Walk into my classroom and you’ll find us on Twitter checking out the latest volcano eruptions with iTouches through live updates from the U.S. Geological Survey. Or students might be accessing earthquake data on I Felt That, an iPhone app. Both provide immediacy and urgency to my curriculum and are exactly what students crave in lesson design.
So why isn’t every teacher using these kinds of techniques?
It seems to me that to be out there using technology right now requires that you have a pioneering spirit. That you’re unafraid to be “wrong” or to have things “go wrong.” You have to be brave enough to face a failure in order to succeed. You have to work in a place where the administration, within limits, supports you in appropriate, curriculum-related experimentation with new tools. There is so little professional development that accompanies technology implementation and even less that teaches how to think about technology as an instructional tool. In order to use it in this way, you have to teach yourself, find other teachers who believe in that kind of mode, and collaborate with them to figure out what to do.
My advice for administrators would be to teach your teachers how to learn new things for themselves. Be the role model of showing how professional learning networks work. Teachers cannot rely on the district or school to be the initiator of new learning. Teachers should be encouraged to build and develop personal learning networks with other teachers.
For me, finding a science education professor on Twitter, which led me to his blog, was a game changer. At his blog, I learned how to use the USGS data with my students. His tweets led me to #scichat on Tuesday nights, where I found out about the I Felt That app from a teacher who lives a thousand miles from my home. Once I downloaded it, she helped me to develop lesson ideas springing from her own experience. Now I’ve used these instructional strategies enough that I share them with my face-to-face colleagues. I have scores of other examples because once you teach yourself to do professional development this way, you find courage and pragmatic solutions to problems that stop other teachers in their tracks.
What if the professional development that teachers were given challenged them to find like-minded people and build a professional learning network? Administrators should/could show them how, based on how they’re networking and learning with other administrators. And what if in the next semester, you had to find two or three partners with whom you could work on learning new things? I’d say that would be revolutionary professional development that would infuse life, enthusiasm, and possibilities into schools and classroom instruction.
Marsha Ratzel is a National Board-certified teacher in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, where she teaches middle school math and science.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.