Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why the Tool Matters

My written contribution to “Why ______ Matters” was inspired by an incredible year in a congregated special education class in a brand new, technology-focused school. I shared my story of the amazing successes my students experienced, largely in part to the vast amount of new technology available to them. The topic is very near and dear to my heart as I watched these first percentile learners connect, communicate, and collaborate with students in regular classrooms around the world using social media. Simply by having access to “cool tools” such as iPads and Livescribe smartpens, the playing field was not only leveled a little, but the stigma of being in a special class was removed. These students were no longer ashamed to need accommodations and were actually very proud to be in “the class that tries out all the technology”. Selecting the right tools is always a concern, whether it’s computer technology or art supplies, so I’ve really explored the use of many different technologies and strategies. That being said, I am convinced that the technology used this year is what made the difference in my students’ education. They pick up these tools and use them without any pre-teaching. In fact, they are often experimenting and finding tricks and tips that they teach me! For many of our special education students, this is HUGE as they become teachers and leaders (for some it’s a new phenomenon). I have watched confidence and participation increase ten-fold simply by adding a mobile device or a web connection to a lesson. The immediate and constant feedback that many digital tools provide is perfect for our students with attention issues and the motivation factor simply can not be ignored. For many students in our special education programs, this is key. If we can engage these learners by using appropriate tools then we have to be doing more (as a system) to provide better access to students with special needs. I could go on and on and on about this…but I won’t (for now).

I knew when I was preparing for Unplug’d that this is the story I needed to share. I had much more difficulty deciding how I would share this beyond my personal narrative. Writing about this topic in a concise manner was impossible for me, so I decided to stick with what I know, and for me – that’s poetry. I’m not sure if it’s due to years working with primary students or just my innate love for the sound of rhymes, but for some reason it was so much easier for me to be creative with this “essay”. I still struggled with keeping it small. The size requirements set for our publication was a challenge for many but I really didn’t know how I would take my poem and literally cut it in half! This is where the small group collaboration really changed my game… I wasn’t sure how it would go having others pick apart my work, my art. I mean, how can you easily critique poetry? Well…they did. It was painful pulling apart my work and trying to decide what should stay, go, or be tweaked. I certainly could NOT have done this without the insights of my group members. I am really grateful that each member was honest and direct, while sensitive at the same time. I am pleased with the changes and suggestions provided by these awesome individuals, and in the end, their input made it better.

Read the original poem in its entirety here:
Why the Tool Matters – Unplugd11

This is an exciting week, reliving the Unplug’d vibe, as our chapter has been released, our videos are also being released, and a #ds106radio chat will take place on Thursday evening with the chapter two authors. If you’d like to take part, you can post questions HERE before Thursday at 9:00 EDT or you can listen to ds106radio and tweet along with us!

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