The Technology Band-Aid

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Most people who know me are aware that I use technology in my classroom, but until this blog, I’ve never talked much about how important I consider it for what happens outside of my room. Two situations have happened in my teaching life this year that have reinforced my gut feeling that we must use technology freely, unapologetically and in many forms.

Extended absences

Mary Theresa is just a doll. Those are the exact the words I’ve used to describe a slight girl with sparkly eyes who entered my classroom this past fall. From practically the minute I met her, Mary Theresa’s illness has forced her to vacillate between home instruction and school. She’s a smart spark plug, and it was sad this fall to see her Crohn’s disease escalate and eventually force her to be hospitalized. She has a great support system in place, and was featured on our local TV station because of the number of cards she received from all over the country. Other than the obvious difficulty of the illness, Mary Theresa missed what was happening in the middle school building itself. One of my colleagues, Nicole, decided that she’d FaceTime with Mary Theresa during the school day, taking the iPad around with her so Mary Theresa could see teachers and talk to students. She was able to “be there” in a way that would never happen without some unorthodox use of technology.

The coolest part came when Mary Theresa created a Prezi to do her Utopia Project (she did all of her work for my class via computer). First of all, it is just awesome. Second of all, Nicole presented Mary Theresa’s Prezi for her while we were FaceTiming her as a class. Mary Theresa was able to hear the applause and see her classmates as they loved her Prezi—the only presentation to include music. Not only was Mary Theresa doing the assignments for my class, she was innovating as she went, adding her own twists to the work. “I really liked FaceTiming into the class because it helped me with my projects,” Mary Theresa told me, “and being able to see my classmates was helpful too. It also helped me feel a little more normal, almost like I was in the class with the other kids.” Not only that, but her Prezi on her “Moonbeam Utopia” was a finalist in our team contest. Check out all the presentations here. I’m happy to say that Mary Theresa is returning to school, a little at a time, and I know that being a part of a class all year will help her make the transition easier.

Being the eyes and ears for parents

I’ve written quite a bit about communicating with families because I find it shocking how little they know about the place they send their children to every day. Parents put lots of faith in us, so I like families to know what their child’s day is like in my room, inviting them in as often as possible. However, we all know that it is hard to leave work, so I’ve been known to record students giving presentations and send them to their Facebook pages, or to shoot a text about something I noticed (“Mark is awesome! He was just very kind to a shy student. Nice work, mom and dad!”) Kiddos know that if they are presenting, I’ll FaceTime it for their parents, using their phones.

Unfortunately, a student’s mom is ill and hospitalized, leaving her both unable to see her daughter at home or to come to any of the school events she’d normally attend. I’ve been recording every moment I can to send to mom, hoping that some small moment of her daughter’s day can help her feel connected. The other day, she sent me this text after I’d recorded her daughter giving a speech:

Amber's text message

I’m not going to lie. This makes me tear up. If we can communicate with parents about their children, in authentic, real-time ways, why wouldn’t we? I have 133 students, and I definitely don’t spend my day texting all of the parents; however, if a parent reaches out via text, that’s how I’ll respond. This is unconventional, and I appreciate that. I live in the community where I teach, and my children go to school in my district, so my relationships might be more fluid than most teachers. However, I firmly believe that teaching and learning must evolve to keep up with the ways we learn in “the real world.” Technology can't solve the complex communication gap between home and school, but for now, it's a Band-Aid worth trying.