Discovering You're An Immigrant When You've Never Moved
I was born in Bellaire, Ohio, a small town on the Ohio River. I lived there until I got married, when I moved to the Cleveland area. I’ve lived in Pennsylvania and Michigan. The only time I ever left the United States was when I went to Canada for my honeymoon 20 years ago. Yet I am an immigrant. I find myself immersed in a world where I do not speak the language, people laugh at me, and many days I find myself frustrated and lost. This world is technology.
I began the journey toward my Master’s in Educational Technology with a fair degree of trepidation and the laughter of my teenagers in my head, so much so that my MSU password is based on the phrase, “My kids think I can’t do this.” That phrase served to remind me that I needed to prove them wrong and thus I could not give up, no matter what. The first few classes would test my mettle, especially as I wrestled with NVU, AFS spaces, uploading, and multiple failures surrounding all of it. Many long nights were spent in the computer lab at school, palms sweating, and tears of frustration about to spill over as I worked my way through those first assignments.
I will never forget listening to a video lecture by Dr. Bell, when he spoke about the students we are teaching, and referred to them as the “natives” of the digital age. We were the “immigrants” he said. It’s a little scary to realize that you are an immigrant – that you don’t speak the language, don’t know your way around, and you have so much to learn just to survive! I could hear my children laughing in my head, but I was determined not to give up. What I came to realize was that I would not master all technology through my studies; I was not going to have the savvy of an IT professional. What I would have at the end would be something far more valuable to me: an understanding of how technology can transform teaching and learning, both for me and my students.
LEARNING THE LANGUAGE
I remember creating my StAIR project in one of my first classes and how exited I was about the idea that I could use something so “simple” as a power point to review and quiz students on a given topic. Changing the background, adding sound and transitions (even at the most basic level) made the topic seem exciting and fun. So I tried it out on my students and found a few things: 1. they were impressed with their teacher’s ability to create it, 2. they moved through it too easily, and 3. I needed to find more challenging tasks for them to do on the computer that would not take me hours to complete!
The StAIR project was created just before my students participated in A World In Motion, a program sponsored by GM that has students work in teams to create a product that helps them explore scientific principles like force and motion. At the end of the project, students were to create a presentation to demonstrate their product and show their findings. Each group created a power point, and I was amazed at their creativity, ease of learning, and final products. I found myself learning from them…natives teaching immigrants.
BECOMING FLUENT AND CONSTRUCTING MEANING
When learning a foreign language, the first step for me is to become familiar with the alphabet, then basic words, and finally sentence structure before I can begin to really construct meaning from what I’ve learned. Learning the language of technology has been no different really; instead of letters and words it was power point and advanced Word functions. Then came wikis, blogs, podcasts, websites, servers, and an endless supply of on-line resources. The new challenge: how do I construct meaning out of this for myself and my students?
Enter Summer 2008 and Punya. Punya challenged my thinking and taught me how to see with new eyes. I began to put together what I had learned in ways that got my heart racing: I was actually able to make sense of all the pieces and I could feel that I was on the edge of something huge, a total paradigm shift. We began to put together technology and the idea of constructivist learning. If you can imagine a whole new path opening before you where before you only saw dense forest, then you can understand how I felt. Having the technology wasn’t enough – using it to shape student learning and allowing students to shape their own learning was the revolution for me.
As I continued my coursework in the fall and spring, these ideas began to gnaw at my brain and I was restless to work with them. Being in a district where there is little technology left me challenged but not deterred. So I found e-pals in Japan, got my students g-mail accounts (with parent permission), opened a private class site on Google Sites, and we were up and running (maybe jogging…walking fast… this was all new to my students). Even though it was a slow process, I was encouraged by the growth and excitement that I saw. Students who were reluctant to engage in the classroom were working hard to learn how to use the computers and were excited to publish something on “their” webpage.
FOLLOWING THE SIGNS
In many ways I still feel like I am on the edge of something I haven’t quite grasped and yet I know enough to articulate where I believe I am going. The future of education lies not with paper and pencil, but with technology in all of its various forms. I know without a doubt that the day will come when we can individualize instruction for all students, not just those with IEPs or 504s. This is not just a dream, it is our responsibility.
I will begin next fall with a cart of laptops and wireless internet in our building, the result of a technology grant that I wrote for our building. This will enable me to differentiate instruction in ways that I had only dreamed of before. Using a bank of online resources and pulling the best of the best from colleagues’ del.ici.ous accounts, I will be able to provide my students with instruction and supporting activities that meet their needs every day. This will be no easy task and surely there will be days that I fall short. It will require research, evaluation, planning…all of the things I usually do, just in a different format.
In addition to this, I am determined to save more student work in an online format. Having electronic portfolios will enable them to showcase their best work, reflect, and modify as they go through their educational career. This will be more meaningful and lasting than folders of papers that eventually go into a recycle bin somewhere. I believe it will cause the students to be more invested in the work that they create as well. I witnessed this first hand as students carefully selected the poetry that they submitted for our student showcase. I can only imagine the difference when students are truly invested in the work they are doing.
What does this mean for me? Given that I am an immigrant and will always be, this means that I will need to keep studying, working hard, and asking questions. It means that I will never be able to sit back comfortably, thinking I know it all, or even enough to stay put. Technology is a world that is ever-evolving and the language changes with it. So I will be a true life-long learner – always on my toes, straining to grasp the new words, make meaning, and put it together in ways that help me and my students reach our hidden potential.