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Some schools are jumping ship from the technology train.

After getting an unexpected windfall of stimulus money from Washington D.C. a few years ago, a junior high school in Hoboken, NJ is closing the door this summer on laptops for students.

One reason is that the tech support staff was unable to handle the numerous requests for repairs. Another is how the teachers were unprepared to positively utilize the new laptops. An unexpected consequence was how thousands of people would be on the wifi network, rendering the internet unusable.

There are many ways to be ready for the digital age at your school. Here are three tips:

1)      Prepare a plan

  • How are you going to use laptops? What programs will be installed? What purpose will they serve and when can students use them? In what particular classes will they be utilized?

2)      Prepare your staff

  • Make sure teachers know the ins and outs of every program that’s relevant to their material. They should be ready to integrate the technology into their curriculum before the first day.
  • It’s harder to teach when your students aren’t focused, especially when you can’t figure out how to get their attention during class. What should the consequences be for using a laptop in class and visiting off topic websites?

3)      Start with a sample size

  • You may have a whole school’s worth of laptops and iPads to give out. If you’re testing an elementary school, start with 5th graders for the first year. This will let you see how tech support staff handles those issues, as well as giving teachers and administration a chance to see how students behave with their technology.

Better Teachers

One thing that is scarce in today’s global economy is quality labor with unique skills. As any college graduate can tell you, it’s hard to get a job right now because the people that are hiring want candidates with previous paid experience.

The teaching profession is no different. Teachers can get their license without ever stepping foot into a classroom and be forced to learn on the job. We need to change this because it’s one whole year where students are going through their educational career and not getting the best possible experience.

Elizabeth Green wrote on this topic in her upcoming book “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone).”

“You don’t need to be a genius,” Green said to New York Times’ Joe Nocera. “You have to manage a discussion. You have to know which problems are the ones most likely to get the lessons across. You have to understand how students make mistakes – how they think – so you can respond to that.”

Yes, experience is the best teacher, but at what cost?

Alison DeNisco of District Administration writes of how schools have been cutting back on librarians.

From 2006 to 2011, the number of school librarians dropped more than the number of other teachers, according to the NCES. The community members and volunteers many schools hire to take over library duties often do not have the same training and knowledge of certified librarians.

Especially in an age where schools need technical leadership for aiding students, state-certified librarians are more important than ever. I can personally attribute my computer literacy to the library and media center instructors at my elementary school.

I was one of the more fortunate kids. I went to an elementary school that had the colored Mac desktops. I remember very clearly. In 2nd grade I was playing games like Number Munchers just getting the hang of using a keyboard. In 3rd grade, I started practicing speed-typing*. In 4th and 5th grade, I really looked forward to the one hour we’d spend with the media center teacher because I hated writing cursive and loved playing with the different fonts in Microsoft Word. I always thought highly of these people, enough to become a library and media center volunteer in 5th grade.

*I want to take a moment to brag. I’ve always been very fast at typing. In fact, I was typing so fast at one point that people were telling me to stop typing so fast. That’s when you know you’ve made it.

Then in 6th grade, something amazing happened. Our middle school librarian said she’d give a piece of candy to anyone that could teach her something. That’s how good she was at her job.

I was determined to get that piece of candy.

After school, I was watching a TV show on MHz about building a website from scratch. I noticed they used the ‘find’ feature in the Internet Explorer browser. In September of 2001, this was a revelation to me.

I went back to the library the next day, showed it to my librarian, and she was in shock that I knew something she didn’t.

I thoroughly enjoyed that Snickers bar.

Here’s the thing: librarians have a very important job. Without my librarian, I would’ve had a hard time getting reputable sources for research papers in college. I wouldn’t have known how to properly do online research in the first place.

A great librarian can help a whole student body become technically proficient. A great librarian can help you find what you’re looking for. A great librarian can get you to where you need to be.

We take them for granted and we really shouldn’t. Because a great librarian makes everyone else’s life easier.

Along the same subject as our post from yesterday, Fast Company posted a piece on the origins of Honest Tea.

CEO Seth Goldman was a student at the Yale University School of Management and Chairman and Strategic Advisor Barry Nalebuff was his former economics and management professor.

The company was conceived in a class discussion about beverages, and after Goldman had spent a lot of time thinking about the beverage industry, he contacted the Yale professor.

There are many reasons why this collaboration worked; one being that Nalebluff had the capital and connections to help the business grow.

The main point here is that a student’s interest was sparked by an educator and businessman’s curriculum. Inspiration can come from different sources. If that opportunity isn’t readily available for student’s, then the ceiling from their creativity is going to be lower than we’d prefer.

The collaboration between business leaders and educators has come to light in policy and reform.

There’s the Bill Gates push for the Common Core revolution in education and, more recently, David Welch’s support in Vergara vs. California.

What is the difference between the two?

In the case for Bill Gates, Common Core is a noble idea but it has already been dropped altogether by a handful of states.

With David Welch, he supported students and helped to remove teacher tenure in the state of California.

What is the fine line between businessmen and education?

With Gates, it’s not possible for him to be at every school in the nation and helping every student succeed to see his dream come true. In Welch’s situation, he saw a problem and helped a specific group of people fight for what they believed in. They were fortunate to have the financial help from someone with a high interest in the case.

What about local businessmen helping schools in their area?

This is what we need to be asking more often. Students need opportunities to hear from successful people around them. The more involved these people with an outside perspective are in the daily activities of schools, the more they will understand what needs to be solved, and the more they’ll think about how to help.

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