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BFTP: 7 brilliant things teachers do with technology

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post, December 11, 2008.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Marianne Williamson

A few weeks ago I listed seven stupid mistakes teachers make with technology. Easy marks, these poor teachers.

But to be fair, I see just as many brilliant teacher uses of technology. Here are things i see teachers do that just make me marvel and feel proud to be a part of the profession.

1. Empower kids with technology. Technology is an amplifier of natural abilities. Brilliant teachers see that good writers become better writers, good debaters become better debaters, good French speakers become better French speakers, good mathematical problem-solvers become better mathematical problem-solvers etc. by helping their students harness technology. They do not see technology as a crutch, but as a propellant. Brilliant teachers have experienced the empowering power of technology themselves. Brilliant teachers use good assessment strategies to rigorously determine the quality of technology-enhanced projects.

2. Creatively find and use resources. I can't believe the technology found in some of our teachers' classrooms. And it was provided by neither our department nor was it stolen (I don't think). Through personal purchase, through PTOs, through grants, through business partnerships, through parental contacts, through fund raising, through classroom supply budgets, brilliant teachers amazingly amass digital cameras and doc cams and clickers and sensors and such. One of our brilliant teacher McGyvered his own doc cam out of an old video camera, plastic pipe and duct tape - and calls it his Grover (not his Elmo).

3. Make conferencing real-time. Brilliant teachers don't wait until parent-teacher conferences to communicate with homes. Through e-mail, websites, online gradebooks, blogs, wikis and even telephone calls, technology gives teachers the ability to help make parents partners who help assure students' timely, quality work. They post newsletters, spelling lists, assessment tools, assignments, grades, calendars, discussion lists, and tips. They read and respond to parent emails. Parents want to be involved, but they like knowing how.

4. Put kids in touch with the world. The classrooms of brilliant teachers *hokey metaphor alert* have no walls. These teachers "get" the flat world metaphor, understanding that tomorrow's citizens and workers will have an advantage if they can work successfully with other cultures. From "keypals" back in the day to Vicky Davis's Flat Classroom Project today, brilliant teachers give even the most remote and least advantaged students a glimpse and dream of the bigger world - and help them both communicate and empathize with those in it.

5. Accept the role of co-leaner. One of the best signs of intelligent people is that they tend to willingly admit when they don't know something. Brilliant teachers, not only accept the dismal fact that they will never know all there is to know about technology, but turn the condition into a classroom advantage by having their brilliant children teach them how to do something techie now and then.

6. Use the kids own devices to teach them. Brilliant teachers understand the old Arab proverb, "It's easier to steer the camel in the direction it is already heading." Students are increasingly and unstoppably bringing in personal communication devices - cell phones, cameras, game devices, iPods/mp3 players, netbooks, laptops, and PDAs. Brilliant teachers know how to use cell phones to poll their classes; create podcasts of lectures; use games to teach difficult concepts; and make "Google-jockeys" of wireless laptop owners.

7. Delight in the discovery, the newness, the fun technology holds. It's not about technology. It's about finding out and doing "cool" things. We knew that ourselves as kids. Brilliant tech-using teachers have never lost the thrill of doing something "cool" with the toys. They are pleased with their tech-using students and pleased with themselves. Brilliant teachers use technology's engagement (not entertainment) power. Technology is not "just one more thing" but a vital experience that brings discovery, excitement and, yes, fun to the classroom.

I hope you all know teachers who make brilliant uses of technology. What do you see them doing?

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