Lemonade from lemons? Silk purse from a sow’s ear? The glass half-full? Truth be told, these optimistic phrases are usually not the stream of thoughts I have when confronted with a problem. I am more of the fight or flight type of guy. I either take battle with an issue or throw my hands up and move on. Thank goodness I didn’t flee when faced with technology challenges this year. Little did I know what a significant loss that would have been for me and my students.
I decided to dive into the web 2.0 pool this fall with my students after wading in the shallows last year. I signed up for a Twitter account in early September after listening to Will Richardson speak at a district staff development session. Wow, the web 2.0 resources I gathered was staggering. I was so excited to launch some of these new web applications with my fourth grade students. I did my usual careful planning ahead of time, sampling the features of the web site and completing a project so I could teach my students and show them an end product. Usually everything went fine for me when I tried it at home but no so much at school for various reasons. I encountered issue after issue on some web sites along with hardware problems and issues with the district’s internal system. I calmly expressed my disappointment and told the students that it had worked for me and maybe we’ll try again some other day. However, my real thoughts at the time were …forget this kiddos, we tried and now I’m giving up. In other words I chose to flee, my usual modus operandi. I chose not to work out the problems because I thought I was wasting such valuable teaching time but I was potentially about to waste valuable learning time.
I went home that day feeling very defeated and pessimistic about using the new technology with my students. I had a decision to make—work at solving the problems with the new technology or fall back on the reliable and familiar. Remarkably and fortunately I decided to give it another try. I went in the next day and decided to draw back the curtains to my thinking process and let the students observe how I was going to go about solving problems with the web sites, hardware, and internal systems. I told the students that technology is great when it works but I will need to think of a plan B and perhaps a plan C if it doesn’t. I verbally modeled my problem solving strategies as if I was teaching how to solve a problem in math class or a applying a comprehension strategy during a read aloud. We plowed through and my students had many successes using web sites such as Blabberize, Voki, Bit Strips, Google Apps, and Story Bird just to name a few.
The best outcome of these events was the transfer of problem solving skills to the students themselves. I have five computers in my classroom with limited access to the main computer lab, mini-lab, and net book carts. In other words, sometimes not enough computers in one place when I need them. I asked some of my colleagues if the students could use their classroom computers during certain times during the week and several graciously agreed. So this means my class is sometimes split up in different rooms throughout the school with me running back and forth monitoring and helping when needed. One day I modeled how to upload a picture from their file to Blogger and then sent the students off to the various rooms to complete the task. As I went from room to room I asked if there were any problems and the students said yes they had encountered problems doing it the way I modeled but someone in their group came up with a plan B! I am convinced that would not have happened if I had decided not to model my thinking to solve these technology problems. I know they would have sat staring at the computer monitor until I arrived to help them.
A second affirmation came when I was modeling how to use a website to a mixture of students from the other fourth grade classrooms. As usual I encountered a problem and had to stop the lesson to think my way through. A student from another classroom raised his hand and asked what he is supposed to do now. A student from my class replied “This happens all the time. Just give him a couple of minutes and he’ll have a plan B.” Perhaps the glass is half full after all.