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Using Technology to Enhance, Not Replace, Teaching

Diane Lewis has a loving nickname around Seminole County Public Schools. Her colleagues call her their “disruptive innovation.” As the district’s director of instructional technology, Lewis pushes teachers to break with tradition to meet the needs of today’s students who grew up on computers. “Today’s kid isn’t a 1950s kid,” Lewis says. “That’s why you get a lot of acting out. Kids aren’t engaged.”

Technology can change that, Lewis says, but that doesn’t mean simply having teachers write on an interactive whiteboard instead of on a chalkboard. Students must be invited to use the technology, too. “If all you do is put technology in a classroom and the teacher uses it to teach the way they’ve always taught, they’re just teaching in a more expensive way,” Lewis says.

Lewis gives an example of an innovative lesson from a summer program the district held for fourth- and fifth-graders. The students had to research the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and then design, through computer software, a rehabilitation facility for the animals that were harmed. The students, from three different schools, worked together through a Webinar and on a public document called an EtherPad. “The kids didn’t want to go home,” Lewis recalls. “Shouldn’t that be what school is like? It’s not about drill and kill. It’s about deep learning.”

In training teachers to change their strategies, Lewis encourages them to focus on student mastery of the material. She bases her approach on the “Understanding by Design” model developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, who suggest planning backward, starting with the goal and then crafting the lesson. Lewis likes to tell teachers, “If you can Google it, you shouldn’t teach it. Teach your kids what to do with information.”

For at-risk middle school students, Lewis has started an afterschool program where they use a virtual program called World of Warcraft. It’s a three-dimensional immersive game, like a video game, that has students learning while playing. They have to read passages and do math to complete quests. They also learn to work together. “We call this a hero’s journey,” Lewis says. “Nobody’s ever called them heroes before. It’s just the most magical thing.”