I am able to borrow one from another teacher. But the charger on my own laptop doesn’t work on the older ones students have. I can’t get any more chargers from the school, they claim they have non to spare, and I believe it. But why can’t we use some funds to buy them? Why can’t we check them out to students during the day the same way we check out those few laptops? Why can’t we have spare laptops dedicated to a ‘day use’ program built into the funding for laptops? These are children. These are young teens. The fact that we expect them to be responsible for this technology AT ALL is a real stretch for some of them. Yet, most of them do just fine. Most of them come to my class with a charged laptop daily. But for those that don’t, and I am not allowed to have easy, no-excuses solutions.


    1. They do fine, agreed. The issues of hardware are huge and on-going. When a new student comes to our school, they’re given a dirty, greasy laptop. Every time. We are just now getting a “welcome center” — something we’ve needed for years, and I realize change takes time. But while we’re worried about tech violations when they don’t bring a charger, other students around the world and country are finding ways to create and innovate.

      I wonder how other tech-integrated districts deal with the hardware issue?


  2. The logistics of technology dispersal and maintenance in other 1st world countries would be an interesting subject to discover. But how? Short of traveling there and investigating in person, how does one find out these nitty gritty details?


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