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Hoping to motivate students with tech?

April 11, 2013

You hear it. I hear it. It’s a pitch worthy of the mythical used car salesman: pedagogical and administrative leaders trying to convince the masses that, by letting technology into the classroom, students will be motivated to learn. Like in the ‘good old days’, they will actually pay attention! But technology doesn’t motivate people. People do.

“But I’ve tried it and it worked! I used iPads in my classroom last week and, for the first time since the second week of September, my students were really engaged!” That’s great! Keep on looking for opportunities to let kids create and share! Dare them to surprise and impress you! But the ‘novelty effect’ of the tech you are using will wear off. Allowing it in your class may be new to them, but the tech itself isn’t. It’s part of who they are and what they do in real life, when they are not in our classrooms. It is not nor will it ever be a long term motivational tool.

I guess I should state here that I do not believe that technology is just a tool at all any more. An electronic device connected to the Internet is not a glorified note taking machine or an instant encyclopedia, which is often how us ‘digital immigrants’ (thank you, Mr. Prensky!) tend to see it. These new and constantly evolving technologies are changing the way we create, how we share and collaborate, as well as whom we connect with and why. But at the heart of every educational act is a relationship. A common genuine caring for one another. Without it, no technology will ever motivate a student for a very long time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fervent supporter of allowing and even promoting the use of technology in the classroom. One of the main reasons I write is to share my own personal trials, errors and hopefully successes! I’d even go as far as stating that every school should find and allocate time to teach kids how to code, if only the basics. I’m not a programmer, but my sons and I have started teaching ourselves (They are 8 and 10yo. We play a free coding game available for the iPad called Cargo-Bot, by Two Lives Left. Definitely worth checking out!). Interactive whiteboards, tablets and everything else I can’t even imagine yet will come and go. But the coding principles running the software they will be using are here to stay. At least for a good while. But no amount of technology will keep a student interested if you’re, well, just not interesting. Perhaps you feel that the curriculum you have been asked to teach may be dull; but you don’t have to be! That doesn’t mean you need to jump around and juggle while doing summersaults! Just establish a relationship. Great the kids at your classroom door when they come in. Tell them that you’re happy to see them. Smile. You may be surprised at the results.

Nothing can replace passion and enthusiasm for what you are teaching, and especially for the people you are teaching it to. Not even great tech. If you want kids to care, care about the kids. And remember: we’re all distracted sometimes!

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