Monday, August 18, 2008

Failure to Launch

In my role on the Technology Use Committee, I have worked hard to provide countless professional development workshops for teachers who would like to advance their basic technology skills. We've held sessions on Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint, Windows Movie Maker, Google, using Databases, creating web pages, using document projectors, using LCD projectors, using instructional videos, and the list goes on. At times, I feel we are making great progress. Many of our students are even mastering these skills, which makes me hopeful for their futures.

At other times, I worry that I/we are failing our students miserably....and in this case, the students I'm talking about are the teachers. After years of technology workshops (which include very specific advice about how to frame an assignment for the children), the teacher I will highlight today has managed to create what I feel is an extremely confusing and incomplete sheet of instructions for his students who are to make a Power Point slideshow about Ancient Egypt.

A few details about this assignment...
These are 11-year-old kids in the 6th grade. This is their first time using Power Point (probably) and for many of them, their first time using any Microsoft product. This teacher has asked them to make a 15-slide presentation about Ancient Egypt. That's a lot of slides. A whole lot. A real lot, as they say in Decatur. As an added bonus, these students have not actually started studying Ancient Egypt yet. When they first visited the library to use the computers, they were asked to simply "set up" their slides. I don't even know what that is supposed to mean, and I've made a hundred Power Points.

Ok, so, on a plain, white half-sheet of paper is written the following:

How to do a PowerPoint/Slide Show

Start by going to start and left click (L C.) on the mouse.

Then go to bottom left and lick on All Programs

Then go to list and click (L.C.) on Microsoft Office

Then slide mouse over to Microsoft Office Power point and (L.C.)

Now, I suppose these directions could be followed well enough by someone who knows what they're doing. I do find the (L.C.) instruction bewildering in all of its forms. First of all, who calls it Left Click? It's just Click, dammit! Also, the first time it appears, the words "left click" are followed by the acronym in parentheses. Fair enough. The next time, however, the acronym for Left Click follows just the word Click. And finally, the words Left Click are left out entirely, but the acronym is still in parentheses. The words Left Click were shed one by one, until there were none.
Another problem I have with this is that this is not, in fact, the instructions needed to "do" a Power Point. To open the application, yes. To use the application? Not in a million years.

I would like to be the kind of person who is brave and cruel enough to directly address these problems with the teacher, but I am not. After all, I am not an administrator. I do not have true supervisory powers. Also, I am a yellow, clucking chicken.
As I prepare for today's Technology Use Committee meeting, I am reminded that being a teacher is a lot like being Sisyphus. That stone just keeps on rolling back down the hill, and I/we keep charging down to get it and to start over again. Maybe we know more about the hill we're climbing up; we can avoid divots and gravel. But that stone doesn't seem to get easier to push just because we recognize the terrain. What does it say about me, about the other teachers, that we choose to do this? Are we unrelenting optimists who believe in the promise of all people? Or are we just quirky, foggy-brained, and strange?

In the end, I have to give this teacher credit for attempting to do a Power Point with his students for the first time, right? I do. I really, really, really do. Really. I do. Right?

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