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Seeds in Winter (Part One) February 19, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Lifelong Learning.


Part One of a Commentary for Education Week (continued on February 20, 2006) 

In the dead of winter, inspiration can blossom. The first visit to my daughter’s future middle school last week reminded me of a similar Open House years before and focused my attention on the nature of curriculum in general.

Before becoming Director of Technology at a College of Education, I was first a classroom teacher of English Literature and Special Education. Over the years, it has become my role in both the college and community to advocate for educational technology, to rail at congress for cutting funds, and to share not only the newest tools but also the best practices of using technology in the classroom. My fervor and fascination with educational tools and teachers who use them comes from almost three full decades of teaching. I feel a special bond with teachers who see potential in a machine because the machine, they know, may help students see the potential in themselves. It might come as a surprise that my earliest formal training in educational technology was a hands-on session on how to thread a 16-millimeter film projector. That was it. That session was a requirement of all graduates from the College of Education I attended.

A guiding assumption about the nature of curriculum informs my work and that assumption began to take shape after one particular event during my high school education. Even in that technology-light teaching and learning environment, teachers were still using overhead projectors and reserving reel-to-reel audio dramatizations of Twelfth Night and King Lear. After years of experiencing the words of Shakespeare in text and spoken word only, you might imagine the thrill both students and teachers had in experiencing the bard’s work in a live performance.

Even if all we had today in the classroom were tape recorders, film projectors, and oversized and overweight opaque projectors, there would still be teachers pushing the limits of these tools and I would be one of them. A few well-placed holes in construction paper taped over an opaque projector will provide a low cost planetarium. Several sheets of acetate and an overhead projector, in the hands of a creative teacher, will evolve into a crude animation to demonstrate a tricky concept. We used what we had.

In my high school, I had the honor of having classes with several excellent teachers who pushed the limits of the tools. As individuals, they tried very hard to bring literature to life and by the time my high school career ended, they had inspired me to follow their example. These teachers encouraged me to examine things I might have taken for granted and use them in new ways. The formal curriculum, for them, was only a part of the journey and the wisest of my teachers knew this. Focusing on a narrow strip of skills they could assess on a summative evaluation was a domain reserved for teachers new to the profession, for teachers with little life experience, and for teachers devoid of creativity in their own lives.

Continued tomorrow . . .




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