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Digitally immersed in the challenges of learning

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The type of learning I love is challenging, immersive, self-discovering and self-empowering. We find ourselves faced with a problem where we must devise a solution that suits us and the situation. At some point in that journey, we will feel frustrated, but eventually we will have that “aha” moment where we think, “Yes! I accomplished this!” We can feel proud of ourselves for employing our higher-order thinking skills and tools such as technology to solve a problem that challenged us and others.

Sometimes as teachers, we forget that great learning is a journey. Like our students, we often want to take shortcuts, or we want simple and quick answers. In our classrooms, we often use the tools we have for simple acts such as lifting a pencil to fill in a bubble, using the mouse to click on an answer and using our brains to eliminate the other three answers.

This is what learning is like for students most of the time, but the role of teachers is to begin to challenge them to take the journey. To do this, we must take our own learning journeys, which can be difficult if we are no longer studying for graduate degrees or immersed in challenging opportunities. Without challenges, we become lazy learners. One way to avoid this by learning to use technology to teach effectively.

Recently, I was training teachers in Nebraska to use iPads to accomplish short-term goals as part of my 30 Goals Challenge for Educators. They all received new iPads during the training. For many of the teachers, the iPad was a challenge. Many had to set up iTunes accounts for the first time, and some had never downloaded an app. Instead of training them to use the iPad, the technology trainers and I decided to help the teachers accomplish some of the 30 goals using their iPads. In a few days, the teachers had used their iPads to create digital stories, participate in scavenger hunts around the school, blog their reflections, develop multimedia mind maps and collaborate on Google Docs.

One day, we were observing the frustrated looks of some of our trainees. We sat in awe, thinking about how much they had accomplished, but then realized that our teachers hadn’t realized their accomplishments. We paused the training as I highlighted the amazing journey they had just taken and delineated the tasks they could accomplish now with their iPad that they would be able to pass onto their students. We talked about how immersing ourselves with tools and completing problems and tasks is a better way to learn, even if it means we get frustrated at times. The teachers assumed that most educators and students knew how to do all these tasks with their iPads. Upon this discovery, the teachers began to smile at their accomplishments.

They hadn’t gone into the training program to learn to use their iPads; they had signed up to accomplish the 30 goals. The iPad training was an extra, but doing so had yielded incredible results. We had a room full of teachers who had learned to think creatively and critically with a tool they had never used before. They had accomplished this in a few days and were proud. They felt confident enough to walk into their classrooms and show their students how to do the same.

One day soon, those teachers will stand in front of their students to teach them to use iPads for student-centered learning and hands-on projects. These teachers will have to get students to use technology to solve challenges and accomplish tasks collaboratively. Teaching with that technology will not be an easy journey. There might be tech glitches, and some students will not understand and apply the instructions as easily as others. It will be a frustrating journey, but I have confidence that these teachers will not freak out, blame the technology or quit.

These teachers left the training feeling as though they accomplished something great and should be proud of themselves. They deserve to be. They went on the journey, and now they have the mindset and the strength to help students endure their learning journeys. That is the kind of students we should be raising — ones who will endure a journey to solve problems and think creatively as well as critically.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, an author and an international speaker. She co-founded and organized Edchat, the Reform Symposium E-Conference and the ELTon-nominated Virtual Round Table language and technology conference and ELTchat. She offers free e-books and resources for teachers on her blog, Teacher Reboot Camp. Her upcoming book, “The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators,” will published by Eye on Education. Find her on Twitter @ShellTerrell.