Monday, June 4, 2012

Guest Contributor Mark Pullen: Computers as Connectivity Tools

The following article was written by guest contributor, Mark Pullen. Mark is an advocate for classroom technology integration, and writes extensively on that subject on behalf of Worth Ave Group.

As a teacher in a third grade 1:1 classroom, my students all have laptops which they may use whenever needed.  Early in the school year, I let the students know that these computers will serve us powerfully in three key ways: as knowledge tools, creation tools and connection tools.  Using these devices, the students can find virtually all recorded information from throughout human history; they can create, display, and share their work in new and innovative ways; and they can also connect with virtually anyone, including experts in almost any field.  

The students quickly understand the computer’s power as a knowledge tool and gradually grow in their skill of using it as a creation tool, but it generally takes more time for the students to fully understand the power of the computer as a connectivity tool.  I don’t blame them – many leaders in education seem to view computers almost exclusively as knowledge tools (and sometimes creation tools) as well.

At various points in the school year, however, opportunities tend to arise.  When one student was upset about the vague, mysterious ending of one read-aloud book we read, I suggested that she contact the author directly to inquire about it.  The room turned completely silent, and her reply simply verbalized what all of the students were thinking: “We can do that?”

Three days and a few emails later, our whole class ended up enjoying a lengthy Skype session with this kind author, and the kids were able to hear her directly explain her reason for ending her novel the way she did.

After that experience, the students were infused with energy and began initiating connections on their own.  During a research project, several students contacted subject matter experts to help clarify something they were learning.  While writing a product review, several students contacted companies directly for more information.  During a government simulation, students began contacting our local representatives and senators to ask questions and pass along their bill suggestions.  Three students even teamed up to contact our state’s Supreme Court because they thought a recent law change that had passed our actual state government was unconstitutional because it potentially violated the ex post facto clause in our state constitution.

In each of these cases, with the help of technology, students began to see their learning as real and as something which could extend beyond the walls of our classroom.  They began to see themselves not only as digital citizens but as active, empowered citizens of the physical world around them.

This, to me, is the power of technology: not only can it dramatically help students as a knowledge tool or a creation tool, but it can also connect students with others in powerful, previously unimaginable ways.

About the guest contributor:

Mark Pullen has been an elementary teacher for 13 years, currently teaching third grade in East Grand Rapids, MI. He’s an advocate for classroom technology integration, and writes extensively on that subject on behalf of Worth Ave Group, a leading provider of laptop, tablet computer, and iPad insurance for schools and universities:
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