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Author: Carolyn Thompson, McGehee School for Girls | July 30th, 2013


As part of the process of revising the 21 Steps to 21st Century Learning framework, Susan Einhorn, AALF Executive Director, visited Carolyn Thompson, teacher of History, Government, and Geography at McGehee School for Girls in New Orleans, Louisiana, and asked her how 1:1 technology has changed her teaching practices. She shared some powerful insights on the manner in which 1:1 allows educators to build a community of young scholars in their classrooms.

How has having laptops in your classroom changed the way you teach?

Having laptops in the classroom has changed the way I teach because I no longer think of myself as disseminating knowledge. I think of students engaged in a common quest, along with myself, to answer those core questions that lie at the heart of the discipline I’m teaching. We’re stronger as a group than individually. And the laptop is what makes that possible.

The isolation you used to have with one student working through the curriculum, maybe in partnership with the teacher, that’s totally been blown away. The way I think about it now, the internet allows me to create a community within my classroom, where we’re all engaged in the same learning process. I’m learning from them, they’re learning from, we’re learning from each other, and we’re headed togwards some larger areas of understanding.

My ideal teaching is me 1 on 1 with all my students, and that’s not possible. But the tech means I can do that , not just the 7 hours I’m on campus, but anytime!

Furthermore, the internet allows me to create a community within my classroom. Where we’re all engaged in the same learning process. I’m learning from them, they’re learning from me, and they’re learning from each other. And we’re headed towards some larger areas of understanding. When I think about teaching now, I think about it as aiming for those larger essential questions, the ones that don’t have easy answers, that are the true core of my course.

That’s really the magical part to me. Changing it from being that single student in the classroom with the textbook, and turning it into that open-ended investigation.

How has 1:1 and access to the web in the classroom affected the teaching of your discipline?

I’ve changed the way I see myself as not a teacher, but an architecture, in charge of creating a space for learning, setting the goals and then see how we move through that. And that can be different, not every girl has to move through my curriculum in exactly the same way. In this way I can foster individual passion.

If you’re teaching government and you’re not using the relevant data that’s out there, and you’re just using a textbook, you’re not going to do as good a job that you could. 15 years ago, when I started, you could have a textbook given to you and that was basically the curriculum. Today that doesn’t work. You have to know your discipline. You have to know how kids learn. You have to figure out how the tech can help kids learn differently in different ways and you have to know what your discipline looks like in a digital world.

What crystallized in mind my, the light bulb moment, was that these kids have access to the same information that professionals do. So they should be doing the same things that scholars are doing with that same information. I truly think what I want is for them is to walk out of my classroom and participate in society, have an opinion about what’s going on around them, and have an opinion about the kind of world they want to live in.

**Also, be sure to check out AALF's 21 Steps to 21st Century Learning video on Contemporary Learning, featuring Carolyn!

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