Students tutor teachers in tech
Education goes the other way
Monday, August 6,2001
USA Today; Arlington, Va.; Aug 6, 2001; Karen Thomas;
"Student teaching" takes on a fresh spin this fall as kids polish their lesson plans and teachers come to class ready to learn.
As educators become overwhelmed with the latest computers, software, personal digital assistants and other new technologies, they're increasingly tapping their student populations as a source of savvy training ‑‑ and even to design the learning environments of the future.
quot;For the first time in history, we have youth knowing more than adults about something central to society, and that's technology," says Dennis Harper, founder of Generation www.Y, a students‑teaching‑ teachers program developed with a Department of Education grant.
Preparing students for the 21st century takes a new mind‑set. "The idea of teaching tech skills to teachers and having teachers teach them to kids is ridiculous," says Marilyn Piper of the International Society for Technology in Education.
* This month, 300 school administrators in Nebraska kicked off a training program in which each educator chooses a student mentor. Within three years, all 900 superintendents and principals will be trained by kids in Internet skills and PDA use.
"We feel students can do that training better than other kinds of hands‑on instruction," says Jerry Sellentin, executive director of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.
* International educators and government leaders are keeping an eye on the If I Could Make A School program, a project launched last month with a symposium in which 24 high school students from the USA and South Africa designed cutting‑edge classrooms and schools based on current research.
"Technology was a given to them," says Piper. "They assumed all textbooks were electronic, and it was a given they would all be interconnected on a network."
* Generation www.Y: Teaching With Technology, a program offering in‑school training to students who are then paired with a teacher to redesign a lesson using the latest technologies, goes nationwide this fall.
Currently in 41 states, the staff development program got a rare "exemplary" rating from the Department of Education last year. "Teachers are no longer getting technology workshops here and there. They have a kid‑partner in class every day," says Harper.
It's a simple idea. But developing an effective program and testing it took Gen Y five years and $9 million ‑‑ about one‑third in public funds ‑‑ to best figure out how to train kids to teach teachers and "become change agents instead of objects of change," says Harper, of Olympia, Wash.
During the 18 weeks of training, Gen Y students bone up not only on tech skills, but also on the ins and outs of teaching curriculum. They're also taught the social subtleties necessary to help them work with teachers, such as the difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable.
"We were taught how not to say things like, That's dumb,"' says Jeff Connor, 16, who developed an eighth‑grade history lesson that had students building a Web page instead of writing a paper. He did encounter some frustrations: Teachers don't have much time. "I ended up teaching the lesson and the instructor learned the technology along with the classes."
Learning from students is "disconcerting" at first, says Christine Partch, a third‑grade teacher from Granville, N.Y., who was among the program's pilot learners. But the "non‑threatening environment," she says, beats expert‑run workshops. "We learned without feeling embarrassed or shy because it was fun."
Now Partch teaches students how to effectively mentor teachers, who are "like very young students when it comes to technology: They're fearful; they're afraid they'll break it."
And there's no such thing as being too young to teach. Most schools use student mentoring in .middle school, but Harper says their quickest studies are in third and fourth grade, when they "still have that spark for learning." Sellentin says Nebraska principals ‑¬≠including elementary school principals ‑‑ are encouraged to choose a young mentor from their own school. "They know who the technology gurus are," he says.
The youngest students can become teachers. A project for the preschool of the future is in the works at the HumanComputer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland. There, 4‑ and 5‑year‑ olds are creating interactive classrooms with robotic storytellers and wireless learning toys. While testing educational technology ideas on youngsters is common, "we need to start at brainstorming with children as designers," says education professor Allison Druin, director of the Human‑Computer Lab.
"Society says adults are in charge," says Druin. "We're asking for a new power structure, and it takes time for kids and adults to both accept that both can teach
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