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We interrupt our regular scheduled programming…

I hold a special place in my soul for a plains thunderstorm. I have a deep appreciation for everything about them. From their disquieted beginning as a simple cluster of clouds on the distant horizon to the trepidation of a full-blown thunderhead, and even the sometimes terrifying torrential downpour paired with earth-trembling thunder. One thing that separates a plains storm from other storms is the fact that there are absolutely no surprises… you see them coming… you know when they’ll be here… you have a pretty good idea how bad it’s going to be… then you can watch it move on, doing to others what it did to you.

Right now, in December, I’m experiencing a bit of the same nervous excitement I feel when the National Weather Service interrupts programming to issue a “Severe Thunderstorm Warning.” Last summer, our school board approved a significant chunk of change for “assessment laptops” that will inject new machines into our schools to the tune of 1 to 3 additional, mobile labs per building… essentially doubling and tripling the current student computer fleet (especially in elementary schools). What that means is, almost overnight, the POTENTIAL for “computer supported learning” beyond the existing computer lab will grow two and three-fold. If we do this right, those mobile labs will “shine” on testing days, but will work just as hard every other day of the school year.

My high school basketball coach used to say “potential is an ugly, ugly word.” It’s painful to look back at those days on the hardwood, but given our 4-14 final record, I think I get what he was trying to say… and I’m certain he was right. Simply doubling or tripling access alone will not translate to dividends in student learning. Outside of the logistical and operational challenges of procuring and deploying hundreds of laptops for the purposes of “testing” there are a number of questions that (like dream-shattering claps of thunder) have begun keeping me up at night. Among them:

  • At the point at which there are potentially as many, if not more, opportunities for computer supported learning outside of the existing, stationary lab, what will be the expectation for teachers TO take advantage of those opportunities?
  • What are the “core” skills or competencies that classroom teachers need to have to best facilitate that shift in instruction? And, what supports will be in place for classroom teachers who take that dive? How does our approach to professional development change as a result?
  • What are the “base” or “core” skills that students need to have in order to take these tools and turn them into instruments for knowledge construction in the classroom?
  • What becomes the role of the elementary and middle school computer teacher?  What about the expectations for students during computer classes?
  • With the “access” problem being addressed in a big, big way, will we change the way we think of curriculum design and delivery?  If so, how?  Who will lead that charge?  If not… why not?

So there, on the horizon, are the clouds building… The next few months are critical in preparing for how we deal with the impending storm.

(Image: ‘thunderclouds‘ Uploaded on Aug. 21, 2008 by jared)

Posted in What I think.

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