Sunday, June 16, 2013

Connected Learning through Arts Integration

I've pioneered using technology in the classroom since 1994 or so. I had the only internet connection in a classroom at our school, and one of the first in our county, which I got by agreeing to pay the phone installation charges myself--somewhere between $50 and $75, I don't recall the exact amount. Luckily my principal agreed to let the line charges stay bundled with the school's overall phone bill, and I was able to convince a local Internet Service Provider to donate the connectivity in the name of education. We had 5 or 6 computers, 3 Mac II's and some Mac Classics, networked and capable of surfing the net in the classroom, and they became one of the kids' favorite centers.

A few years later, I wrote a Technology Literacy Challenge Grant, which funded me to work full time as a technology integration specialist and Director of the TLC Grant. I continued as an entirely self-funded technology mentor teacher for seven years. Since retiring from full-time work in the Watsonville school district, I've continued to use and advocate for technology as a tool for students to use to create artifacts of their learning and to facilitate their self-directed learning. But the winds of technology use have shifted so far (among some quarters) towards technologies which attempt to "deliver" instruction from machines into children as empty vessels that I've become less and less comfortable being identified as a technologist.

Using computers was never about the technology for me, but rather about the connections and learning possibilities which the Internet afforded. My initial motivation for learning to use computers in the early 90's was to use the Internet to connect my Spanish-speaking students to their peers in Mexico, and thereby enhance the value of retaining their Spanish language skills amidst the relentless pressure to "immerse" themselves in our jingoistic English-only culture. I never really accomplished that goal (there's an interesting birdwalk to take about why it was so hard to do, for another time), but I did fall deeper and deeper into the world of technological communication and became identified locally as a tech mentor teacher and unofficial IT troubleshooter.

One of my goals for the #CLMOOC is to remake my identity into that of a Teaching Artist. My 2D and 3D art-making is still pretty funky; the art I want to be teaching is "Telling Stories with String." And the storytelling is as much about the teaching as about the string: string games provide a direct link to the bilateral, cross-fertilizing power released when we develop ambidexterity and digital memory, not in the figurative sense in which digits are 1's and 0's but via the direct use of our fingers to connect bodily learning to the brain's two hemispheres. And the process through which any group learns a string game is quintessential "Connected Learning": there are always a few in a group who learn a little quicker than do others, and so the teaching art is to create a group climate where each of those newly minted experts immediately becomes another teacher, and soon the reality that "We Are All Teachers in This Classroom" spreads from the string figures to the math problems to the story sequencing, structure, and composition.
Fred teaching string figures at Alianza, 1991Fred teaching string figures at Alianza, 1991