Since the start of my teaching career I have been interested in what happens at the intersection of teaching, learning and technology as seen through the lenses of a Christian worldview. This interest was born partly out of need and partly out of a natural interest in technology. A substantial part of my teaching career has been in schools with conservative budgets and the challenge has always been how to accomplish excellent learning outcomes in students with the resources available to you.
Initially I turned to the Internet for ideas since it is an international repository of information, simulations and current thought that removed the classroom’s walls. The mystery of discovering something new often stimulates both students and teachers’ curiosity! Some of my most valuable teaching resources as mathematics and science teacher have been the excellent, mostly free, simulations that my students and I have been able to access. Used in conjunction with the amazing probeware that were available within the framework of a project-based learning approach, my students were able to gain a better understanding of the concepts they were being taught.
In 2011 I had the privilege of attending the first of a series of three annual conferences in Vancouver in which Christian schools across the globe got together to discuss what Christian education could like in the future. Keynote speakers such as Stephen Harris of Northern Beaches Christian School and Michael Horn of the Christensen Institute encouraged us to rethink how we thought about education in light of the transformation that technology and architecture had started in education internationally.
My views on the use of digital technology in education
I wasn’t one of the first people to get an iPad (mostly due to financial and geographical constraints) but in 2011 I became the proud owner of an iPad 2. At that time, the school I was working at decided that an iPad was going to be the required 1-to-1 device for the 2012-2013 school year. Two colleagues and I were invited to attend the Apple Leadership Workshop in Singapore in 2012 and there I was introduced to the SAMR and TPACK models. Since then, these models have helped me frame the professional development that I have been asked to do with teachers around the pedagogically-sound integration of technology in education.
Initially, as an early-adopter, I have been swept away by the exciting opportunities that technology bring to education, but I have come to realise that the best way to use any piece of technology is to (1) be aware of the possibilities it brings to the classroom and (2) integrate technology into teaching and learning so that it fades into the background, i.e. it is about the learning not the tool.
Apple’s products seem to do this naturally, especially when they are not used to substitute ‘traditional’ paper-and-pencil activities – as Dr Puentedura points out in the SAMR model. Apple’s products have been designed to be personalised and nowadays I find that I can basically do all of my teaching and administrative duties with an iPad. My iPad has required me to rethink the approaches I have had to accomplish my goals with ‘older’ and ‘different’ technology but in the end I find that my iPhone, iPad and my Mac Mini save me time by helping me to accomplish tasks more efficiently. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Apple’s products talk to each other well, they have been built to be ready for use with the minimum amount of startup time and they tend to just work – maintenance on Apple products is not time-intensive. This means that I am excited to use my Apple device to accomplish teaching and learning tasks.
I find that this is also true for students. Students are generally excited to pick up and use their Apple devices. Once you have convinced students that their iPod, iPhone, iPad or Mac is more than an entertainment device but a fantastic learning device, it is exciting to see what students can come up with. I have seen students
– excitedly learning to code using Cargo-bot and Hopscotch;
– taking notes anywhere and anytime by writing, taking pictures or making videos;
– showing their learning by creating stunning digital visuals or creating paper-based visuals from digital content they record on their Apple device in digital photography class.
The only thing I have to do as educator is give them the opportunity to use their devices to show their learning. They usually come up with the most innovative solutions.
I am a strong proponent for the developmentally appropriate use of digital technology, based on my experience as an educator and a parent, and the current research on brain development and mental health. You can read this post for a more detailed explanation.
As principal of Tyndale Park Christian School, I believe my role is to help staff and students identify and remove the obstacles that prevent us from moving towards excellence in teaching and learning. My colleagues are excellent educators and in my opinion New Zealand educators are not encouraged enough – I am in awe of them. I also have to acknowledge our students who help us come up with creative ways to use the technology at our disposal to not only achieve improved learning outcomes but also make their learning visible to parents, the Ministry of Education and visitors to our school. I count it a great privilege to invest in the future of our world by partnering with our community to create an environment in which students are encouraged to reach their full potential since God’s plans for them are “plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give them a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).