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January 9, 2012 Does State of the Art Equal Best Practice? By Brent Vasicek
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Your room is the Rolls-Royce of classrooms. You have a wireless microphone that communicates with speakers in the ceiling. You have an interactive whiteboard, a DVD player, and flashing lights. You even have remote clickers and a set of laptops at your disposal. Your students are living in a restless sea of stimulation and moving electrons. Does state of the art = best practice?

    Recently I was talking to educators who were envious of all the technology available to students in neighboring districts. By the looks on their faces, I could tell they were thinking, "How will my students ever compete with this?"


    After some thought on the subject, I confirmed my belief that technology will never replace great teachers. Great teachers connect with their students on a nonvirtual level. Great teachers create projects that allow for all students to be engaged in learning simultaneously. Great teachers foster peer-to-peer interaction. Even if you are in a district where the state of the art is a CD player, a mechanical pencil, and paper, you can still help mold the citizens of tomorrow. In fact, Eric Jensen, guru of brain research, says that, “Teachers had THREE times as much influence on students’ academic development as the school they attended.” I believe technology to be an extension of the school and not the teacher.

    Many of you have probably seen this short, passionate, and inspirational Taylor Mali video. It is his response to an impolite dinner guest. It is included here as a reminder of the differences a teacher can make.


    Need some concrete examples of how you can use simple materials in your classroom? The following low-tech, low-cost ideas can make a big difference in your teaching.

    • Post-it Notes — The Post-it Web site offers many ideas for employing the simple Post-it Note in the classroom. I typically use Post-its to display bar graphs of class data and to make connections in books. 



    • Foldables — Taking organized notes on folded pieces of paper is a great way to learn. Dinah Zike is the expert when it comes to foldables. This Web site has ten different foldables you can do with your class. You may also view a short video with quick examples of this low-tech tool.


    •  Porch Talks — Back in the day people would sit on their porch with a tall glass of lemonade and just chat. The connections made during those chats often formed friendships that lasted a lifetime. Likewise, there is nothing more valuable than connecting with a student. That connection allows the door to the mind to open wide. Make time for “porch talks” with your students, perhaps during recess or your office hours.



    This past summer I attended a five-day seminar created by Spencer and Laurie Kagan. The Kagan philosophy is “It’s all about engagement.” In five days I learned several low-tech structures (and there are hundreds) that foster maximum engagement with minimal technology (paper and pencil). These structures could be used for every subject at every grade level. If you ever have the opportunity to attend anything by the Kagans, you will not be disappointed. Their workshop is the Disney of the educational engagement world.

    One big "aha" moment I had during the seminar was the observation that an interactive whiteboard can only actively engage two students at a time, essentially less than ten percent of your students. The structures offered by the Kagans will increase active engagement, in a low-tech way, to 25%, and in some cases 100%. Active engagement can be explained this way: If one were to take a picture of the learning in the classroom, how many students would be actually doing something as opposed to just watching?



    I save one of my most powerful life lessons for the last day of school. When the students walk into the classroom on the first day, it is like walking onto a movie set. Every wall is carefully decorated, desks are covered with table cloths, music is playing, and the technology is in full swing. The ohhs and ahhs rival the ones at a grand fireworks display.

    On the last day of school the students walk into a classroom that is bare. No music. No lights. No desks. As the students enter, an audible gasp can be heard: the air seems to have been sucked out of the room along with all the props. We quietly sit in a circle. We share our thoughts on the year. We laugh. We cry. We discuss. We reflect. We talk about how it was not the material things in the room that made our classroom worth visiting every day. It was the people. It was the connections. It was us, not it.



    TED Talks is a great Web site devoted to ideas that are worth spreading. Every talk is under 20 minutes. Many of the speakers are captivating to listen to. Watch a five-minute talk on how less is more. You CAN make a difference without technology.  

    I am not saying the technology in the classroom is bad. I am not saying that teachers that use it are not following best practice. I am saying that there is more to teaching than using state-of-the-art technology. It should be used to enhance learning in a meaningful, unforced way.


    What sort of low-tech ideas do you find effective in your classroom?

    Now go make a difference!


    2i2 us a trademark of Mr. Vasicek's class.



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