Teachers must be technologically literate

By JASON MAYFIELD/Guest Columnist

I realized the dramatic change in technology about a month ago when I asked the young men in my class at church to open their Bibles, and they all flipped out their smart phones and began pushing buttons.

Most people are uncomfortable with the idea of students using phones as education devices, whether in the classroom or at church. Obviously, the temptation to use technology for social reasons is a bit too much for most adolescents, even seventh – and eighth-grade boys who typically have one-word answers to every question an adult asks.

Rather than launch into “Super Teacher Man” mode and give a speech about “putting the phones up” and rhetorically asking “Who in the world could you possibly be texting on a Sunday morning?” I waited and was surprised to find the technology my guys had proved useful when the text we studied required an alternate translation and a dictionary – both tools my guys could find instantly.

Today’s classroom faces many challenges in preparing its learners to succeed in the 21st century. While students may know the ins and outs of smart phones and Facebook pages, they know little about building spreadsheets, trouble-shooting computer problems, and identifying ethical concerns and issues in cyberspace.

My literature students and I have just spent the last four days in the library looking through the opening lines of books. When you look at the start of a book today and compare it to the start of a book 100 years ago, there’s a huge difference in sentence length and vocabulary. In some ways, it’s as if the two books are speaking different languages.

People who care about the students of today cannot afford to be technologically illiterate. We need to learn to speak the language of technology, and we need to learn how to teach it appropriately to our young learners. Shelby County Schools is taking one step towards that goal this year with a professional development drive, iam21 (Shelbyed.k12.al.us/iam21/index.html). The initiative is a good step in today’s economic climate.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.