Teaching Digital Natives – My Reminders and Reflections

Teaching Digital Natives – My Reminders and Reflections

We have all know that children as young as 6 months old can figure out how to turn on and navigate an iPad.  We agree that the learners of today differ from those a decade ago, who differed from those a decade before them and so on.  There is no way to deny that as the world changes, our approach to education must change.

Our education systems have come to accept and encourage the use of technology in the classroom and learning environments but we have a long way to go in order to ensure that the quality of learning is the best that it can be.

Within our current systems we have technology users at all levels.  We have teachers using technology to globalize their classrooms, to create and collaborate on a large scale, but we also still have teachers who have not yet mastered the way to integrate technology into learning; teachers who view technology as a separate entity.

I feel lucky, a dozen years into teaching, technology has been a large part of my educational experience.  However, that wasn’t always the case.  I “played” on the computer in elementary school, I “word processed” in high school, I was in university when e-mail and instant messaging became popular and got my first cell phone in my second year of university.  However, aside from the basics, I never really knew the power of the tools in my hands.  I never experienced what it was like for technology to transform my learning.

Over the past 10 years I have worked hard to step out of my comfort zone, to try new applications and programs with respect to teaching and learning.  Unfortunately, given my role in the school, aside from helping other teachers, I haven’t been able to use the majority of the really cool stuff with students directly.  I listen to teachers who are on the cutting edge of technology use talk about their successes and their frustrations, I hear the naysayers and their resentment towards change, but I haven’t had the opportunity to experience a large part of this experience with students myself.

I love teaching summer school math to remain connected to the joys and frustrations of teaching, so when others discuss issues with me I can sympathize with them.  I know that my experience with a 3 week upgrade course is different than a full semester of teaching.  However, the stress, frustration and desires to help students learn are the same.

Although I have been teaching “online” for years, I myself have struggled with providing an experience for these students that is anything more than a sit and get…or in this case…a login and scroll.  A short time period and the distance issue were always my excuses as to why my course wasn’t engaging and as effective as I hoped it would be.

This year I taught summer school grade 9 math again and tried to shake things up more to make the course more engaging and meaningful than past years.  Although the course was full of help videos, interactive math websites and constant feedback and support it wasn’t perfect and there are a lot of things I can do to fix and improve it if given the chance again next summer.

Based on my experiences I have confirmed a few things for myself.

  1. Although we are teaching “digital natives” they still don’t know how to use technology to enhance their learning.  In many cases my students were no further ahead than I was when I was a grade 9 student.  They were not able to  easily manipulate files or feel comfortable with technology to find their own ways to complete and submit their work.
  2. Students today need solid demonstrations of the applications and programs we use, then time to revisit and reuse these programs in various forms to understand how to use or adapt it to fit their needs.
  3. Students still want to be “told the answer” and struggle with how to use tools to investigate the question.  They are so focused on the end goal that they misunderstand that the process is more important.
  4. Real life applications are key.  Students want and need to see how their learning can be demonstrated and used in real life.
  5. Helicopter parents prevent students from taking chances.  Students with parents who struggle to let their child fail create adults who don’t know how to solve their own problems.

Given my experiences and the notes I made I have some work to do for the future. Hopefully this school year I can:

  1. Help teachers become more comfortable and competent navigating technology so they can embed it in their teaching practice.
  2. Promote the importance of modelling technology use so students see it and practice it to become more capable of manipulating, creating and collaborating in online spaces.
  3. Encourage inquiry and problem based learning, opportunities for students to have guided learning that directs them towards a goal while providing learning opportunities along the way.
  4. Sharing examples of great real life applications to help teachers explore and develop their own challenges and inquiries for students related to their curriculum.
  5. Promote the Growth Mindset.  The idea that the process is more important than the end result, that failure teaches us more and makes eventual success even more fulfilling.

Hopefully throughout the next year I can improve upon my practice and help others struggling with these same issues to enhance our teaching so students can learn more effectively in a digital environment.   I know it can be done…one look around my board brings to mind a few dozen teachers who are stepping out of their comfort zone, blazing the path and changing the face of education for future students.


To teachers struggling with similar issues to me, what are you going to do to enhance your teaching?  To the trailblazers…keep up the great work…you inspire me!