It’s Not about the Tools
Recently, my 1999 Mercury Villager minivan has been showing its age. It has been very mechanically sound for the 5 or so years I have owned it, but a couple of weeks ago, it started stalling out inexplicably while driving it (problem, I know…). After a little bit of research, I found out that it might be dirty fuel injectors. I bought some fuel additive to clean them out, but that didn’t fix the problem. So I brought the car to my friend and mechanic (BTW, if you live in Omaha and you need a good mechanic, I can give you a recommendation). He suggested either cleaning the engine head and fuel lines, or being prepared for an expensive fuel system replacement. One hundred fifty dollars and one cleaning later, my car is running smoothly and I will never again buy fuel with ethanol added if I can avoid it.
Teaching children is kind of like working on cars. Both involve trial and error, problem solving, individual attention, expertise, and access to the right tools for the job. All cars have the same basic parts and they all have similar functions, but each manufacturer has a slightly different implementation of what a car is. Students have similar basic educational needs, but each child is different in the way he or she learns and finds meaning.
Just like mechanics, we have many different tools at our disposal to take care of our students. Web 2.0 applications like wikis, Voicethread, Wordle, Google Docs, and countless others as well as classroom tools like interactive white boards and student response systems are the wrenches, nuts, bolts, and diagnostic tools of the teaching profession.
Sometimes, though, I feel that I get a little hung up on the tools I use rather than the pedagogy behind the way I use them. Wikis are great ways to promote communication and collaboration, but if I don’t teach my kids to contribute meaningfully to the project, I am doing them a disservice. I am itching to use our school’s new SMART Board for my lessons, but I have to keep in mind my lesson goals when using it. I wish each of my students could have an iPod, iPad, cell phone, or laptop so I could use polleverywhere.com as a student response system. But if I don’t use this awesome tool as a way to gather meaningful feedback to assess my students’ understanding, I might as well not use it.Student-centered teaching strategies need to be behind my use of tools.
My students should have access to the tools that I use to teach them. Why not teach them how to use SMART Notebook software and let THEM create interactive lessons, presentations, and review activities? Why not show them how to create a wiki and maintain it about a topic of their choice? Why not let them show their creativity with Wordle (or my new favorite, Tagxedo)? How great would it be for them to gather information using forms in Google Docs and then to use those data to draw appropriate conclusions? They are used properly when I use these tools properly to engage my students, to extend their learning, and to get them to think in new and different ways. Then again, isn’t that just good teaching?
What about you, reader? What tools to you like to use, and how do you use them?