Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bridging the Digital Divide

I absolutely think it’s important to ensure that my students have digital access, and intend to do what I can to provide them with it. I can’t control what they have access to at home, but I can try to provide resources for them to use technology in my classroom and in school. I think it’s part of my job to ensure that they can successfully use technology, including computers, digital cameras, printers and scanners, and so on. The knowledge of how to use those items will help them not only in their school careers, but in any job they happen to get during or after they’re in school. Furthermore, the use of technology seems to engage students more than when it is not used, so having it would make me a more effective teacher (when used appropriately, of course). It's not just getting up in the front of the classroom and using a computer to give my lesson or show students a website, that engages them, either--it's letting students use technology themselves, having them play around and get comfortable with what they can do with it, that does it. And the goal is an engaged, actively learning student, isn't it?

I would personally love it if every classroom I taught (or will teach in) in was fully equipped with multiple computers, digital cameras, document readers, and had a SMART board, but I know that won’t be the case. Once I’m in a long-term teaching position, I fully intend to apply for a grant to get a SMART board in my classroom. The SMART website has an entire section on finding grants to fund a SMART board in the classroom. On a less expensive and more fundamental note, if my classroom doesn’t have a computer or other gadgets for students to use, I’d also try to find a grant to help me fund that, apply for it, and hope for the best. The internet is full of information on how teachers can get money to fund improvements in their schools and their own classrooms, such as this site. It’s actually a math, science, and technology company, but it has a long list of grants for teachers.

But I can reasonably expect that the school will have computers available for student use--perhaps not in each classroom, but at least in the media center. If that’s not the reality I’m encountered with, Computers for Learning is a government program that donates excess government computers to schools that need them. They give preference to high-need schools, but it seems to me that if a school needs to apply for this type of program because it doesn’t have computers for students to use, it’s a high-need school.

Additionally, to earn money for necessary technology in my classroom, Donors Choose is a great resource. Teachers put up what it is they need and how much it costs, and individual donors can pick what they want to contribute to. Digital Wish is another site similar to Donors Choose, however it is technology specific. I'd tell my students and their parents at the beginning of the year about my registration on these websites, emphasizing that everything generated goes to my classroom for student use. I would also try to find businesses that would be willing to donate to or sponsor my classroom through these sites--this way, they'd see exactly what's being purchased with their donations.

The idea for applying for a SMART board grant actually came form my first practicum teacher: she and other teachers from the middle school she works in applied as a team, got the grant, and now they all have SMART boards. She uses it constantly, and her students love it. It engages them.

Many teachers use Donors Choose for technology donations, as I found out while looking for ideas on the Educators PLN. Looking at that forum discussion, I read about other things teachers had done to obtain technology resources for their classrooms (specifically, SMART boards). It included proposing to their administrators that they pilot a SMART classroom, applying for grants, and looking into less expensive options like Eno and Mimio. One teacher even suggested MacGuyvering something like a SMART board, saying "However if you are really technically minded you can build an interactive whiteboard using a Wii remote and some supplies from your local radio shack. There are instructions on Google." However, it seems more likely that teachers will try Digital Wish, as evidenced by the many teachers who use the program.

Using all of these resources, hopefully when I have a classroom of my own I'll be able to use lots of technological gadgets to enhance student learning and help prepare them for whatever comes their way.

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