The Brick Project Conversations, Part Six: Joan and Joanne on Educational Technology

The Brick Project Conversations, Part Six: Joan and Joanne on Educational Technology

The Brick Project Conversations, Part Six: Joan and Joanne on Educational Technology

Editor’s Note:

The following conversation between Joan Barnatt and Joanne Amaru is Part Six in a series for Mezimbite Magazine entitled The Brick Project Conversations.

It is a continuation from The Brick Project Conversations, Part Five, in the previous post.

These conversations explore ideas that relate to education for children and the community building that nurtures and encourages progress in childhood education around the world.

The Brick Project will be re-launched in 2016.

The core premise of The Brick Project is the building of global school communities and the development of innovative multi-cultural curriculum within these communities in 4 subjects: History, Ecology, Art and Literature / Oral Storytelling.

To read more about the operational details and The History of The Brick Project kindly visit this article link: [http://mezimbite.com/2012/unscramble-for-africa-part-5-zimbabwe]

Verity Norman, the Global Coordinator of The Brick Project, 2003–2007

Introduction to The Brick Project Conversations, Part Six

by Verity Norman

In this follow-up to the previous discussion in Part Five, of Building Global Community, Joanne Amaru, Joan Barnatt, and I discuss the use of Educational Technology.

Almost a decade ago, in 2004, when The Brick Project was active and Karim and I were working with a global team of Brick Builders (pictured below), the Educational Technology was not anywhere near as refined, innovative and accessible as it is today.

Joan and Joanne recall those days when most of The Brick Project communication was restricted to email. They also discuss the current technologies such as Google Chrome Notebooks, as well as the potential for classroom usage of the Educational Technology in the next few years, as The Brick Project prepares to relaunch in 2016.

Verity: Joan and Joanne, could you speak to how technology is currently being used in 21st Century middle school classrooms, and if The Brick Project’s use of technology and social media might differ or offer alternative uses of technology than conventional classrooms?

When we were doing The Brick Project, web 2.0 tools were just getting started. Now these tools are much better.

— Joan

Joan Barnatt

Joan: There’s going to be a huge difference between now and what we were doing previously. When we were doing The Brick Project, web 2.0 tools were just getting started. Now these tools are much better.

We used to talk about Skyping between the schools, but it was very likely we would lose the connection or that the conversation would not be audible. Connecting to more than one school was very challenging. But now this is something that teachers are doing in their personal lives, so it is easier to bring it back to the classroom and this is not so scary to attempt in school. They are blogging and tweeting and doing all of these kinds of things, so that’s the good part of it.

The challenge is keeping up with these tools and providing teachers with professional development so that they feel comfortable using these tools for educational purposes.

The Potential and the Reality

The potential is that we all know that these tools could change the way we function in the classroom. The reality is education has been slow to keep pace with technology development.

There needs to be a systemic change in how we look at what we’ve got and how we use these tools constructively.

— Joan

Think of the things we could do with all the cellphones in our classrooms today, but we turn them off and put them away! There needs to be a systemic change in how we look at what we’ve got and how we use these tools constructively.

Joanne Amaru, right, next to Karim

Joanne:  Joan, I agree with you completely. The other challenge we face is the availability of technology. We are so proud of ourselves – we just bought a cart of 20 Google Chrome books, stepping out of our Mac pattern. With the Google Chrome books you just get more bang for your buck! Of course, we also bought a cart of Mac iPads.

The Google Chrome books are specifically targeted towards math education, and the iPads are for everyone.

My concern again is that, I remember first walking into a Brick Project class and being horrified at my own inability to make the technology work – having all these kids who were so eager to do the outreach and thinking to myself “Oh my goodness, are we even going to be able to get online today?”.

Because you were there, Verity, you saved us from ourselves so many times – plus our kids are miles ahead of us in their use of the technology. My concern is the way they use their technology; I see the kids walking around with their cellphones, texting people two classes away. I would love to refocus them and to use this same technology in a really positive way.

And I think Skyping or Facetime demystifies what these kids from other cultures are really like. And for them, it gives them a different slant on the so-called “ugly American” image they see plenty of in the global media.

Americans are not always putting their best foot forward, so using tools such as these gives us the opportunity to show what we are really like!

 

We are hearing more and more about ‘new literacies,’ with literacy being a foundation piece of 21st Century Skills and Common Core – those new literacies come from technology –blogging, wikis, ebook, Internet resources.

— Joan

Joan: Because of where I am and what I’m doing now, I find that I now look at things a little bit differently in terms of the “bigger picture” and education policy.

The use of technology in schools is going to highlighted in the coming years because

  1. The implementation of the Common Core Standards across the country, bringing a big push for technology skills
  2. 21st Century Skills are also making a comeback, and this is now an international push, again technology is front and center as curriculum is being developed
  3. We are hearing more and more about ‘new literacies,’ with literacy being a foundation piece of 21st Century Skills and Common Core – those new literacies come from technology –blogging, wikis, ebook, Internet resources.

We need to think in terms of how we use them and what do we do to make sure students are ready for the future in those ways.

These are participatory, collaborative forms of literacy that change the way we read, write, and research. So I think, and rightfully so, we are going to hear more hype about these things.

But the questions are what Joanne has raised – how do we do that? Where do we get support? All those pieces when the rubber hits the road in the classroom, are really yet to be seen.

Verity: This feels like the same conversation we were having almost ten years ago! We’ve discussed 21st Century Skills for students, but what about the teachers?

How do we make sure teachers are not intimidated by these tools because the students may be more comfortable with new technology than they are?

What impact can we expect these new technologies to have on the curriculum content?

How does it affect the teacher-student relationship?

And in terms of teacher professional development, what needs to be provided in terms of teacher support?

We’ve discussed 21st Century Skills for students, but what about the teachers?

— Verity

We are asking so much of our teachers — even though they can see that something is good, they just can’t find another hour every day to learn how to use it.

— Joanne

Joanne: I think it all still boils down to time.

When we invested in these Google Chrome books there was some resistance to using them – we heard: “I don’t want to learn another program; I just don’t want to learn another technology!”

People are swamped with trying to realign up with the Common Core. They have just finished lining up to the Massachusetts curriculum standards.

We are asking so much of our teachers – even though they can see that something is good, they just can’t find another hour every day to learn how to use it.

So there’s a lot of convincing that has to be done.

And we need to prove to teachers that these tools will actually make their lives easier and make their classroom experience better. But we still keep coming down to that time issue.

How do we make sure teachers are not intimidated by these tools because the students may be more comfortable with new technology than they are?

— Verity

Joan: … But The Brick Project holds so much potential.

Talk about cross-curricular or integrated – you can accomplish multiple standards at one time doing The Brick Project! It’s a matter of actually getting there – getting the technology, the curriculum, and integrating it into what you’re doing or what you need to do. But you’re right, Joanne, it’s that initial investment that is so difficult.

Talk about cross-curricular or integrated – you can accomplish multiple standards at one time doing The Brick Project!

 — Joan

JoanneThe other thing you’re going to find is that as teachers are aligning to the Common Core, particularly with math, they are counting every minute they have, are accountable for every minute of their day, and become so resentful when they lose teaching time.

Even for fire drills or assemblies, they get so upset when they think they’re getting behind.

Everybody has been forced to squeeze in as much as they can with their curriculum, so asking someone to take out another piece is huge – so it’s important to have a place to “put” The Brick Project in the school day.

It’s important to have a place to “put” The Brick Project in the school day.

— Joanne