Technology and education: The answers I've been waiting for

By Jason Thomson on May 28, 2013
Over the weekend, one of the local public schools held a conference about technology and education. At first glance, this was a bit of a surprise. Our town is one of several sandwiched between Toronto and Barrie. You don’t expect a small town like this to be an outpost for leading edge education. That’s not to disparage our wonderful location or its teachers. It’s just to say that the expectations are for good, solid education from teachers who care.

And then you meet teacher Mali Bickley, principal David Brownlee and the entire cast of educators committed to exploring new ways to use technology in, around and out of the classroom. After that, you think about the way your kids can learn a whole lot differently.

It was a transformative day. It’s been two days and my mind is still fully blown.

I’ve spent the last couple of years integrating technology into my kids’ lives as a way to make them better learners. Everyone around here has an iPad and is well versed in navigating everything from websites to YouTube. The older ones are using social media.

There was an intriguing keynote that showed how kids are becoming social citizens with the use of technology. One astonishing example is the group Taking it Global, which gives kids access to regularly updated satellite maps to check deforestation in Borneo. Classrooms around the world are assigned a section of the forest and students check the maps to see if anything is changing in the forests. If they see changes, they can alert a team in Borneo that checks it out. They're a team that can be a visible presence against illegal logging. Kids use the Internet to learn about deforestation, write letters to governments and the preservation team and make a tangible difference to the world. They instantly become better social citizens who apply learning in real world ways, ways that end up engaging the students far more than making a bristol board map of Borneo ever could.

And that was all in the first 60 minutes.

The rest of the day was filled by breakout sessions that demonstrated how teachers were redefining the way kids learned in the classroom with technology. One teacher showed how the classroom video recorded a grade two student describing math problems, then played back the video to the student. By watching the process, the student himself was able to identify what they were doing wrong. Grade five students are posting blogs and getting feedback from students around the world. That feedback makes the students care about the work more than if they were simply doing it for the teacher – spelling and grammar was improved for everyone. A grade nine science teacher from another school showed how useful it could be for kids to use their own tablets and phones in the classroom. Instead of lecturing for 70 minutes a day, she assigns interesting projects, directs the kids to use Wikipedia and online resources to explore the project and she can review the steps they took by looking over their notes in apps like Dropbox and Evernote. She still lectures, but now, most of her time is spent working with kids one-on-one.

I have pages and pages of notes from the conference, pages that describe how technology becomes a tool to address the way individual kids learn, and just as importantly to ensure that they are engaged throughout the process. I’ve long suspected that we could use our computers and gadgets to address our kids. What I didn’t realize that this isn’t iterative change, it’s fundamental change. By moving to a more project-based curriculum, by having real world outcomes, by having the student recognize and correct errors, you build a lifelong learner who can navigate through and thrive in our world.


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