Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nature vs. Technology

Let's get ourselves and our children reconnected with creation, the natural world. Last year I received a small grant to incorporate the theme of creation throughout my curriculum. It turned out to be an amazing experience, not just because I got a little money and from that some materials. It was an amazing experience because I know I learned as much as my students.

I've been teaching long enough now (over 10 years) to have seen a change in children. Part of the reason for the change is technology. I love technology; but at the same time technology is a tool and that's all. It allows us to do a lot of wonderful things we couldn't do. It helps us stay connected. It makes the world more accessible. It makes life easier. We don't need it. We would survive without it. But just like everything, there is a good side and a bad side to it. It shouldn't replace reading, pretending, and going outside to play.

I've watched six and seven-year-olds over the past ten years get more involved in things that I still thought would be reserved for at least middle schoolers. I've been out at a movie theater or grocery story and seen younger children with cell phones and iPods, and it obvious from my conversations with my students that most of them own some sort of game system.

In my classroom this year I was fortunate to have pretty good technology. I have a Smart Board and an Elmo, and it did make teaching easier. It helps with making learning very visible to my students. For instance, if I only had one copy of something I wanted to show them, I could just slip it under the Elmo instead of having to pass it around or make copies. Yet in spite of these tools I saw some of the down side. First, they have to remember to look at the Smart Board to see what I'm talking about. I sometimes observed them "not" looking where I wanted them to, so I knew they were either not listening or were focused on something else and had tuned me out. Listening is the second area of concern attached in a way to this first observation. Since what I am teaching from the Elmo or Smart Board IS very visual, they often DO tune me out and don't listen to what I am saying ABOUT what is on the screen. They are relying solely on the visual and not the oral.

What does this have to do with creation? Because I had all this new technology at the same time I received the grant, I had a sort of double edged sword on my hands. I enjoyed and will enjoy learning more about the technology, but I also made a great effort to get my students outdoors more often. I could tell being outside was a novel experience for some of them. When we launched this theme with a walk in the local park at the beginning of last year, you might have thought I was taking them to an amusement park; either that, or they were just excited because they don't normally get to do such a thing in a school setting.

I learned a lot from the year and have been reading about what is called "nature deficit disorder" in children. Although I won't get funds every year, I have plans to continue using creation/nature/environment as a theme in my classroom, keeping in mind the technology at my hands are great tools and should be used as tools.

The best thing I learned was the importance of immersion. By the end of the year, I received a lot of feedback from parents about how this project based teaching had taken hold of their children, to the extent that it carried home with them in the areas of recycling, conservation, and respect for the natural world, both plant and animal life. I feel I really only touched on the possibilities this past year, and want to continue branching out from there in the coming years.

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