TEACHING THE STUDENTS OF TODAY
Educator Angela Maiers urges others to tap into the riches and resources of online learning.
Twenty years into her career as an educator, Angela Maiers is quick to tell you that she still has a lot to learn. Forget about the books, articles and curricula materials she has written; the workshops she leads and the literacy institutes she develops and organizes; or the education blog that she maintains and updates. “I have almost erased the word teacher from my vocabulary,” she says. “I don’t see myself as a teacher; I see myself as a master learner.”
Maiers’ outlook is in large part influenced by her experience with technology in the classroom. “When knowledge is co-created by the millisecond, no one can be an expert,” she says. The Internet allows students from first grade on up to explore subjects that interest them in a way that would have been limited by brick-and-mortar libraries a little more than a decade ago. Still, instead of replacing such old-school educational materials as notebooks, pencils and books, Maiers sees tech as a powerful tool to complement traditional resources available to teachers and students. “Tech improves access and makes for a more sophisticated toolbox,” she says. “It isn’t an ‘either-or’ situation.”
For all the teachers that she has inspired to tap into the online community and extend learning beyond the classroom, Maiers inevitably runs into resistance. Through her presentations and workshops, she has come up against three “mindset hurdles,” as she calls them. First is the idea that a teacher’s power and control is marginalized when students can seek out other experts online. “Teachers are trained to be experts. When you release students into the [online] world to search out other mentors, it can be empowering or threatening,” Maiers says.
The second hurdle has to do with a loss of perceived control; until recently the mindset that knowledge has a clear beginning and ending prevailed in the classroom. The Internet enables kids to access scientists and researchers, gather information, find homework help and exchange ideas with the online community 24/7. For some, giving kids the opportunity to explore opposing views or conflicting information may be contrary to everything they originally learned about teaching. “It can be tough to handle this messiness of knowledge,” Maiers notes, which leads to the third hurdle—the fear of trying something new. In some cases, students will be much more familiar than their teacher with the ins and outs of the tech world.
The Classroom of the Future
Maiers believes that teachers need to embrace technology to help keep education relevant in a world where the ways in which we learn, communicate and play are changing more swiftly than ever before. She likens it to a doctor who refuses to adopt modern equipment or methods: “Imagine taking your child to a dentist who still pulls out teeth with a bottle of bourbon!” But she’s quick to note that you don’t need a classroom full of the latest gadgets and tools. “It’s not the tool that makes the classroom, rather what that tool tells you about students and about their world,” she says. As such, a teacher doesn’t need to have a Twitter account as long as he or she is familiar with this and other modes of communication.
So, how to begin? “Ask questions,” says Maiers. “Don’t be afraid to fail.” Maiers knows through personal experience. She is not a longtime tech expert and has written on her website that if someone had Googled her name just a few years ago, only one picture would come up. She became interested in the medium while writing her book Habitudes at a coffee shop close to home. While there, she met a group of business bloggers and began to learn from them; eventually, the leader became her blog coach and partner. In 2008, Maiers won the Edublog Award for Best New Blog and this year was First Runner Up in the Edublog Awards category Best Elearning/Corporate Education Blog.
Another important point to remember, Maiers advises, is that “you don’t need 50,000 tools in the classroom.” She has tapped into various free online resources including Google Docs, Skype and Audacity, to name just a few. In addition, she suggests creating a “tech pack” for the classroom, with a digital camera, Flip video, a digital recorder and a microphone. These and other tools will allow students to do a digital storytelling project—and eventually embark on a creative journey with seemingly endless possibilities for learning and growing into a generation of inventors, scientists educators.
Angela Maiers is currently working as an independent education consultant committed to helping DOE’s, schools, districts and teachers reach their goals in literacy and literacy education. Her work is featured in the National Research Council Yearbook, multiple professional journals and most recently in Urban Schools Most Promising Practices, published by the International Reading Association. Visit Maiers’ blog at http://www.angelamaiers.com/
By Kathy Satterfield
Kathy Satterfield is an editor and writer with more than 10 years of experience specializing in educational media for children. Most recently, as Senior Editor for TIME for Kids magazine, she managed the content of the 2nd- to 3rd-grade News Scoop edition and researched, reported and wrote for the 4th- to 6th-grade World Report edition. Kathy has also written for Grandparents.com and Fairfield Parent magazine.