This summer was a lot of things for me and my family, but “relaxing” was not one of them. With a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old (who’s going on 16) to keep entertained, it felt like the summer was a blur of museum visits, amusement park rides, movies, and trips to my ancestral homeland (the Jersey Shore).
Fortunately, amidst all the running around, I was able to engage in two professional development activities that gave me great cause for optimism about the state of social media and technology in education. The first was speaking with a group of educators at my former place of employment, Hunterdon Central Regional High School. Will Richardson wrote fairly extensively about it here, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that a group of 20-25 teachers from across disciplines will be piloting a 1:1 netbook program with about 300 students this year. Doubtless, HCRHS is an affluent district, but unlike many others with more money than sense, they really front-loaded their teacher’s training this summer with discussion and reflection on constructivist teaching and the role that personal computers can play in that. In other words, it wasn’t “tech tech tech”, it was “teach well with tech”.
I was particularly happy to see two new educational bloggers emerge from this cohort, library media specialist Heather Hersey and English teacher Cathy Stutzman. I’m really looking forward to reading their public reflections and learning from them, and I’d be lying if I said that watching all this from the outside didn’t make me just the teensiest bit envious that I won’t be a part of some potentially great things at Central.
Another event I was honored to be a part of was Patrick Woessner‘s panel discussion entitled Digital Citizenship & Social Media in the Classroom and Life (click for link to mp3 archive of our chat). I joined Chris Betcher, Matt Montagne, and Kevin Jarrett via TinyChat for a group videoconference with teachers at Patrick’s school on topics such as Internet filters, use of social media tools with elementary students, and all manner of other neat stuff. To be talking about a topic about which I’m passionate to a captive audience was thrilling enough, but to do so while bouncing ideas off these guys (and building off their own thoughts) was really a privilege, and I hope it signifies good things to come at this school in St. Louis.
I guess what ties what’s happening at these two schools in New Jersey and Missouri all together for me is this feeling that something is changing in education that is coming from the ground up. These changes are not coming as a result of administrative directives; in fact, just the opposite is usually true – the movement is coming from teachers who are realizing where the next big shift in education could come from, and how we can harness that for the benefit of our students. They are becoming school leaders through action and example, not simply by virtue of a degree, certificate, or job title. It also underscores for me my belief that while the technology enables us to do some really cool stuff, the oft-cited “21st Century Skills” are as much, if not more, about the human connections we help to create, both inside and outside our classrooms and schools as they are about the technological tools we use to foster communication. Students, much like potential customers or clients, are tired of being spoken to/at – that doesn’t fly anymore. They want to be part of a conversation, and the teachers at HCRHS and MICDS are, directly and indirectly, fostering conversations about learning as well as about content, which is neither new nor revolutionary – it’s just not done enough.