Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tech Teacher Interview: Julie King

Photo courtesy of
Julie King, ESK
I'm starting an interview series with teachers to share their expert insight into the impact of technology on kids and families - good and bad. The first interview is with Julie King, the technology teacher at The Episcopal School of Knoxville (ESK) in Tennessee, a private K-8 school. Julie is an IT specialist, elementary technology instructor, and a parent! In the interview below, I've taken the liberty to highlight a few important points of my conversation with Julie.

Q: What are your concerns with young learners and technology (if any)?

A: The most important thing is to make sure that the technology kids are using is interactive.  It's easy, with iPads and other tools, to let students become passive users.  Parents and teachers need to choose apps and activities that encourage kids to actively engage, create, and build their problem-solving skills.

Q: How is technology benefiting kids?

A: Technology is particularly helpful in letting children move through learning at their own pace.  TV shows and DVDs move at a prescribed pace - often interrupted by ads.  Well-designed instructional technology is ad-free and lets students practice as long as they need before moving on to more challenging material.

Q: Do you endorse any program for managing technology in the home and educating kids about online safety?

A: At ESK we provide filtered internet access. Parents can do the same at home with tools like NetNanny or OpenDNS. There is no substitute, though, for ongoing conversations with your children about online environments, regardless of age. Even elementary school students can understand that being online is like being in the middle of a big city. They never know who will be in the same space they are. Children should know that the best thing to do when they encounter something or someone they're not sure about is to tell an adult - a parent if home, or a teacher at school. There are many resources (like Netsmartz Kids) online to help parents teach children about safe internet use.

One helpful tip I've picked up is for families to institute a digital curfew. At a specific time in the evening, all devices are turned in. This gives parents the chance to check on their kids' computers to make sure critical material is being backed up, antivirus is running etc., and keep an eye on the apps and games their children are using. It also helps kids understand that there is a time and place for technology. There are also times and places for playing with the dogs, throwing a frisbee, reading and drawing! Disconnecting a couple of hours before bedtime helps kids begin to wind down and their minds prepare for sleep. I would also suggest that parents discourage constant earbud use. While parents may not want to listen to their kids music of choice, when kids pick up the habit of popping earbuds in often it's easy to miss lots of opportunities to connect.

Q: What do you teach children in your classes?

At ESK, our technology program's philosophy centers on three themes - adapt, collaborate, innovate. In a world where the technology students will use changes on nearly a weekly basis, the ability to transfer skills across platforms becomes critical. It may sound daunting, but today's kids are already wired for it. The day I watched my then-10-year old son and his friend set up a Wii and PS2 without help in the beach house we were visiting, I realized using multiple operating systems and tools comes pretty naturally to them.

When children use technology to connect with others, be it in their classroom or around the world, they expand their own horizons. Just last week, one of our classes Skyped with students in Central America. Innovation is the most important goal, and builds on the others. Once students know how to learn, and can assimilate ideas from others, they're ready to create something all their own. Innovation and problem-solving are skills so important to today's world - and tomorrow's careers.

Technology integration in school is always most effective when it is based on the mission and curriculum of the school. If not, it can become "technology for technology's sake" or pursuit of the latest/coolest tool. That's where the involvement and professional development of classroom teachers is fundamental to the success of technology in any learning environment. I think it's important that teachers know technology is only one piece of an amazing classroom. It's only successful when founded on strong pedagogy and a passion for engaging students. 

Thanks to Julie King with The Episcopal School of Knoxville for sharing your expert advice with parents! Please see ESK's web site for more information about the school's technology department, policies and tech summer camp.

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