Perspectives / Screenagers: Making the Connections - ASCD
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February 1, 2011

Perspectives / Screenagers: Making the Connections

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"Education has to change. We can't pull kids into learning in school if they are engaged in a different world outside school.""If you don't know how to use technology in class, you are in trouble. But, of course, technology is a double-edged sword. You can use it poorly, or you can use it well."

The principals speaking were two of the candidates for the ASCD Outstanding Young Educator Award, which will be presented in March at ASCD's Annual Conference in San Francisco. A group of us were interviewing 13 finalists—both administrators and teachers—over the course of a few weeks, and we were talking to them about their leadership, their creativity, their whole child philosophy, their impact on student achievement, and, of course, their technology use. All the educators spoke to us via Adobe ConnectPro, a two-way technology that allowed us to see, hear, and record them in their schools—whether in New York, Oregon, the Philippines, or places in between—while they viewed us in our meeting room in Alexandria, Virginia.

To a person, the candidates talked about effective technology use in their schools. We heard about outstanding history teachers using GoogleDocs to share different points of view, science teachers showing YouTube videos to illustrate scientific phenomena, English teachers employing clicker technology to have students weigh in before and after discussions, and music teachers creating electronic note recognition games. We also heard about educators designing class and school websites to engage their communities, tweeting to broadcast their pride in their schools, and analyzing electronic databases.

These educators also described such engaging, blended- or low-tech learning projects as making pancakes in science class (an analogy for atom combination); preparing struggling readers to conduct museum tours about Harlem Renaissance artists; organizing honor students to staff a homework café; and dramatizing parodies of Macbeth's famous soliloquy about temptation. ("Is this a dagger which I see before me?" became "Is this a cupcake which I see before me?" and so on.)

Effectively teaching the digital generation, or screenagers as we call them in this issue of Educational Leadership, seems to involve two basics: embracing the tools that kids are immersed in and using these tools to engage students in core curriculum topics. As our lead author Larry D. Rosen tells us in this issue (p. 10), "Technology is all about engagement. … The point is not to 'teach with technology' but to use technology to convey content more powerfully and efficiently." One of his recommendations for the time-strapped educator: find a knowledge broker, a tech-savvy student or adult volunteer, to help identify online content resources that tie to your learning objectives.

This issue is filled with many such useful—and ambitious—ideas for transforming education.

Karen Cator, director of the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, who met with us for an interview (p. 16) the old-fashioned way—in person—envisions the day when broadband is as pervasive as electricity and when all students will come to school with digital devices in hand, much as they came with their pencil boxes in the past. She describes how the new national plan for school technology embraces the power of technology to incorporate choice, personalization, interactivity, and multiple ways for students to develop richer, more complex mental representations of information. No longer should we describe teachers as "digital immigrants," she notes. The highly connected teacher is no phantom of the future but is here today.

Of course, as Cator also warns, adding any new technology—printing press or computer— amplifies some human abilities and minimizes others. For example, Mark Bauerlein (p. 28) warns that the meaning of complex texts will elude students whose brains and hands become accustomed to digital distractions. "We should continue to experiment with educational technology, but we should also preserve a crucial place for unwired, unplugged, and unconnected learning," he writes.

Our authors offer all kinds of ways to connect—and not connect—with screenagers. Among the topics are cell phones (pp. 39, 96), online courses (p. 63), websites (pp. 34, 60), school technology plans (p. 56), the prevention of online bullying (p. 48), electronic publishing (p. 22), and one-to-one computers (p. 78).

We'll leave the last word of advice for educators to the screenagers we interviewed (p. 44). In a way, they echo the words of the outstanding young educators. "The most important thing for teachers is to be comfortable with what they are using. It doesn't have to be super high tech," one told us. And another: "Teachers shouldn't be afraid of technology. Understand that it's how we live our lives."

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