This Monday, my grade ones are going to reach out and touch somebody. Virtually, anyway. At the beginning of next week, we will start a new Science unit. Our aim is to “assess the role of humans in maintaining a healthy environment”. Using a Smartboard-mounted web cam and a free wikispaces account, we will go boldly where few six year-olds have gone before: We will collaborate online with a class from across the city.
Besides the fact that using technology is fun, why am I using this much technology in my classroom? Why do my six year-olds need access to thousands of dollars worth of networked computer hardware and software? Wouldn't it be better allocated in a older kid's classroom?
The simple answer is that technological integration is provincial policy. Interestingly, it has been for a long time.
Way back in 1991, the Ontario Ministry of Education published a piece of policy called PPM13. The point of this document was to allow for the use of computers in schools. PPM13 quotes an even earlier document called PPM91, which was published in 1987. 1987!
PPM91 could have just as easily been published last week, because it says things like this: “Students should explore the ways in which network configurations can provide a medium of communication and collaboration with peers and teachers both within and outside the school. Students should come to see the computer as an integral part of everyday life.”
Understanding that we use technology because it is one of our mandates is one thing, but how do we know that it is being used effectively?
According to Jamie McKenzie, author of an article entitled Wired Classroom, “if we expect student-centered, engaged classrooms with the technologies fully blended into the daily routines, the computers belong where they will do the most good, not sequestered in a back corner or shoved against a back wall. Many teachers with project-based, problem-based classrooms elect to spread their computers about so that they serve as interest centers. In some classrooms it is difficult to find a "front" to the classroom because the focus is on learning instead of teaching.”
Our collaborative Science project takes advantage of our “front-less” classroom (pictured). As students work at their tables taking photographs for frame-by-frame movies, at the computer scanning and posting their work, or at the Smartboard talking to our partner classroom on Skype, they have multiple opportunities for direct engagement. They are truly responsible for their own strategic learning. As the students in my class master the grade one science curriculum through the lens of technology, they fuel their own curiosity about the world.