October 2002 • Volume 6 • Number 2 • Pages 7-9
The Electronic Thread
A Technology Teacher: Back from the Future
Brenda A. Dyck
When I stepped off the plane today after spending three days at the Exploring the Future of Learning conference in Seattle, Washington, I felt like Marty McFly from the movie, Back to the Future II.
Like Marty, my blast into exploring the future stretched my thinking, challenged my comfort level, and broadened my experience. The interactive format of the conference brought educators face to face with the radical changes in store for the classroom of the future and encouraged us to adopt a mindset of inquiry and imaginative play.
"Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads."
— Dr. Emmett Brown, Back to the Future II
One of the most fascinating aspects of the conference was the exhibit hall. There, I was forced to leave behind familiar and comfortable mental models so I could better grasp technology applications with foreign names like Mobile Augmented Reality, Tele-immersion, and Immersion Virtual Reality. On more than one occasion I asked for a "dumbed-down" explanation of the technology tool's purpose and application so I could get my head around it.
I caught myself wondering if these awkward-looking technology tools would amount to much more than a novelty or toy. Then I recalled the mammoth computers that filled the basement of my university in the 1970s. Realizing that the computers that had seemed so removed from my life then had evolved into the compact laptop that I rely so heavily on today jarred me into a cautious respect for the far-out technology tools I was introduced to at this conference.
"I guess you older guys aren't ready for that, but your kids are gonna love it!"
— Marty McFly, Back to the Future II
Looking around the exhibit hall, I noticed an amazing number of teenagers manning the exhibits, answering questions, presenting their ThinkQuest projects to the adults. I couldn't help but notice how articulate, confident, and knowledgeable they were.
ThinkQuest is an online community where young people learn, teach, mentor, discover, research, and work together in teams, using the Internet to research a topic in science, mathematics, literature, the social sciences, or the arts, and publish their research as an educational Web site for peers and classrooms around the world.
The ThinkQuest world encompasses young people, educators, and technologists in more than 100 nations who come together as digital learners, Web site creators, and Net entrepreneurs.
ThinkQuest — www.thinkquest.org
Young people are challenged to create their own learning spaces online. They take the lead in the creativity and innovation and serve as models for others.
- Student empowerment
- Leadership development
- Improved creativity and critical thinking skills
- Improved organization and collaboration skills
The teacher-coach introduced the ThinkQuest project, but it was the students themselves who explained how their project connected brain research to immerging technologies in the classroom of the future. It was startling to realize that these savvy presenters were probably no more than 17 years old!
Generation Y — www.genyes.org
Students develop technology-based skills and partner with a teacher in the school to integrate technology in their classroom.
- Student self-esteem
- Leadership development
- Increased technology infusion into the curriculum
Sandwiched in a corner of the exhibit hall was a small booth profiling a learning initiative called www.GenerationY. This program prepares students to help teachers better implement innovative technology in their classroom.
A perky ninth grader walked me through the www.GenerationY philosophy and helped me set up a hypothetical technology project that we would implement together. She made practical suggestions and demonstrated an incredible grasp of the current education lingo.
One of the most inspirational discussions I had during the conference was with Amr Hamdy, a program manager with ThinkQuest Africa. Amr described SchoolNet Africa's vision to have African students play a global role through information and communication technologies (ICT). With pride, she told about a ThinkQuest project that pooled the talents of students from Nigeria, Australia, and the United States to create the "Forces of Nature" project.
This project provides interesting facts about natural phenomena around the world. Informa-tion is presented about earth science, geology, common natural disasters, unusual phenomena, their impact, effects, and causes. Additional features include guidelines and tips for event prediction, preparation, and prevention; and historical case studies, real-life stories, interviews, current incidents, and experiments.
Most touching for me was her story of a Nigerian girl who teamed with a group of students from the Netherlands and Singapore. The girl's mother gave 50 percent of her total income so her daughter could have Internet access. This girl eventually became a ThinkQuest coach and is now studying in the United States.
SchoolNet Africa — www.schoolnetafrica.net
This Africa-based networking institution focuses its vision on developing African students as critical thinkers through ICT.
- Better education in Africa
- International collaboration
- Sense of pride in being African
"The future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one."
— Dr. Emmett Brown, Back to the Future II
While these projects represent only a smattering of the 40 thought-provoking project demonstrations and activities showcased at the Exploring the Future of Learning conference, they do provide a sense of the different and at times unrecognizable "learning scape" that is on the horizon of our learning culture.
For us to determine how and if these new technologies fit into future learning environments, educators and students will need to talk about the future of learning and the roles that technology, students, teachers, and educational institutions will play in implementing that vision.
Imagining the Future — www.thinkquest.org/future
A three-year umbrella project invited educators and students to explore how young people will learn when they have access to advanced technologies.
- Critical thinking and problem solving skills
- Global collaboration
Brenda A. Dyck is a math teacher and technology integration specialist in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is also one of the teacher editors of MidLink Magazine and co-author of a monthly column for Microsoft's Classroom Teacher Network. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2002 by National Middle School Association