When a Piece of Paper is Technology

It isn’t often that I see technology completely disappear in a classroom. More often than not, it is ever present and in your face. It screams, “Look at me! I’m so shiny and new!” And even more often, it describes “first practice” rather than “best practice.”

At Grant Beacon Middle School, for one brief moment though, I saw the technology blend into the background and become just another way to get things done. It happened in Kevin Croghan‘s classroom when he decided to write the essential question tasks he was asking students to complete on a piece of paper, a handwritten note to his students. Most of the time, I wouldn’t notice this ordinary act. But, I did because of what Kevin did next. He used his document camera to project up that piece of paper and then he proceeded to mark it up with digital tools on his computer.

He went from an analogue idea of what his class was going to do that day, to discussing it with his kids using annotations meant to differentiate and provide clarity within a few seconds. The technology wasn’t amazing to him or anyone else in the classroom. It didn’t seem strange that his personally scrawled message had been projected for all to see or that his ability to change it on the fly was immense with the tools at his disposal.

The disappearance of technology can only happen when we make it our own, we we own it so completely that writing on paper is just as natural as writing on a screen. Kevin, and many others at GBMS, have shown that it is the personal connection you have to your work and to the students in your charge that allows for the authentic use of technology. As Alex Magaña, the school’s principal, took me around to a half-dozen classrooms, he knew each and every student’s name. He asked them what questions they were answering on their iPads or what they were learning about in their Blended rotations. And they answered him honestly because the connection they had established was truly mutual.

The story of Grant Beacon is the story of a simple piece of paper. By writing on it, we breathe life into it. By projecting it up, we give that life a purpose. In creating something that is both old-school and high-tech, we allow for the essential questions to guide our practice rather than the shiny thing in our rooms. It is the seamless “blend” of paper and adaptive lessons that allows the technology to fade into the background. It just becomes “how we do things around here.” And that is a beautiful thing.

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