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Can Older Dogs (Teachers) Learn New Tricks?

Silvio DeCristofano wrote this on Jul 2, 2014

older-teacherI just completed my 22nd year of teaching high school Social Studies.  I recently completed a Learning Technologies Maters Program through Drexel University.  As I look back and reflect, I wonder if the teacher from over twenty years ago would recognize any of the teaching styles or technologies used.  I doubt it.  What changed?  

The twenty year-ago me thought that there were extremely important events and people in history that all students should know.  I followed the teaching model.  I know important things and my students must leave my class knowing those important things as well. 

I now find myself following the learning model.  What is more important is that students discover and share knowledge, new learning is created, and students are fully engaged in the process.  Can older teachers learn new tricks?  Of course we can. 

What technology to use?

Most teachers (new or experienced) when asked all agree that technology can enhance learning.  Usually, these same teachers will have a difficult time incorporating technology in a meaningful way into their daily lessons.  Technology is still often used as a gimmick to keep the students interested.  Question.  If we know that technology will increase student interest, why don’t we use it more often?  Answer.  Most teachers are unsure what tool(s) to use and feel uncomfortable using some technology that most young people seem more efficient using.


When selecting a tool, teachers need to ask themselves the purposes of using the tool.  Entertaining students isn’t really enough.  Michelle Pacansky-Brock identified the three functions of emerging technologies and the purposes for using tools.  


Three common functional uses of emerging technologies in learning are:

  1. Enhancing interaction between you and your students and/or between students themselves.
  2. Creating online content for your class; for example, online presentations, demonstrations, lectures
  3. Creating a learning activity that integrates student-generated content and or participatory learning


In other words, the technological tool isn’t the answer.  The question is, what do we want our students to be able to do? And, what tool can be used to enhance that learning experience.  Teachers must  become comfortable with the technology that want to utilize and make sure it is increasing interaction and allows students to create content that they can share with one another or with everyone via the Internet.


So, what new tricks did this experienced teacher learn?

Truth is that this older teacher is more interested in student discovery, interaction, students creating and sharing new content and learning.  The way to achieve this is through utilizing technology, project based learning, and a student-centered approach.  Honestly, we don’t really know what jobs we are trying to prepare our students for.  We do know that they need to be adaptable, they need to be cooperative, and they need to be able to utilize and adapt to emerging technologies.


So as I reflect back I think of that young teacher getting chalk all over his pants everyday putting those “Oh so important notes” on the board that all students will need to be successful.   Over twenty years later, my students are working on their laptops, sharing information, conducting research, creating documentaries, and having online discussions for homework.  Yes, older teachers can absolutely use technology, learn new tricks, and encourage student growth and learning.


Up next: Read the Fight to engage the modern student.

Topics: Teachers