In 2007, then Deputy Superintendent of Surrey Schools, Peter Drescher, asked a poignant question to a room full of teachers: What will we do when students arrive to class with hand held devices that have answers to all the questions we ask them? This question has stayed with me for some time now. As a tech junky I was excited about this question; however, as a teacher I was quickly apprehensive at the same time. Do we embrace technology and deal with the distractions that can come along with it or do we simply create policies to ban it? Do we let students use cell phones in class? The answer is clear and unavoidable, we must embrace technology as a tool in the classroom or we risk becoming stuck in a century quickly becoming obsolete.
The global village we live in is entrenched in the newest and most revolutionary technological advances, which are happening at a breakneck speed. As we speak, students are already arriving to class with electronic devices that have capabilities to access the internet. In Surrey, secondary schools are leading the movement to work within this paradigm shift. All secondary schools in Surrey have upgraded and open wireless access to the internet. This was a massive and expensive undertaking by our school district but necessary to meet the needs of students and teachers today. The stage has been set to answer Peter Drescher’s question. Across the school district, students and teachers now have equal and open access to a wealth of information at their fingertips. But, the question still remains. What do we as instructional leaders and teachers do when students arrive with the internet and a wealth of information in their hands?
As a Helping Teacher for Social Studies I hoped to address this question and tap into this newly available infrastructure while providing support, guidance and advocacy to Social Studies teachers and students to meet the new paradigm shift. In Surrey schools, many social studies teachers are leading the way and creating exciting opportunities for students to tap into the information highway and use technology as a lever for engagement, personalization, and creativity. With a team of department heads we were able to see the innovative work being done by one teacher in particular, Michael Moloney, Johnston Heights Secondary Social Studies Department Head, and his students around iPads and the new version of the Social Studies 11 electronic textbook Counterpoints. The e-text and the available applications on the iPad were working magic in his classroom. After seeing the potential of such technology and the shift necessary in instruction, the next step was to form a group or coalition of schools ready to take this innovative use of technology and step into the 21st century classroom. With the help of Social Studies Department Heads, a proposal was submitted for a pilot for five secondary schools to each receive one class set of iPads along with e-text subscriptions for each student involved in the pilot. Teachers participating in the pilot were also given their own iPad.
The realization that with these tools students can move beyond the four walls of the classroom and connect themselves with stories, data, and other forms of information on the world-wide-web was too enticing to ignore. There is a definite shift in pedagogy when using iPads as a tool and a lever in classrooms. Teachers are pushed by students to design lessons tailored to discussion, projects, assignments, and assessments that cannot be “Googled”. Project-based learning and differentiated instruction are quickly becoming the norm for these social studies classrooms as students use voice-over technology and other applications to showcase their creativity. A student with a passion for hockey uses a blog to write about how the history of the NHL connects to topics in class such as, the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, World War 2, and the Cold War period. Another student created a blog about her passion of fashion and the connection to WW2 (changes to the roles of a Geisha in Japan) and other units in her course. The lists goes on to music, inventions, soccer, boating, and much more. But the key to this personalization and creativity is technology and a teachers understanding of how this shift in pedagogy improves student learning.
The transformation thus far has been dramatic and challenging. These social studies teachers and students are at the forefront of the paradigm shift. They have one foot in the door and with the tools available in the classroom they are ready to shift to a classroom where students:
• are learning to be self-motivated by curiosity,
• using technology as an educational tool rather than a distraction,
• altering and marking up a textbook to make the curriculum come to life, and
• understanding how their skills, strengths, and creativity will shape the projects and assignments they design in class.
We are still in the early stages of this innovation but make no mistake the train for shifting classrooms to the 21st century is moving full steam ahead in many social studies classrooms in Surrey. There is no going back.
JB Mahli, District Social Studies Helping Teacher and Social Studies Department Head at Princess Margaret Secondary, wrote this post. Lisa Domeier de Suarez, Teacher-Librarian Helping Teacher, and Forrest Smith, filmmaker extraordinaire, prepared the video for us. Thank you to both of them for bringing forward the ideas to make this happen!