As I began my morning regimen of getting myself functional, heading to work, flipping open my laptop and getting my daily dose of the world’s ever trekking technology from my usual gadget gurus, I immediately zeroed in on a story featured on Mashable—“Maine Student Laptop Program”. I don’t know what drew me too it; it seems simple enough in today’s society. But somewhere in the first few sentences the words: project, podcast, and virtual tour, were all used to describe a middle school project in one of the education programs in Maine. WHAT? I instantly read on…
In 2002, Maine decided to take its one-time $37 million surplus and put it towards a contract with Apple, calling it the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. In this contract, they provided 33,000 middle school students and 3,300 teachers with laptops. Again, I find myself wondering “WHAT?” and making the awkward face I do when I enter a state pure perplexed-ness (…and then begin making up words) A computer for every student? Immediately I feel a twinge of jealousy, longing to be a student at that school.
For most of us, getting out of school was the pinnacle of our adolescent/young adult life—no more homework, no more dress code, no more endless trudging through the hallways to another hour of boredom. However, as I read of Maine’s school projects utilizing the technology to its fullest by conducting history lessons through digital podcasts produced by the students, it became impossible to suppress the green monster within me.
It seems so cliché to say “back in my day, we didn’t have all of these gizmos,”—and trust me, I didn’t see myself saying it at the age 24—but its true! I remember thinking I was on the cusp of evolution as I was took part as the first 6th grade class to integrate the gps into a science project. It was the size of a brick and the screen had that awful green tint to it. None the less, I felt tech savvy at the ripe age of 12. Now, with the proper implementation, kids in Maine are given the opportunity to flex their modem muscles with technology applications that I don’t even have the opportunity to use in my graduate program!
“It’s just a part of how we do business now, and in some ways we’re starting to take it for granted,” explains Michael Muir, who helped design the leadership initiative that brought this teaching method to Maine’s school board. He describes the difficulty that teachers face when trying to prepare kids today for a world that doesn’t even exist yet. He describes some of the challenges that they faced—as well as the other 33 states who have attempted this strategy, but failed to not recognizing the proper strategy to implement the change.
As a 24 year old, recently self proclaimed technorati, I always felt that I had a pretty good grasp on the innovations being made in our world today; but felt a harsh reality check when I read the strides being made in Maine. While I was doing the Zoolander-esque computer pounding on a brick sized gps, these middle-schoolers are becoming bonafied Mark Zuckerbergs, programming their own websites for their history projects! It’s intimidating. This is the exact point Muir emphasized as to why the other states failed and Maine prevailed.
The Maine school board recognized the mental hurdle of the unknown territory, and took it head on. For the teachers, knowing that the majority of the kids you are teaching know more than you do about the devices that you’re supposed to be educating with is terrifying. With this in mind, they created workshops to edify the teachers on the functions and potential applications of their new technology. Once each were proficient, and more importantly, confident in what they were doing, the schools encouraged them to really apply the technology to more than just assigning homework. Once the seed was planted, there was no stopping the bandwidth in which these digitally enhanced classrooms could achieve.
So while I wake up to my usual regimen every day, go to work and open my laptop, the kids in Maine are doing the exact same thing. It’s amazing to think that in just a few years, these kids will be the next digital superstars, and my measly 20 something self will be on the brink of being outdated—that is, if I don’t do something about it.
With an ever changing world of exponential growth in our technology, it is imperative to recognize that it is here to benefit us and to make sure that we use it to its full potential. While some may feel that it is too late to jump on the wagon, I say stop throwing yourself a personal pity party and get out of your own way. There are plenty of people, companies, and seminars that are dedicated to updating our technical skills—so get out of your own way. As the great Jerry Maguire once said “Help me, help you.”—oh god, do these “kids” don’t even know who he is?!