Monday, March 15, 2010

Developmentally Appropriate? - First Grade Teacher, Alison Prescott Responds

On Monday, I had the great pleasure of visiting a first grade classroom to look at technology integration.  Quite honestly, I didn't know what to expect.  During all of my visits and researching, I have become aware of  a debate regarding what is developmentally appropriate for elementary students.   I have begun to question how students were able to "get on board" with technology (laptops) at the beginning of middle school when they had so many other adjustments - social as well as cognitive.  So....

I came to Alison's classroom through  recommendations from 2 mutual friends.  I know Alison through literacy training sessions I provided over the years and realized early on that she is an excellent teacher - insightful and reflective, always focused on what is best for her students.  I also knew that after 13 years of teaching, she had returned to get her MED in the field of educational technology.  Needless to say, I was eager to see what had taken place and came armed with curiosity and -- my handy-dandy little checklist.

When I arrived at 9 AM, no one noticed!  The students were totally engaged and focused on the screen.  Alison was demonstrating the final steps on a project for their class blog.  The first graders were watching and collaborating - with quiet voices and thoughtful questions.  Students had recorded sections of reading texts (fluency), illustrated and photographed an illustration based on the text, and now were choosing music to accompany the illustration.  Alison was demonstrating how students would identify and embed all three for their classroom blog.  Higher level thinking?

After the students went to their special, Alison explained how she was integrating technology in her classroom.  I am writing this in bullet form in hopes it will be easier to follow the process.
  1. At the beginning of the year, the school based technology integrator, Rosie, taught the first graders how to use the toolbar on the macs.
  2. Students were introduced to skype by teaming with Alison's sister, Gay.  During one of her skype session, she read Make Way for the Ducklings and shared family pictures of Alison and her sister in the park where the story took place.  Alison continues to use skype with her students.  One of her students who is chronically ill, is included in daily instruction by tuning in via skype.  This has worked out extremely well for the class and for the student.
  3.  Alison has a  classroom blog.   Here are some of the projects she has posted. 
      4.  As you explore her blog, you will see she shares information with parents, creating a real
           audience for students (authenticity).  Alison describes it as creating an "investment" for
           students. They are excited all of the time because they know their parents can see or hear their
           work.  The students want to do their best. Parent response has been positive. 

So what does Alison think about developmentally appropriate - technology and her first graders?  Not too surprisingly, many of her ideas have come from observing high school students in other states!  She brought them back to her first graders and taught them how.  All of the student projects posted on the classroom blog are independently produced by her students!

Asking Alison what she sees as the biggest concern for her students and technology, she cites social networking.  She feels a strong responsibility to teach students how to use the social networks, remarking they are available to all of her students whether they have a computer at home or not.  Rather than blocking the networks, Alison encourages educators to consider teaching - at an early age - the safe use of the internet.  She reminds me that we were taught to tell callers (on the telephone - technology for my generation) parents were unavailable, not absent from the home.  She concludes, ethics and technology is a key issue we can not avoid.  Our students deserve more from us.

We will visit Alison again and post some of her projects in depth.  You will also be able to tune into her webinar at the beginning of April.

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