This year I decided to change the purpose of technology in my classroom. Instead of using it as a glorified notebook/poster or game center (think word processing, slides, and apps), I wanted my students to use technology as a tool for learning new content. When we talk of 21st century skills, this one stands out to me. There is no way that teachers can impart every important bit of knowledge to students by the time they graduate from high school. IBM estimates that knowledge doubles every 12 hours. That’s all the knowledge in humankind. Let that sink in for a minute. Even if 12 hours an exaggeration, we can’t keep up. No one can. We need to teach our students how to gain knowledge on their own.
With this in mind, I wanted to create projects where instead of telling students what I want them to know, they find what they want to know about a particular topic. So I signed out the computer cart, explained the topic to my students (traditional/authentic music from around the world), explained the rubric, and sent them off into the big, wide, internet.
Here’s what I expected:
- Students would do a Google search for something like “traditional music from Japan”
- They would find a list of titles of traditional music
- They would find examples of traditional instruments from a country/culture
- They would then search those titles and find audio examples
- To go above and beyond they would also find traditional dance and clothing from a particular culture
- Students may even find modern, westernized music that contains elements of its traditional roots
Here’s what happened:
- Students went to YouTube and typed in “Music from Japan”
- Students included the first example in their slide show (sometimes without even listening to it). These examples were most often pop tunes and/or compilations of nameless background music – what I like to call cultural elevator music.
So what went wrong?
I assumed that my tech native students were tech literate.
The very students who know the newest apps and every trick on their phone don’t necessarily know their way around the internet. And why should they? We’ve implemented hardware and apps into our classrooms to engage our students but have we really shown them how to navigate the world of knowledge available to them? I see at least one post a day from teachers on social media where they say something like, “I’m getting iPads/Chromebooks/etc. for my classroom. What are your favorite apps?” Don’t get me wrong – apps are great. But that’s not where our use of technology should end. And coding is great, too – but that’s not where it should end either. Because if students don’t know how to grow their knowledge, what’s the use of an app?
So how do we help our students become tech literate to independently grow their knowledge?
- Teach students how to search
- If you’re old enough, you remember being taught how to do an internet search in a class or inservice. This included the proper use of “and” or “or” in our search terms. Luckily, all that happens automatically these days, but you still have to know how to create a search phrase. Instead of searching for “music from Japan”, search for “traditional music from Japan”. When a search for “polar bears” doesn’t return what I’m looking for, I need to be able to restate it as “shrinking polar bear habitat”. In other words, students need to be able to restate, narrow, or even widen their search phrases in order to get the results they are seeking. Which leads us to our next skill ….
- Evaluate search results
- Sometimes we get lucky and the first result gives us exactly what we want. Sometimes not. Actually, if students are asking complex questions, it shouldn’t be the first search result – or even just one. So our students need to learn to scan results to look for hits that might give them what they need. Some will clearly be off track so don’t waste time on them. Some may look promising so click on them to check them out.
- Reading a webpage
- Reading this webpage is easy (I hope). Some webpages, however, are not. They can have normal text, bold text, highlighted text, pictures, text boxes, ads, videos … it’s all there. Once students know where their attention needs to go (or how to prioritize their attention), they can fall back on their traditional reading skills to look for pertinent information.
These steps are just the beginning of becoming tech literate. Just as knowledge grows exponentially, so do the the skills required to take it all in. Ideally, students would have a tech class where they not only learn to use basic software tools but also the literacy they will need to navigate the oceans of information they will encounter in their lives. These 3 steps, however, are a starting place for any teacher who wants to incorporate tech literacy into a project. None of them are earth shattering, but they serve as a reminder that sometimes students aren’t successful because we’ve assumed too much. We need to take a step back and look at the holes in our students’ skills and knowledge and fill them so they can meet our expectations – and go beyond theirs.
When this project came around for my second semester class, I added a day at the beginning where I taught them how to search, evaluate their results, and find the specific information they needed. And just as my students became better at searching, I became better at stating my expectations. I gave examples of what traditional is AND isn’t. I gave examples of what represents a culture’s musical heritage – and what doesn’t.
And guess what …
I didn’t get one example of traditional music from England that included Adele.