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The Reflective Teacher: Teaching With Technologyby Gail Beyrer

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Gail Beyrer, an AmeriCorps veteran whose husband also is a teacher, teaches fourth grade on Long Island, New York.

Gail Beyrer

"Please Mrs. Beyrer, can we work on our essays?" implored an eager child." I still have a lot more to write."

"Me, too! Me, too! Please, can we work on them today?" came the choral reply from my other fourth graders.

Isn't that how it always is in your classroom; eager students begging to be allowed to write more? OK, my classroom usually isn't like that either. But, during the past few weeks, I have had the experience of actually hearing those comments from my students. You see, my district owns a set of 30 really fancy pencils -- called handheld computers -- and I've been using them in my classroom.

I borrowed the handhelds in the hope of spicing up my social studies lessons. I'm still learning the ropes as I teach New York state history. Although, as a lifelong resident, I find our state's history fascinating, I'm constantly looking for ways to get my students energized about it.

Recently, we looked at documents about the Revolutionary War and the part New York played in that war; the kids were expected to write essays on that topic. It was an assignment they had been groaning about, but after I explained that they would be working with partners to create rough copies of their essays on the handhelds, they were thrilled! Many of my students produced essays that were much longer than usual, and no one had a problem adding more details or looking for support from their textbook.

We often are told to integrate technology into our curriculum; in addition to all the other skills we have to teach, we are now asked to keep up with technology trends as well. I've even heard teachers discuss whether they should teach keyboarding instead of script, because so much text in the "real world" is word-processed. We certainly cannot send our students out into the work force without equipping them with a knowledge of word processing and the skills necessary for navigating the Internet. Figuring out how to do that while trying to get a handle on all our other tasks, however, can be overwhelming.

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When I entered college, I couldn't tell a Mac lab from a PC lab, but I was expected to write papers on a computer. Because I didn't have a computer or word processor of my own, I had to make use of Salisbury State's computer labs. I lost more papers than I can count, simply because I didn't know where I had saved my files. I honestly didn't understand the difference between saving files to the hard drive and saving them to the desktop, and so sometimes I couldn't find what I had saved. That seemed like an honest mistake to me; nevertheless, I spent quite a bit of time too embarrassed to ask the lab technicians for help. (Why did they always seem so frustrated with my questions and so smug in their superior knowledge?)

My comfort level has increased a hundred fold since I started college. The main reason for that was necessity. I had to learn how to use technology in order to pass my classes. Then, I found myself in a job in which I had to train teachers how to integrate technology into their lessons. Most of the teachers I worked with recognized the need to infuse technology into the curriculum, they just were uncomfortable with the unknown. That discomfort made sense to me -- and it still does.

As teachers, however, we have to be brave. We have to help students see the necessity for technology use in "real-life," so their computer use isn't limited to once a week in a lab (assuming your school has a computer lab, of course).

I consider myself fortunate because of the amount of technology to which I have access. In my district, each classroom has one computer and each building has a computer lab with about 30 desktop computers. I worked in one school district in which the lab was fully equipped, but printing was a problem. Because no one wanted to risk being responsible for blowing up a printer, there wasn't a whole lot of printing going on.

Obviously, computers are not to be used for every assignment in all subject areas in every grade level, but we do need to remember that computers are really fancy -- and extremely versatile -- pencils. They write, make posters, calculate, and research -- they even can tell you the price of tea in China! Like pencils, however, computers usually don't do something unless you ask them to. Like pencils, computers sometime break. (And until we have computer sharpeners in every room, we certainly want to do everything we can to keep that from happening!)

I still don't understand many things about computers. I 'm not clear about what a motherboard is (even though my home computer recently needed a new one). I don't understand why Microsoft Word insists on some of the formatting it does -- in what I can only assume is the program's way of making life easier. I truly don't understand how the Internet worksI mean, where exactly is all that information when I'm not accessing it? "Cyberspace," though a catchy phrase, isn't concrete enough an answer for me.

I don't need to know any of that to understand that computers are a great way to motivate students. As long as my students continue to beg me to allow them to write "more," I will be convinced that technology use in the classroom is not only beneficial, it's absolutely necessary.

Previous Teacher Diaries

Be sure to see Education World's previous teacher diary features, The First 180 Days: First-Year Teacher Diaries and A First-Year Teacher and Her Mentor.

Article by Gail Beyrer
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