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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

What in the World Are You Using the Lab For?

I have a colleague who teaches all of our seventh grade social studies classes.  She’s also an English teacher, and she’s been in the education profession for many, many years.  One might think she’d be hesitant to use technology with her students, but the truth is quite the opposite.  One of her goals for the kids is that they have mastery over world geography.  She has a yearlong effort that weaves seamlessly into her history curriculum.  Recently, she was visiting the computer lab with her students, and I was really pleased with the message I heard her deliver to the students.

child 's globeThe kids were looking up facts about Africa and its countries.  While my colleague and I were both dismayed to overhear a normally overachieving student express surprise that South Africa is actually a country (I guess he did not watch this year’s World Cup?), we were also encouraged to hear kids discussing why Portuguese might be a common language in an African country.  My co-worker repeatedly told the kids, “there are things you can find in your textbook and your agenda; use this time in the lab to look for information you can’t find without the computer.”

Of course, she had to keep repeating herself each time she discovered someone searching for capitals of countries instead of most recent population figures, but I didn’t mind.  The message she was sending echoed one I often tell my students in the computer lab: you have limited access to these resources; plan how to best use your time with them for maximum success.

Now, most of our students have ready access to the Internet at home – many of them on their own laptops in their own bedrooms!  What they don’t have access to outside of school is me.  Or my colleague.  (Unless you count Facebook and e-mail, where we WILL actually respond to student questions if we’re available.)  They don’t have us right there to answer their questions or to look at their progress and steer them back in the right direction.  That’s why we keep repeating the same messages at school, while they are our captive audience.

child 's hand at computerIt’s really the same message all good teachers give about life in general: plan out your course, decide what choices will keep you on the right path, stick to your plan, or reconsider it when your options change.  Think for yourself.  Be able to make sound judgments about how to use your time and resources.  Understand that time itself is a resource, and that it’s limited.

Good parenting also includes such messages, but parents don’t have same the opportunities teachers often get for conveying these truths through practical activities, such as projects and assignments.  I count myself lucky that as a part of my everyday work, I get to impart important skills and learning to my students.  Even better, now that my son is in first grade and has me for technology class, I get to share these vital messages, through the projects and activities he does in the lab, without it just being “because Mommy said so.”

Image of child’s globe from Flickr user atomicShed (John Cooper), some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

Image of child’s hand at computer from Flickr user fd (John Watson), some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

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