Pedagogy, Technology and Passion

During a recent #currichat on Twitter (Wednesday’s at 8:00 pm EST), the topic  was use of digital texts.  When the question, “How do we move an entire staff toward digital adoption?” was posed, I replied that we need to “Start with pedagogy, not the tool.”  Jess Reid Sliweski (@MSReidReads) responded affirmatively with this graphic:


I have seen this before, but now that I work even closer with school and district leaders and teachers across the county in support of the digital transformation of classrooms and practices, it struck a different chord. I believe the intersection of pedagogy, technology and passion is where so many educators get tripped up. It sounds easy, inspiring, catchy—but how do we encourage it? How do we create the environments to make it happen?

Upon reflection, I thought about my own experiences as a teacher during the “early days” of technology integration (if we can even call it that). It was 1990-something (sounds like I am cueing up an episode of The Goldbergs) and I was a second-year middle school teacher. Each teacher received an Apple computer, with little to no professional development. After helping several colleagues with turning on the computer and navigating the mouse, I began “diving in” by converting all my worksheets (yuck!) and tests into digital documents I could save and organize by unit and transferring my grade book into excel. But it didn’t seem to be enough. There had to be more, even during these early days.

That’s when a project serendipitously landed in my lap. I ran a drama club during the school’s activity period, and the entire school was to be treated to a concert by a local symphony orchestra as part of its music outreach program. The principal asked if the drama club could prepare the entire student body for the symphony’s performance, including Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. The challenge was accepted!

In working with the drama club, we designed a script and story boarded a take on Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure called Meg and Kacie’s Musical Adventure. Meg and Kacie were about as close as you could get to Bill and Ted for 7th Graders, and with the support of the entire drama club, we worked on designing props and costumes, writing scripts, and planning a storyline that included the two girls going back in time in a refrigerator box (painted to look like a telephone booth—remember those?) to meet Prokofiev and other composers to understand the music we would be treated to by the symphony orchestra. We rehearsed, video taped, edited created graphics in the drawing program of ClarisWorks (that we video taped from the monitor with the video camera because we couldn’t figure out how to export the images onto VHS) and managed to pull together an amazing piece that was shown to the entire school over the in-house video system. The day of the performance, the symphony orchestra representatives thanked us for being the best school audience for whom they had ever performed.

As I reflect upon that project from what seems like another lifetime, Jess’s shared graphic resonates more than ever. The pedagogy was about involving students in solving a challenge (how do we create an engaging presentation for the entire school?), the technology was culling together any tools and resources we had available (including a computer, a video camera and a refrigerator box), and the passion was the energy of students who inspired a teacher to work with them to create a product to be shared broadly. Even though it was the 20th century, we were employing the 4C’s -communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking- that resulted in a student-designed product delivered to an audience for a relevant purpose. It wasn’t about the computer in the room, the ClarisWorks application, or even about the in-house video system that was available. It was about the challenge and the passion.

And that’s what we continually need to ignite for students and teachers in classrooms on the road to digital transformation.