How can technology aid in student achievement?

From a University of Michigan Tech Director’s post to the LinkedIn group,

Technology Integration in Education

Hi everyone, I’ve been really thinking hard about this issue and was hoping you could help–How can technology aid in student achievement? Or also, What is technology’s role in education? Thanks.


It’s the creative power of technology, from the pencil to the Kinect, that matters–and our student/scholars need to be guided and encouraged to take control of the technology in their own lives and use it to express their voices. Michel Guilin (sp.?) I believe is where I first read this idea, which I paraphrase: For the most part, in most public schools in the US, for black and brown kids the computer tells them what to do, only white kids get to tell the computer what to do. Sadly, my own observations at the primary level and in general for “low-performing” schools is that drill and kill predominates. Often it’s pretty good as training material, and may result in improvements in test scores in isolated areas. But it’s still using the model that the computer is the smart one, and you have to try to beat it at a video game, rather than empowering children to create their own games and express themselves as they choose.

I am 1 week from completing a ten-week long term-substitute job (maternity leave) teaching second grade bilingual, Spanish/English, entirely Mexican-origin families, overwhelmingly working class. I had to follow a script for about 80% of the day, but the two bits of creativity we were allowed were a writing program and an ELD block. So I implemented a unit around using string games to develop dexterity for keyboarding, and we had a lot of fun. I photographed and video taped them teaching and showing their figures, and we wrote about them, created an altar for our local gallery’s Day of the Dead exhibit, and mounted figures into a book for the returning teacher. During the coming final week, we will use Photostory 3 to create digital stories from our writing and the still images.

With support from a MacArthur grant for digital writing though the “Digital Is” Initiative and the “Maker Faire/Make Magazine” Collaboration of the National Writing Project, I will be able to return to that classroom over the second semester of the 2010-2011 school year, and hope to be able to arrange a field trip to the Maker Faire in San Mateo with at least some of those students.

I’ve seen remarkable growth among these children with this project-based, student-centered approach. We have used “We Are All Teachers In This Classroom” as our motto, and I’m hoping that the returning teacher might be open to implementing some of the “Roots of Empathy” program, so that the children can extend the skills they are developing as not only authors but videographers and multimedia producers into even deeper personal exploration as they mature.

The string figure Jacob's Ladder by José T., shown against a white board with his proud smiling face looking back at us

Jacob's Ladder by José T.


Fred is a Teaching Artist, an arts integration advocate & a social justice activist. He is near completing a two-month Residency as String Game Performance Teacher at Calabasas Elementary School in Watsonville, CA, and performed at the 2015 Santa Cruz Storytelling Festival. He also serves as Teacher Consultant for Professional Development with UCSC's Central California Writing Project and as their Technology Liaison to the National Writing Project. He is a Connected Learning Facilitator and coordinates Face To Face Drop Ins on Connected Learning biweekly at Arts Council Santa Cruz County. He teaches self-directed & connected learning via real-world projects & string games through his Original Digital Project, an Associate of the Arts Council.

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One comment on “How can technology aid in student achievement?
  1. seaseal says:

    When I think of technology in the schools, I think of cognitive dissonance. The old familiar theme of “do as I say, not as I do” ran through the School Rules where I last taught (which shall remain anonymous, and you shall see in a bit why). Of course adults had different rules than the students. Of course, the rules for behavior changed once that final bell rang. Of course, the things the kids valued the most were the most forbidden. If we were serious about technology in the schools, we’d have to invest money in training teachers. And, where would that come from in our “dumbed down” school system these days?

    For example, cell phones were forbidden. Students could only bring one to school if a written permission were on file in the office. Kids could only have them shut off in their mochilas. If one came out, we teachers were to confiscate it. If a cell phone was confiscated twice, it was to be turned into the office until the end of the semester. Ditto any Gameboys, and any other “technology” that kids liked and used. Ridiculous? Yes, but typical.

    I brought in two of my own computers so kids could experience some of the excitement of getting access to the internet to find things out. I had my origami squad, who loved to do origami–and did–whenever there was a free moment during that No Child Left Behind–Pacing Guide daily schedule. They discovered whole new worlds about Japaese kids, about types of paper, about geometry…but, we had to stop that as my classroom was not wired for the internet (I’d jury-rigged the set-up) and the students were to do only canned “reading” exercises while in computer lab. Because I had some antiauthoritarian ones who rebelled against the cheesy reading apps, our class time in the computer lab was cut in half.

    I could go on, but won’t as it’s making me too sad. My previous classroom had had 24 computers, a color laser printer, and wifi, with a school-wide network to show films or live shows in various rooms on TVs hooked to a central downlink. How that stopped because of No Child Left Behind is another story.

    A kid could create an animation and display it for the class on our TV monitor. I could show the movies easily we’d made from video cameras and still shots, scans and text, as well as material from the digital cameras I’d scrounged. (we had one cable to download the pictures for the entire district, so I had to go to the main district office to do that) Nearly everyone who passed through my room made at least one book or QuickTime CD or audio CD or iMovie. The few who didn’t just weren’t into any of that yet and spent their time with body-calming games (more about this later, too).

    If I were queen, I’d wave my hand majestically and fund teachers going for a month to camp to learn all those things mentioned above. They would then get a support buddy who would visit the classroom three to five times a week to provide needed interactions, demonstrate techniques, assist with finishing projects, and troubleshoot problems. Every teacher.

    While the teachers selected for that month were at camp, their places in the classroom would be taken by administrators (at teachers’ pay too). And because no administrative meetings would ever be held during regular working hours, the administrators could either be administrating–evaluating teachers or evaluating programs–or in the classroom. What a concept.

    To bring the decision-makers face to face with the reality of what kids want to learn, I think it imperative to get administrators back into classrooms. Let them then rethink rules that say “No Cell Phones” “No electronic toys” “No Gameboys” or budget decisions that held back on purchasing internet accessibility for every classroom or computers for every kid.

    I thus command: Bring it on!

    So, if we are serious about technology in the classroom, we all have to be on the same page. We have to get our Goals and Objectives in line (that should show you how old I am). We have to consider the great opportunity we have for learning by teaching kids to text messages to each other–just the learningabout spelling that goes on is amazing!

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