Sunday, March 22, 2009

How do you Eat an Elephant? Integrating Technology One Byte at a Time

When I was an Education student in 1996, I had a professor who was incredibly dynamic and had a genuine passion for teaching. At exam time our class was feeling pretty fatigued and overwhelmed by the mountain of work we felt we had to climb before the end of term. I'll always remember our professor's pep talk because it was so simple: How do you eat an elephant? (one bite at a time.)

Dining Together - Munching on Collaboration

The process of integrating technology into our libraries and classroom spaces seems daunting at first, much like climbing a mountain or eating an elephant - but if we simplify the process, start small and work our way up and out, great things can and will happen.

When David Loertscher was invited to speak to teacher librarians in Winnipeg last year his big push was to have teacher librarians collaborating more with classroom teachers. His mantra seemed to be: two heads are better than one. Loertscher suggested we revamp the way library time is scheduled - stating that teacher librarians should make extra room for those who wish to collaborate, so that higher-level activities could take place. He was quite practical in saying that not everyone wants to collaborate at first, but once they see the quality of learning that can take place, that collaborative style of teaching will become more valued and valuable. The main point I want to make is that Loertscher had the wisdom to see that a collaborative approach to integrating technologies like wikis and blogs could be done in smaller steps. Teacher librarians need not approach all staff at once, we can start small - with those classroom teachers that are most willing. Then, over time, we can invite the more reluctant teachers to join us (by then, hopefully, they will understand the benefits of collaboration by witnessing it in classrooms around them).

In Avoiding the Digital Abyss, by Rebecca Mullen and Linda Wedwick, we are also presented with a simple approach - they shared 3 practical and relatively easy ways to integrate technology into our schools:
  1. Use YouTube to share meaningful - just in time - clips with students.
  2. Create Digital Stories - I appreciated their suggestion to focus on storytelling first and technology second - warning that stories tend to become watered down if emphasis is too heavily weighted on technology.
  3. Blog - setting up a classroom blog provides an excellent place for homework reminders, book suggestions, podcasts, etc. What I like about the blog platform is the various other Web 2.0 tools that can be used within that space.

Mullen and Wedwick's approach for integrating technology into our classrooms could easily be achieved by many teachers as advanced technological skill to use these tools is not required.

Glimpsing - a Fly on the Wall

My first teaching position was at Davison Elementary School in Melville, Saskatchewan. I would like to spend a little bit of time highlighting this K-6 school because it has, in my opinion, been extremely successful in their integration of technology.

Back in 2000, the grade 4 teacher was interested in documenting her students school year by creating a video which she shared at our year-end assemblies. A couple of years later, the school was designated a Community Access Program (CAP) Site in which the school received a digital video camera and a computer to be used in the school and community (with the intention that the community could access these tools as well). Around this time, a grade 6 teacher pursued her Master's in Education and brought a knowledge and interest in new technologies back to the classroom using SMARTboards and blogs. In 2005, Davison School received the Saskatchewan Public Access Network Award for Excellence and Innovation in Technology, and they received a research grant from the Dr. Stirling McDowell Foundation. Today, if you view their website and classroom blogs (such as the Grade 1 class blog) you will see students engaging with technology as part of their daily learning.

Why has this small-town school been so successful at integrating technology into their classrooms? I believe there are several contributing factors:
  1. A willingness by administration to explore new technologies without an over-protective use of filters.
  2. A foreword-thinking Principal that encouraged her staff to learn about emerging technologies.
  3. Acquiring funding by applying for technology grants and participating in research studies.
  4. Two highly motivated teachers who went on to do their Master's degrees and shared what they were learning about new technologies (such as SMARTboards) with staff. One teacher took on a mentoring role and supported her colleagues in learning and integrating these new technologies. (Incidentally, this teacher is now the Principal and recently won the Prime Ministers Award for Excellence in Teaching; the previous Principal has gone on to be a Superintendent of Schools).
  5. A willingness by staff to be mentored.
  6. A staff that frequently collaborated on school-wide initiatives such as First Steps with morning breakfast meetings. The collaborative climate was already in place as new technologies emerged.

What I hope I have shown through this glimpse at Davison Elementary School is the idea that small steps can have a tremendous impact on our integration of technology. A couple of highly motivated teachers can pave the way for others to incorporate technology into their classrooms.

Like David and Margaret Carpenter say in their article, All Aboard: "The ripple effect for introducing 21st century learning opportunities can become an unstoppable force in your school’s learning community."

A Mantra (or 2)

I have 2 mantras that move me through those times when work seems overwhelming. One, I've already shared - that is to eat the elephant one bite at a time. The other came to me as I sat in the taxi after my 5 month old son had heart surgery. We were on our way to the airport and were quite rushed for time. The taxi wouldn't start. The driver was apologizing and trying everything. Normally, getting to an airport on time would stress me out. Not anymore. I was calm. I had just handled the hardest situation of my entire life. I was peaceful, and I was certain we could handle any mountain we had to climb. My 2nd mantra is, it's not heart surgery; we'll be okay.

So, while integrating technology into an already crammed curriculum may seem like an overwhelming task, it isn't. It's just technology. It's just another tool to add to the stew. It's not heart surgery. And like eating the elephant, we don't have to wolf it down all at once. Small bites/small steps can be a highly effective way to go. With each step, our comfort level will increase. If we just realize that we're not alone in this - we can experience the strength of collaborating and facing the journey together. We can learn with/alongside/from our students. As Don Knezek (ISTE CEO, 2008) has remarked:
"Teachers must become comfortable as co-learners with their students and with colleagues around the world. Today it is less about staying ahead and more about moving ahead as members of dynamic learning communities. The digital-age teaching professional must demonstrate a vision of technology infusion and develop the technology skills of others. These are the hallmarks of the new education leader."
If we accept the challenge to collaborate in the digital-age, we'll all benefit from the ripple effects.


Rhonda said...

How inspirational Carol! I'd love to sit and help eat that elephant with you.


Carol N. said...

Thanks Rhonda - we could open a bistro!

M. Gavel said...

I appreciate that your are recognizing Davison's long journey towards the integration of technology. The symbolism that your use between the elephant and taking it one step at at time couldn't be more precise. I appreciate that you highlighted many of the contributing factors of our Success at Davison and I would like to take this opportunity to hightlight our most current achievements at Davison because I think it exemplifies what is possible in a small community with a small budget who has a lot of heart and determination.
Last year Davison School was designated a SMART Showcase School and I received the designation as a SMART Exemplary Educator. Because of this status and our Community Access Program Status we have hosted approximatley 100 people in our school this year. People who want to learn from us, people who want to learn with us, people who are curious as to what a 21st century school looks like and people who are looking to expand their thinking. Davison staff and students exemplify the direction of where technolgy and education is headed. Currently our teachers are focussing on using not integrating many forms of technology into what we are already doing. We strive to use technology as a meaningful tool. As of next fall we will no longer have "computer" periods. Teachers will be using technology to meet outcomes and goals in a way that is engaging for students throughout all their subject areas. I am so proud of all the work Davison teachers have done to collaborate as a community of learners to remain on the cutting edge of technology for the benefit of all students. It is easy to find fantasitc teachers who integrate technology well, but to find a whole school of teachers who use technology as part of best practice and regular teaching is profound. We strive to prepare our students for a future that is unknown to us and them. Research shows that 65% of jobs that our students will do, haven't even been created yet. With that thought in mind it is our responsibility to prepare them for whatever comes their way, and Davison teachers are doing just that.

Carol N. said...

Thanks so much for visiting the blog Mrs. Gavel! The more I think about it, the more I realize just how amazing Davison School is doing.

In looking at the classroom blogs, I can see that teachers are feeling renewed and inspired by the opportunities new technologies have created for making the learning environment so incredibly engaging. It's not just the students who benefit - but the staff and families as well.

I love that educators are visiting Davison to see the great work you and your staff are doing. Please pass on a big hello to anyone who knows me!


katied said...

This was an excellent post! Thank you for sharing it. I appreciated being able to peek in to Davison's first grade, putting a new book title on my next reads list(Avoiding the Digital Abyss) and will be sharing the quote by Kenezk.