By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Heidi Shimamoto works with Sophia Brodsky at Dartmouth Middle School in San Jose.
“We are, as teachers, Digital Immigrants who are trying to teach Digital Natives.”
Larry Rosen, whose new book Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn is due out this year, believes that education is currently at a crossroads and facing a “culture gap” because today’s generation is so very different from those who teach them.
“It’s difficult right now, because we have lots of teachers who have not grown up with technology teaching students who eat, sleep and breathe technology,” says the California Faculty Association member. “So we have to adjust our ways of teaching them.”
Because they are accustomed to multitasking, says Rosen, students should be able to do so in a classroom environment. They work better that way and don’t get bored, he explains. “Making these students sit in the classroom and ‘unitask’ is not what we should be doing.”
“Have them look up information online during the lecture. Have a contest to see who can find the information the fastest or information to augment the lecture material. If it’s an exam or worksheet, let them listen to music on their iPods like they do at home. That’s what they are used to, because they never do homework without music and TV on.”
Meet them at their level
Rosen also encourages teachers to let students use outside resources and websites — such as Second Life, a virtual universe that offers users the ability to create their own world or visit worlds that others have created, such as Vassar College’s Sistine Chapel — and then have students write about their experiences and analyze them. Teachers, he says, have to meet the students on their level and allow them to use technology they are familiar with.
“For assignments, have them text each other, text the teacher, blog, form groups and do Wikis, write together online in collaboration, and create a social network. It will engage them in what they are doing. Tap into their creativity and let them do video, audio, video gaming and post their writings online. I know a teacher who let her students create MySpace pages for characters in Hamlet. Students had pictures, video and text formatted in the style of what the person would have said in Shakespearean language. They loved it and were totally engaged.”
Once in a while, he says, a teacher can even let them write in “textisms” and then translate that information into regular English.
“One of the best things a teacher can do is empower students in the classroom with technology,” says John Jabagchourian, assistant professor of child and adolescent development at San Jose State University. “Your students may be more comfortable using the Internet and technology than you are, and you may have to release control.”
For example, eighth-graders in a summer program in Santa Barbara were told to develop a local community service project and elicit volunteers. “They put out a volunteer call on Facebook to help local endangered species and created very appealing Facebook profiles for a steelhead trout and a mountain lion who described why they needed volunteers to help them,” says Jabagchourian. “The trout and mountain lion then developed a network of friends and volunteers. It was very creative, and the students did it all on their own.”
“Keep up on technology so you can keep up with what your students are doing,” advises Mackenzie. “Whether the newest thing is Twitter, Facebook or something else, you have to figure out how to weave that technology into the lessons you are teaching.” For example, teachers can use Twitter in the classroom as a way to distribute assignments and improve collaboration between students.
Make use of digital tools
Assuming that phones are only a distraction for students at school is a concept that may soon go by the wayside, says Jennifer Kennedy of New Technology High School in Sacramento. “Smart phones are becoming as integral a part of education as a textbook,” she explains. “You can’t separate out the use for phones easily anymore. A few years ago it was easier to make a distinction between a student using a phone to communicate and a student using a phone as a digital tool.”
Teachers, for example, may be on the verge of telling a student to put his or her phone away thinking that they are texting a friend, and then realize the student is looking up a word definition or historical event. Recently Kennedy thought one of her students was using his phone inappropriately, until she realized he was online looking up the exchange rate of U.S. dollars in the Czech Republic, a country that was being discussed in social studies.
“There are ways you can incorporate cell phones into the classroom,” she says. “I tell them to send me a text message to remind me of something and I send out text alerts about homework.”
Students’ preference for computers over books isn’t necessarily bad, she says. “I’ll ask them to look something up in a dictionary and they’ll say, ‘Why can’t we look it up in the computer? It’s so much faster!’ They can go to an online dictionary and if they press a certain button, they’ll hear how the word is pronounced. They can’t get that out of a book, and I can’t argue with that.”
But it’s important, says Kennedy, for students to learn how to become media literate, and learn what is fact — and what is not — when it comes to verifying online information. Much of what is written in Wikipedia may be accurate, but some of it isn’t.
“We call it the importance of ‘BG’ or going Beyond Google,” she says.
Using technology can help teach to the “multiple intelligences” of all students, whether they are visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners, says Shimamoto of Dartmouth Middle School in San Jose. “For me, the document camera is the best thing ever.” A document camera replaces an overhead projector and allows the user to project text, photos or three-dimensional objects on a screen in the classroom. “It’s changed the way I can use models for discussion, correct homework or do worksheets with them and makes shared writing easier.”
Today’s students are constantly asking whether the information they are learning is relevant, says Daniel Watts, a computer graphic arts teacher at Elinor Lincoln Hickey Junior/Senior High School in Sacramento. “They say, ‘Why do I need to learn this? What’s in it for me?’ I try to explain why they need to learn something and make the lessons relevant so they can relate to it.”
His lessons are shorter and more “to the point” to compensate for Generation Z’s short attention span. Because verbal communication skills are lacking, he also tries to demonstrate to his students how to ask and answer questions correctly at every opportunity.
The students may be different, but some things haven’t changed. “They want to know that you care about them and they want you to give them a pat on the back,” says Watts. “Those things are still very important.”
Tech tips to meet the students on their level
- Have them look up information online during the lecture.
- Let students use outside resources and websites — such as Second Life, a virtual universe that offers users the ability to create their own world or visit worlds that others have created — and then have them write about their experiences and analyze them.
- Allow them to use technology familiar to them — with exams or worksheets, let them listen to music on their iPods like they do at home.
- Have a contest to see who can find the information the fastest or information to augment the lecture material.