At the Google Apps for Education Summit (GAFE) I was lucky enough to attend several of Jim Sill‘s workshops. Sill introduced me to the Google Art Project, showed me the simplicity of the YouTube Video Editor, and demonstrated the endless possibilities for authentic collaboration on Google Maps.
Now the GAFE conference is all about tools. The presenters were just sharing google web tools and their potential uses for the classroom.
Jim Sill is a dynamic presenter and you only have to look back at the twitter history from the conference to see that I was not the only one raving about his many presentations. (All of which he has up on the resources page of his blog.)
Throughout the conference one thing was nagging at me. I slowly realized that during the presentations I attended I found myself missing a lot of what the the presenter was demonstrating because I was absorbed in messing around with the tool.
After a while I even found myself wishing that the presenters would change formats. Instead of diving into the presentation, what if the presenter said, “Let’s explore (insert name of tool here). Open it up and mess around for about 10 minutes. What do you notice? Talk with the people around you if you want. What can you discover?” I felt like, if I just had 10 minutes to mess around with the tool and get it out of my system, I’d be more focused on the rest of the presentation and more open to deepening my understanding of the tool and it’s possibilites.
Once I had this realisation, a second thought hit me: Wait a minute, don’t I present new tools and skills to my students the same way as these conference presenters?
No wonder half my students get frustrated with bordom or feel lost when I introduce something new on our laptops. I’ve never handed out the computers to my second graders and said, “Just click around a bit. See what you can discover. Share with each other, walk around to see what others are doing.” I’ve never given them time to mess around and get a feel for a program, website, or just the machines themselves.
Instead I’ve been doing exactly what many of these presenters did. Because of time constraints, the conference format, and the pressure to fit in as much as possible in a short tim: coupled with this sensation we have that if we are not Teaching something, we’re not doing our jobs. But just look at the learning that happens when we stop Teaching. (‘Teaching’ with a capital ‘T’ refers to being the center of attention, the one talking, the one giving direction, etc.) When we stop Teaching, our students are more apt to discover things for themselves, or work with others to make discoveries. They will help and teach each other, most likely leading to more enduring understandings of what they are learning.
Next time I have the chance I will throw out the step by step instructions, the everyone working at the same pace to learn a new skill or learn about a new tool. I will let them inquire. Write their own steps and work at their own pace, like I do in other areas of instruction. Why, in my mind, did inquiry not apply to the technology I put in the hands of my second graders? It does now.
What about you – do you Teach or present when demonstrating a new skill or tool? Or do you leave room for inquiry, exploration, and messing around to facilitate new learning?