Friday, September 7, 2012

Should we be teaching the tool?

Part II: Today, let’s talk about teaching the tool.

Our second topic was whether or not we should be teaching tools. There are many who believe that we should only teach the features of a tool that are needed for the job at hand. At the same time, the Common Core Standards require students to make strategic decisions about which digital tools to use. So, if we only teach what is needed at the time, then how is a user to know what the possibilities are so that a strategic decision can be made? How will they know if the tool to use is a table in a word processor or a spreadsheet? When would it be appropriate to share their desktops vs. creating a series of slides? When should they use a movie to tell a story?

Sometimes it’s hard to think outside the box, when you don’t know what is inside it. This engineer commented that he has seen way too many presentations that focused too much on the tool’s bells and whistles and not enough on the content. He’s seen documents with all kinds of formatting, when all that was needed was text on the page. Precious time was wasted, time that could have gone into creative thinking rather than into making a pretty page. So, from his perspective, that person knew too much about the tool!

So, how much do we teach our students about a tool? This engineer’s opinion? Teach me what I need to know to use the tool, then teach me how to learn more when I need it or they change it.
During my early days of delivering training (and I chose those words purposefully), I taught everything there was to know about a tool. Many of my students would have little opportunity to use those features in the near future, and they would lose the learning. As I began to facilitate professional learning opportunities, the learning became more authentic and project-based – just like in your classroom. It was then that the learning began to stick. Now, reflection is part of my repertoire, and those in my workshops are encouraged to make connections to their learning  - how they will use it back in the classroom.

Do I think that we need to teach our students the tool? Yes, to the extent that they have a solid foundation in its possibilities, so that they can later strategically determine when it makes sense to use it.

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