Monday, March 27, 2017

What about MY kids?

What to do when your school or your students do not have appropriate access to technology

In my travels as a national presenter and G Suite trainer, I have met many teachers from around the U.S. who express concerns about lacking the appropriate hardware and software in their classrooms, particularly in high-poverty and/or majority-minority schools. Similarly, teachers in these types of schools with adequate access to technology often wonder how their students will complete online homework assignments or continue the tech-based activities they start in the classroom in homes that may lack internet access or devices to connect to the web. I personally faced these issues as a mathematics teacher in an urban high school with limited funding.

Ask for what you want
Prior to working at a large, comprehensive high school, I taught at a small, selective-admissions sci-tech academy where the latest hardware and software were ubiquitous and every student went home with a laptop. After teaching in this environment, it was a real challenge for me to then teach in a classroom where I only had one desktop computer for student use. At first, I signed up early and often for the computer lab, which, in a school like this, was not being utilized frequently. My students and I did a lot of online activities on our lab days. Eventually, I wrote several grants to acquire a class set of netbooks, iPads and many other hardware tools to enhance my instruction. The more tech I obtained, the more fellow teachers, administrators and even district staff sought me out to let me know about new opportunities to get free and low-cost devices into my classroom. At one point, I even won a grant for a “digital kiosk” (40-inch TV) to display my students’ electronic projects! I encourage teachers who are not satisfied with the level of tech integration in their school or classrooms to research grant opportunities and articulate their tech needs to school and district administrative staff, as well as parents, who can donate used devices or funds to purchase hardware or software. A great place to start is Donors Choose.

Don’t make assumptions
Even with all of the devices I was able to get through grants, my kids still went home every day empty-handed; I never had enough hardware to send each student home with their own laptop or tablet. Nevertheless, I still assigned online homework almost daily and digital projects we did in class continued at home. On the first day of class, I gave my students an “Internet Access Poll” via Google Forms to find out how they accessed the internet at home and what kind of devices they used. Out of almost 150 students polled back in 2011, only 6 indicated that they had no internet access at home, and 4 shared that they had no laptop, desktop or mobile phone/tablet to complete digital activities. This meant that over 95% of the students that I taught (six years ago!) had access to the web at home, often with more than one device, in a school where over 75% of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch and over 75% were students of color. This is not what many teachers assume when working with these student populations.

Why this matters
The truth is that our students will not be able to apply for a job even at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s without sitting in front of a computer, and they certainly will not have access to jobs that pay a living wage without tech proficiency. Do not assume that your students don’t have access to technology at home. Ask--and for the small handful who are not connected, help them find ways to get online with low-cost or donated devices, or at the school or public library. It is our responsibility as educators to prepare all of our students for success in adulthood, and this is just not possible in 2017 without access to technology.

Tinashe Blanchet
Principal Consultant
Blanchet & Associates
Google Certified Innovator + Trainer
GEG Louisiana Leader
New Orleans, Louisiana | @mrsblanchetnet

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