Digital Worksheet Rant Is Hurting Progress

If you’re reading this blog, I can bet you’re like me. You love technology. You love teaching. You want to change the way we do things in education. You might even share all of the hard work you’ve done to pave the path to the future of Learning in the 21st Century. You’re an IT Director, Superintendent, School Administrator, Tech Coach, or the Teacher Tech Leader in your building. You are constantly trying to push your colleagues out of the comfort-zone to the much more enjoyable and satisfying DMZ/Area 51/Bermuda Triangle/Whateveryoucallit and some of your colleagues are actually following you to take some risks. You setup some time to show them the ropes; introduce the technology, give them some time to play, and maybe even co-teach some lessons with them. Your colleague even jumps on Twitter because you said it was the best PD they’d ever get.

A few weeks go by and you notice your colleague is no longer pulling out the technology. The iPad cart, Apple TV and projector are collecting dust. But why?

Pushing EdTech Resistors to Take Risks… Then Bashing…

So I’m probably not the best story teller due to the fact that the last fiction novel I read was back in high school, but you get the point. Why do we push our colleagues to jump into the 21st Century with us and then bash when they aren’t utilizing the technology to its’ full potential? Don’t get me wrong, because I am just as guilty as the next techie.

Here are just a few examples:
Quick disclaimer: I have a huge respect for the following Tweeps listed below and by no means have selected these to suggest they are not great for promoting educational technology. Simply driving home the point.

I’m not going to let myself off the hook here, either:

I Agree With Each Tweet…

… but I think we need to focus on how we spread the word. I suggested to Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) that using iPads for worksheets would be an ideal point of entry for a teacher new to technology and who needed to get their feet wet.

Once teachers have gained some confidence using the technology, I think it would be natural to provide other options for them to leverage the technology and help them progress up the SAMR Model. Carl Hooker seems to agree:

What is a Worksheet, Anyway?

Math Task Template Are we really talking about avoiding the use of paper / digital paper in classrooms or are we really trying to say that teaching involves a community of learners and a combination of effective instructional strategies? For example, with students taking an applied math class, my lessons are much more scaffolded than when I work with students taking an academic math class. However, I typically provide what I call a math task template as a guide to what we might be exploring that day. A bit old fashioned, but when it comes to leaners that have difficulty self-motivating and have not had a positive experience learning math in the past, it has proven to be effective. See the image to the right for an example of what one of these “digital worksheets” would look like. Note that images may be taken by the student, if it is an activity we are completing in the class.

I’d assume that eventually, no matter how awesome a math teacher we are, we will eventually need the students to do some written algebraic work. These math templates would serve the purpose and also eliminate a lot of the time required for students to “copy” useless details from the board/projector/chart paper.

Rethinking How We Push Digital Learning Forward

I know that I’m going to try and avoid knocking those who aren’t at the same stage of the SAMR Model as I may be. If we want to be effective educational technology leaders and help others leverage the great tools available to their students, we need to help them build confidence that what they are doing is a step in the right direction. There are many colleagues who would consider me a “tech-guru,” but there are still times when I question the direction I’m going and feel deflated if the hard work I’m doing is being scrutinized by others.

Let’s celebrate people making a move in the right direction and find ways to promote the lifelong journey of redefining what it means to learn in the 21st Century.


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  • Kyle,

    I don’t rant about tech being used as digital worksheets because I am not a ranter. However, I do believe that many of the worksheets used in schools in any format whether on screen or paper are low food chain work for kids and should be minimized. Worksheets aren’t new to education – i did plenty of them over 4 decades ago in school to keep me busy. I’ve seen plenty of educators use them over the years for the same purpose. There may be times when kids working on paper or screen sheets makes sense for purposeful reasons but over reliance is typically about a constant stream of rote recall learning and test prep in the last two decades. I don’t want to see screens become worksheets for kids anymore than I want to see IWB tech become blackboards for teachers who live comfortably at the dominant teaching wall. I want to see children active, interactive, interested, and inquiring as learners- most of the time they are with us in school. This means providing them with teachers who are innovating pedagogy that leads to deep learning, interactive technologies that allow kids to use them with authenticity, and learning spaces that provide flexible pathways to choice and comfort as children do the hard work of learning.

    For me, it doesn’t matter whether the tech happens to be a pencil, paintbrush, hammer, slide rule, or mobile device – when kids are using tools in authentic, purposeful ways that move them up the “thinking and doing” food chain more young people will find learning to be worth pursuing and demonstrate the lifelong learning competencies my district values over test prep competencies.

    This is the ethos I value in our schools and classrooms – a culture that extends from a growth mindset by educators who see themselves as learners dedicating to moving across a continuum from developing to integrating to innovating practices for today’s learners. I don’t want to reinforce the compliance-driven models of the 20th century when we have the potential to move to a post-Gutenberg model in this decade. That means creating pathways to shift from write it – print it- read it- recall it- listen to it to search, connect, communicate, make.

    I met with a team of mechanical and aerospace engineering profs on Friday – all of whom have worked in the private sector and are now practicing faculty. They are weary of young engineering students who have been raised on a diet of math textbooks, procedural memorization, and paper math work. They want a different curricula for high school students that integrates math and science so kids experience real world applications and learn to think mathematically and who can build with their hands. How do we create pathways for teachers to this kind of learning for children? I think we have to create dissonance about “worksheet” and dominant teaching wall teaching. I had a mentor who did that for me in 1976 and it has stuck for a career.

    This might be the longest comment I’ve ever written so maybe I can say I’ve officially ranted. 🙂


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  • Accepting poor uses of contemporary technologies and weak teaching methods as a way of someone “getting their feet wet” seems beyond… something to me.

    It has been 17 years since I first installed networked, internet linked computers throughout school classrooms and honestly, I am tired of the failure to make them valuable to students. We’ve let technology in schools languish and fail for 100 years, and it is time to stop. We came to “accept” the nonsense of third rate “educational fims” – and – much worse – the horror of film strips, now reproduced as PowerPoints, when real fim and radio and then television was available. We used reproduction equipment, first dittos and mimeographs, then copiers, not often as forces fr student content creation but to create worthless worksheets, now reproduced, yes, as “workscreens” with no more interactivity or individualization.

    Now we have taken the marvels of the computer, the mobile device, th internet, and reduced it to Khan Academy videos and TED talks, one-way speeches no more enlightening nor useful in changing education than the textbook.

    And since I am known to rant, let me do so. We, as professional educators need to expect more from our colleagues. When I first moved from police work to education I discovered – and noted – that cops were far more likely to deal with and even turn in bad cops than teachers were to do either with bad teachers. That “blue wall of silence” has nothing on the teachers’ lounge. And this is not the way to be a professional, or be treated as a professional.

    I am sorry, but teachers can save lives, and great teachers do that every day. And teachers can seriously hurt children, and do every day. That’s an awesome professional responsibility. Very much akin to other professions which have chosen to have much higher professional expectations among peers.

    For me those expectations include – for example – understanding how university math education is changing, and how math in the workplace is changing, and how little those “worksheets” – whatever you choose to call them – have to do with those realities. Those expectations include understanding that engagement must always come first – a reason to learn – and that that reason is never about what the teacher thinks. Those expectations include understanding that the arithmetic should never be a barrier to the conceptual math – because if you teach in a way which allows it to be that – you are crushing opportunity for students and damaging our economy and society.

    I do not want doctors who “get their feet wet” by using CT Scans badly, and I do not want teachers who “get their feet wet” by using technology in ways which tell kids that even cool technologies cannot make school worthwhile.

    – Ira Socol

    • Ira,
      It’s unrealistic to think a teacher can go from little or no tech use to jumping to the level of redefinition. Doctors don’t start Doctor: Day 1 knowing all the answers or tests to order. They start with simple, common procedures and work their way up. Teachers with little tech experience need to be supported and encouraged to move up the levels, starting with substitution.

      Also, worksheets (in whatever form) are not inherently evil or bad practice. They’re one of many tools that we choose from, depending on the needs of our students.

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  • Could there be be another problem with going paperless?

    • Can’t help but laugh every time I see that video!

      Nice seeing you on Thursday! Cheers!

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