hands on the keyboard

This is a verbatim transcript of a conversation I had with my 7 year old daughter this evening. (No, I didn’t record this, I just remember these words because they are now etched into my brain.)

Dad: So, what was the best thing you did at school today?

Daughter: Music.

Dad: How often do you have music?

Daughter: On Fridays.

Dad: What was fun about music today?

Daughter: We got to sing.

Dad: When do you go to computers at school?

Daughter: On Thursdays.

Dad: What do you do “in computers?”

Daughter: We take tests.

Dad: You take tests? Is that all?

Daughter: Yeah. When we were in 1st grade we got to play some math games though.

Dad: [sigh]

While I am advocating for creative and constructive uses of digital technologies in classrooms around our state and elsewhere, my own children continue to attend public school in a district which does not appear to have digital literacy or 21st century skills anywhere in the formal or informal curriculum, at least at the elementary level.

Our school district, Edmond Public Schools, was selected as “Oklahoma Technology District of the Year” last year in 2007. Quite ironic.

We have a long way to go. Conversations like this one today with my own children about their COMPLETE LACK of meaningful technology use at school don’t entirely break my heart, but they certainly beat against it soundly.

Should I remain silent about this? Will this post anger or embarrass some, who would rather just keep stories like this “quiet?” I don’t think silence has ever proven to be an effective catalyst for change.

My children have WONDERFUL teachers this year. They love their school. I know we’re fortunate in so many ways to be able to attend such an affluent school. I’m just frustrated, because most people’s expectations of “good school” experiences around us continue to be the same as they were in the 19th century.

I’m sure some classrooms in the 19th century were wonderful learning environments for children. Our classrooms here in Oklahoma are wonderful in many respects too. But it IS the 21st century. It’s 2008, in fact.

Hearing my own child after school say, “All we do in the computer lab is take tests” isn’t good enough. Not nearly good enough.

I told myself at the start of the year I need to meet with some of our local school board members. I need to see if I can address the board. I’m not hugely optimistic these conversations will make a difference, but wouldn’t I be a hypocrite if I don’t even try to speak to board members as a parent?

I haven’t done that yet. I haven’t made the time.


Maybe it is time to make some phone calls.

Whine is over

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18 Responses to Computers for just testing and math games

  1. AllanahK says:

    That is such a shame and a waste of your talents- make a few phone calls on Monday- definitely. You owe to your own kids and the other kids in the school.

  2. Tom says:

    I understand your pain. For years we had worked in our district to introduce and support innovative practices in technology. We recently had a change in administration, and they have reversed just about everything we have accomplished. Now, our tech staff, many of them veteran teachers with extensive background in instructional technology, are just seen as repair people, and our computer labs are used for only two purposes – online testing, then drill-n-kill.

    Sorry for the rant. I really wish you could call our district while you’re making those calls.

  3. PaulPam2 says:

    I understand perfectly what you are going through. We have a lot of fantastic teachers in our district, but we are not in the 21st century when it comes to Web 2.0 tools. Powerpoints and Word documents are used the most. Getting Web 2.0 tools unblocked is another problem.

    I hope you do investigate by talking to the teachers and administrators then visit the school on Thursday for Technology day. See for yourself what is going on…


  4. Bill Gaskins says:

    I know the pain as well. I have a second grader and the only technology they use is an interactive white board. That means each student get to take turns interacting. They go to computer lab to do Success Maker. My daughter loves her teacher and she is our friend. She is taking a class I am teaching. I keep making suggestions.

    What should I do?


  5. tom says:

    Ouch. Don’t you wish you could take a few hundred members of your readership posse to meet those board members with you? We’re behind you!

  6. I so hear you on this. I was in your shoes 10 years ago. Advocacy does work, but you have to pick and choose to make sure you don’t make things uncomfortable for your kids. At least until they are old enough to willingly join you in your quest for change.

    In going to the board, you might make enemies at the school level who think you went over their heads. If you just show up for Technology Thursday to “help out” it might be too little to make a difference. It’s also discouraging to have a great thing go for a time, and then the whole effort disappears like a rock dropped in quicksand– you don’t even get ripples.

    I think the best thing you can do at the board level is get accepted as an expert that needs to be on the budget committee. At least you can cut off future purchases of expensive testing systems.

    The good news is that my kids and their friends use technology seamlessly in their lives. The bad news is how much better their education could have been. Literally yesterday I had a conversation with my college sophomore daughter about how much she loves her computer science class – the first one she’s ever had.

    You also might consider something more subversive – organize kids to use technology and then create a student tech team. It’s an accepted way that schools allow kids to use technology, but the result is that the kids push the teachers to use it more. And if you run the team and seed the kids with ideas of how to use it in more integrated ways, you have a whole network of change agents at the grass roots level of the school. Another idea is for students to run technology workshops for the community, students and teachers. I just did a blog post with an example of that

    We’ve spent way too much time teaching teachers technology and hoping they 1) use it, and 2) change their pedagogy to use it in integrated ways.

  7. At the risk of being repitive, I to, feel your pain. However, I also have a suggestion, in addition to addressing the board members, maybe you should start talking to teachers in the district.

    In my district, I sometimes feel like a lone soldier with no voice or power whatever, although I imagine there are others who may not be as vocal, or as committed to it as I am. We do not have adequate hardware even for those who are committed to teaching 21st Century skills, and no leadership at the administrative level.

    Is there a technology coordinator at the district level? If so, is it an educator who understands pedagogy or a technocrat? Maybe the teachers need a voice for change from outside of their ranks. I know that parents in my district are often listened to in ways that teachers are not.

    Good luck and keep fighting the good fight. It’s people like you who give classroom teachers like me hope for the future.

  8. Wesley Fryer says:

    I have not shared the entire story here in this post, but I think perhaps I should include more details so I am giving a better picture. I have been engaged with the instructional technology department since we moved into the district almost 2 years ago, and they have been very friendly as well as moderately receptive. I’ve offered 2 workshops to date, which were attended by 2 and 6 people each, respectively. I’ve offered to share workshops at my own children’s school, but the one date they offered last Oct wouldn’t work for me. I did facilitate a series of five videoconferences with NASA for 3rd graders last year in May, and that experience required hours and hours of coordination and testing… mainly headaches due to the 3rd party company they use to maintain their district firewall. We did have some successful NASA videoconferences, which generated some enthusiasm, but not continuing interest on the part of any teachers or administrators. (I had students ask this year if they could do more videoconferences with NASA, but never any requests from teachers or administrators.) I have worked multiple times with one of our children’s teachers, and she has been very excited as well as receptive, but the chief obstacle is that everyone in the district is scared to death of user created content because the school board has specifically forbidden anyone, student or teacher, from accessing or using any blogs at school or even at home, from what I understand. So the culture with respect to technology use and publishing is VERY fear filled.

    I returned from Shanghai in Sept with the contact info of a super teacher in Hong Kong who wanted to do some student virtual exchange and digital storytelling activities with 4th graders at our school using VoiceThread. We recorded a “safe” voicethread at the end of Sept (no student pictures or last names used) and asked for approval to share this, since they didn’t want to do anything publishing wise without district central office approval. We waited and waited, inquired, waited, finally in December I had a great meeting just before Christmas with the district instructional tech folks who were enthused after learning how VoiceThread can be used instructionally. They were going to write a policy approving its use for teachers and send it out.

    Fast forward to the end of January, the policy had not been written and sent out to teachers. We’d been waiting 4 months at this point to share the VoiceThread the students created back in September. The district folks said they were busy and hadn’t had time. I offered to draft a Word document policy and share it with them so they could modify it. That is where we are today. The ball is in my court, and I need to draft that suggested policy and send it to them. Then if they send it out, the teacher will get (along with other teachers in the district) a green light to use VoiceThread.

    As you can see, I’ve been trying to work for the use of read/write web tools in the district, but it has been a frustrating and to date, fruitless experience so far “going through the channels.” I don’t want to alienate or make people mad, we live here and we want to support and help our school and teachers. Still, I want to advocate for the constructive and appropriate use of these tools. It is a fine line to walk.

    This latest conversation with my daughter just reflects the current reality in the school, which I, as a lone parent, stand very little prospect of changing. That is one reason I’m investing so heavily in our Celebrate Oklahoma digital storytelling project. I think actual examples of student-created work safely published on the web may have more potential to change people’s mind about read/write web tools than anything.

    About six months ago I went through my company “channels” to see about sharing a presentation at our local Rotary club, like I shared in Duncan, Oklahoma for their Rotary club in May 2007. I was told I could not by an internal PR person, because of some company negotiations with the city. Dead end there.

    Of course my main focus of advocacy isn’t and can’t be my own kids’ school and school district, but I’ve tried to do what I could. I offered to help start an after school club focused on using Scratch software, but I proposed that close to the start of school in August and was told it would take months to get approval for the software to be approved by the IT department and installed on the computers in the lab. I was also told there was no way students could bring in projects they had created with Scratch from home to the lab, because all external flash drives and CDs were prohibited on school computers that were brought in from the outside because of virus/malware concerns. (The district is all Windows-based.) So that idea went no where.

    Multiple reasons to be frustrated. We live in the real world, and the challenges we face here are likely similar to those faced by others in many other schools. Again, that’s why I’m focusing on “Celebrate Oklahoma Voices.” I still think it may be worth trying to talk to school board members tho. I’m going to try.

  9. Wesley Fryer says:

    I so appreciate the words of encouragement from you all. Tom, if I thought a posse would help, believe me I would try and raise one! That is sort of what I’m trying to do in partnership with many others, in the Celebrate Oklahoma Voices project actually.

    Sylvia, you have and continue to influence my thinking so much along the lines you discussed in your comment. I agree we are focusing too much on the teachers, when the power to change our schools and move our technology use along lies with our kids. Of course leadership is a key focal point too, but a student technology team is a great idea. I’m considering different options for myself professionally. Part of me longs to go back into the classroom but work in a 1:1 setting. I have an appointment Tuesday to meet with the superintendent of one of our districts who is going 1:1 at the high school next year. I want to be in the future and have my kids “in the future” when it comes to learning too, and I am increasingly thinking we are going to have to physically MOVE our family within Oklahoma to “get there.” All options are open.

    Glad your daughter is enjoying her first computer science class. I would love to see how high and far my own kids could fly if they were empowered at school to use technologies more advanced than pencils, worksheets, and textbooks.

  10. Wesley Fryer says:

    Lisa Linn/Clare Lane: Thank you so much for your comment and encouragement. If I can offer even a small bit of inspiration to others then my work and advocacy is not in vain. That is one of the best things about our current read/write web culture: our abilities to network together for idea sharing and mutual support. I remain an optimist, but like everyone else I certainly face frustrations at many levels.

  11. CIndy Lane says:

    Wes..Step by and fight!!…always, for your kids as well as the other students of Oklahoma. Once they understand you are not going to go away, they will slowly embrace all you have to offer…
    ..and yes, we have the SAME thing going on at our school district…B E A U T I F U L wireless laptop carts in all of the elementary schools, used for TUNGSTEN testing…99% of the time…tsk, tsk…

  12. vejraska says:

    I wish I could offer a great solution to your problem, but I can’t. Oh wait! Yes I can! Move to Branson:) (sorry, had to throw that one in there:))I am chewing on several ideas for my own district and an area college, and I am fighting the same hesistations in my own mind. I do feel like the best way to combat “testing labs” is to dismantle them and put mini-labs in the classrooms, then tell teachers that if they want those mini-labs, they go to training and learn how to embed them in their regular classroom instruction. I walk past one of our labs several times a day, and although I have seen some good things going on there, I have also seen a lot of drill and kill. I also think the more we can impact pre-service teachers, the faster change will come- let’s get at them before they have been lulled into habit of cranking out Madeline H. lesson plans one after another (no offense MH fans). I am crafting a devious plan at the moment to take our local college by storm:) We’ll see how that goes! The more I hear about the woes of other districts, the more I LOVE MY PRINCIPAL, and our tech department. We have our issues, but for the most part, they listen and work with us to do what is best for kids. Hmmm, so your daughter is 7, so perhaps she would be in 3rd grade next year, which is what I teach…just down the road a bit in BRANSON! We could make some serious dents in the armour….ok, I’m done.

  13. Cathy Nelson says:

    Wow, Wes this sounds just like a question i turned in for Educon’s panel discussion that was used. Each panelist bemoaned the same issue, and most said they supplement their own children’s education.

  14. mrsdurff says:

    And Stager gets on me for making third grade computer fun? Tests? What test on a computer is there for a 2nd grader?

  15. camilotesa says:

    I am 14 years older then your daughter and I am still surprised at how little technology seems to be integrated into her computer class. I agree that taking tests on the computer does little to prepare them for how in depth technology is becoming engraved in everyday life. I look back at my time in elementary school and realize how technologically crippled I was. The only thing I can remember benefiting from is doing such programs as “Type to Learn” which helped me attain my now flawless typing ability, but did little to prepare me for my high school and college career. Entering high school I knew very little on how to change formats on papers and do such things as Power Point presentations, which hindered me greatly and with which I am still struggling in today. If I was having difficulty with it then how much more if children do not get the technological skills they need in this rapid growing era of technology?

  16. Mark Ahlness says:

    You know, we’ve repeated the “world is flat” mantra for so long… there are some really big mountains out there, and they get bigger the closer we get to them. Hang in there. Trust your gut. – Mark

  17. Sarah says:

    There’s a high school in the town in which I attend school that uses a 1:1 ratio for laptops for students, not in every classroom, but in many. The students are not allowed to take the computers home of course, but in the class I observed, the students could look up pictures on the internet or find stories, and complete and turn in their homework assignments online. I thought it was such a great thing. So I completely agree with your stance in this area. This will only happen gradually, but at least some schools have started.
    To take this in a different direction, I do not want the computers to completely overtake the role of the teacher. The teacher should still be able to teach and facilitate the learning and only use the computers as a tool to aide in the learning, not to do the teaching themselves. Otherwise high school would become even more monotonous and boring to some than it already is.

  18. Cindy says:

    I feel I am a little late in coming upon this post. My heart goes out to you and your daughter’s “situation”. My district is also using a great deal of student time on computers for testing. Also the test takers are getting younger and younger. I am hoping that you have your policy draft in the hands of the “Policy Makers”. Oddly, I got word a few days ago that my district is “worried” about blogs and wiki’s because they don’t have a “policy” in place to govern what should happen with them. I am holding my breath to find out just how long getting a policy will take. After reading your story here, I am beginning to think that if someone like YOU can’t seem to get things moving, how on earth will a kindergarten teacher like myself ever make progress against the “powers that be”? I hope you can/will share the bare bone basics of your policy with the rest of us who find ourselves in similar situations….maybe we can cut the wait time down a bit.
    Sadly, you and your daughter are not alone!


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