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Visionary examples of how integrating technology changes lives!

November 28, 2013

In schools, we are continually engaged in conversations about how to integrate technology into our schools’ curricula.  Many schools invest heavily in new technology platforms, hardware, and software.  If we intend to spend money wisely, we should be prepared to search for answers to these questions:

  • What is the school’s “scope and sequence” describing what students need to learn and do, as well as how they are expected to apply different technologies, hardware and software, in developmentally appropriate ways?  Does the school have a coherent and actionable plan?
  • Do school and technology leaders have a firm grasp of how technology is used beyond school so they have a clear understanding of their responsibility to prepare students for the 21st Century?
  • What are authentic ways students can use technology to solve more complex problems?
  • What software tools can students use to more closely mimic the way technology is used in the workplace to augment learning?
  • What procedures and policies are in place in schools to help students understand and navigate through a complex technological world?  Are they being educated to become informed, digital citizens?
  • Teachers comfort using technology in traditional and novel ways is critical to its effective integration.  Does the school have a comprehensive and actionable professional development plan focused on effective integration of technology at all levels?

These questions, as well as other thoughts regarding technology integration, came into my view after watching a series of talks about novel uses of technology to solve complex problems.  After viewing them, I wonder if students leave school with the knowledge, skills and abilities to be these kind of innovators.  Are they prepared to be the next Greg Asner or Henry Evans and Chad Jenkins?  What kind of education does it take to become a creative innovator of this caliber?  I realize it is not only about the education a person acquires over time.  It is also about a passion that drives a person’s curiosity to explore the unknown, fail a few times, get up and try again, and prototype until a workable solution comes about.  Perseverance, determination, knowledge, skills, and ability all play an integral part.

But I wonder if using typical software tools to word-process, surf the internet, make spreadsheets, or design presentations is sufficient to prepare students to think outside-the-box when it comes to application of technology to solve complex problems.  Using programming software in a robotics class or club to direct a complex set of robotic movements that solves a task is a more authentic scenario (watch the TED talk by Henry Evans and Chad Jenkins).  Using computer software linked to a digital probe to collect real-time data in a chemistry experiment mirrors how technology might be used in a chemistry laboratory.  No doubt, you could suggest other examples illustrating relevant technology integration in different curricula that give students the tools they need to become innovative problem-solvers.

The three  videos below inspired me to think about these questions.  The first is the recent launch of a rocket that carries the first satellite, TJ3Sat, designed by high school students, which will be able to convert text messages to voice and transmit them back to Earth using radio frequencies.  The second is Greg Asner’s work designing, building and using advanced technologies to map and illustrate changes taking place in complex global ecosystems.  It shows how technology is an indispensable tool.  His work has the potential to transform how we see and understand change in ecological systems like rainforests.  The third illustrates how one person’s imagination comes alive when given technology tools that extend his reach.  In partnership with Chad Jenkins, an engineer of advanced technology tools, Henry James, a quadriplegic, is able to explore the world in new ways when given access to these tools.  This piece illustrates the collaboration between one person’s imagination to create the tools and another person’s vision for how the tools can be used.

If you have the time to watch these three pieces in sequence, see if they stimulate you to wonder whether your school is preparing students to become creative users of technology.

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