Reflecting while Preparing for Digital Learning Day
This year when February begins its short trek through our calendars, it will usher in Digital Learning Day. Unlike the Groundhog waiting for its 15 minutes of fame each year, Digital Learning Day is more of a mandate than a prediction, calling us to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world moving them beyond gizmos and gadgets to an atmosphere of authentic learning anytime, anywhere.
According to the Digital Learning Day website, 2.1.12 is earmarked as a “culminating event in a year-round national awareness campaign to improve teaching and learning for all children.” In schools where our budgets are shrinking drastically and the focus on test-taking preparation is mounting immeasurably, our students are frequently shortchanged in developing a life-long love of learning. In a variety of ways, digital learning can bridge the gap between bored students who run the risk of dropping out and engaged students who set personal learning goals for themselves. It is not a surprise that most of our students possess the digital skills to text, tap the app, and retrieve or post audio/video content. Unfortunately, as their digital devices are left behind, their learning runs the risk of becoming fragmented and disconnected from the real world.
I am not so naïve as to believe that just having access to digital technology will up the ante for teaching and learning. In schools where strict curriculum-pacing guidelines leave little room for inquiry or curiosity, technology will at best amplify rather than transform learning experiences. But for those of us willing to push the envelope (or the classroom walls), we can strive to carve out some time in our day or week to give students space to explore an aspect of the curriculum in an engaging meaningful way. As the computer teacher in my building, I invite teachers to collaborate with me on topics and content from their curriculum. This gives me an opportunity to plan lessons that will help students build up their repertoire of skills in using different tools for different tasks.
This year the National Writing Project is teaming with the Alliance for Excellent Education to call attention to the important work going on in many classrooms where educators are guiding students to use digital tools in thoughtful and powerful ways. I am always encouraged and inspired by the wonderful work of teachers and students that I see (and hear) referenced on blogs, wikis, and webinars. I have shared this flyer created by Robyn Young, a School Librarian at Avon High School in Indiana with my staff at Overbrook Elementary to see how they might like to participate in this endeavor. Thus far we are planning three events to focus on digital learning. The first (described below) will be held during school hours, another afterschool in March (digital footprint) and a third evening event in April (Free Web Tools for organizing, communicating and publishing). Getting parents and teachers on board is crucial for sustaining interest and garnering support.
For our first Digital Learning Day activity, I am teaming up with a second grade class for a closer look at our neighborhood. By rearranging our lunch and prep time, we have carved out 90 minutes to explore our school neighborhood. Parents are invited to join us as we look at transportation, houses, stores, services and other points of interest that are nearby our school. Using digital cameras we will ask students to take pictures about the things that interest them as well as those that raise questions for them. When returning to school, light refreshments will be served as pictures are uploaded. A slide show of photos will be displayed as students share comments or pose questions. Through their collective memories and experiences, the parents’ input will deepen our understanding of the neighborhood. Giving students an opportunity to look at familiar things to find connections, questions or concerns is a tiny step toward a larger goal. As citizens of this digital age, they will be expected to take a critical stance as they write, design and publish their work in different forms. To conclude our time together, students and parents will post their reflections to a blog with the aim of continuing the conversation and helping students identify a topic for their writing piece, which will later be shared digitally using tools available either at school or at home.
It is our hope that parents and teachers will be more excited about the possibilities that the tools of technology can bring to teaching and learning in the 21st Century and become advocates for improving educational opportunities for all. In evaluating our Digital Learning Day activities we will be interested in finding out if students (as well as parents and teachers) realize that learning does not begin and end at the classroom door. Having access to the tools of technology and using them thoughtfully makes learning an anytime, anywhere endeavor.