Technology–How Did I Get Started?

Back in April, 2012, someone asked on Twitter how people got started with technology.  I began this blog post, but didn’t finish it then.  Six months later, here’s my answer.

I’m a child of the 50’s and 60’s, entering college in 1970–nearing the end of the Vietnam Era, but fully in the hippie era, and joining marches for peace. I remember taking a field trip in a High School Math class to visit the University of Virginia (UVA) and look at a computer–which took up a whole room and used punch cards to work.  I took a Fortran class in college and loved the logic of it–probably because logic puzzles were familiar to me. (See a previous personal post on “Visualizing Math.”) I won a portable TV in a contest when I was 10 years old, but don’t remember growing up with electronic toys.

I bought a computer of my own in the late 80’s, and used it mostly for word processing as I sent weekly notes home to my kindergartners’ parents. I also used it for the graduate classes I was taking. A pilot project through UVA provided modems to a few classes in Albemarle County and mine was one of the two at my elementary school. I remember my K kids using email with people in our central office and me figuring out how to add a phone to the jack so that I could get both phone calls and emails into my classroom. I was on listservs through bitnet and conversed with teachers from all over our county and the surrounding area that were also involved in the pilot program that later became Virginia’s Public network (Virginia’s PEN).

In the early 90’s I moved to the first completely wired elementary school in our county (and I believe in the state of VA). In a Kindergarten class there, I began using Hyperstudio, Kid Pix and the Internet with my students as we learned and played together, and I taught myself html to create web pages that shared what we were learning and doing.  (My “Cut Loose With Dr. Seuss” webpage was well know in those early days of the Internet and brought quite a bit of traffic to our county web site in the early days of its existence.) I began presenting at state conferences and my students won contests for their multimedia projects.

In 1999, I was recognized as an Apple Distinguished Educator and became part of a larger group of educators from all over the United States, and that opened many doors to global collaboration. I remember how much I learned in those early days of helping projects happen–like not to try doing HyperStudio with all 21 first graders at the same time. I recall having 11 kids do Hyperstudio timelines and arranging for the other 10 to do Kid Pix animated slide shows. I’ll never forget how well received that idea of not having every kid do every project was received as I did presentations around the state. I continued to provide opportunities for my students to work with technology in many ways, and will never forget how smart my young students were about many parts I didn’t think of intuitively.

There was one time when Mason was working on his life timeline on Hyperstudio (as a first grader) and was drawing a picture of himself in a class in Germany where he had attended kindergarten.  He drew one stick figure sitting in class and then copied and pasted it a number of times to make the other kids in the class–giving them various hairdos and colors of clothes to make multiple kids with little effort. I remember Miranda, another 1st grader, figuring out keyboard shortcuts for closing a window based on knowing command p was print and command s was save–so closing a window must be command w. I remember clearly Harry telling me he could show off the use of technology by drawing a picture by hand and using a scanner to copy it for the front of the program.  And these all happened in the early 90’s when we were lucky to have one computer in the classroom.

I remember working with student teachers and UVA grad students to create WebQuests like Who Wants To Be A Pioneer?, or use Excel spreadsheets to prove whether vampires were real (Drier, H. S. (1999).  Do vampires exist? Using spreadsheets to investigate a common folktale. Learning and Leading with Technology 27(1), 22-25. ).  We used technology to create communities of learners in math (Drier, H. S. (2000). Investigating mathematics as a community of learners. Teaching Children Mathematics 6(6), 358-363. [Special issue on children as mathematicians.]) We explored real life situations like the displacement of people from the Blue Ridge in during the “New Deal” era (What Price This Mountain?) and we created web pages to help organize our student research.

I collect antique eggbeaters and was awarded the honor of state runner up for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teacher based on the description of using eggbeaters (and an accompanying web page) to teach simple machines to first graders–and tying them into the use of Duplos and gears. To this day, I still haunt kitchen gadget aisles looking for unusual “machines.”

Since then, I’ve keynoted an international symposium-more than once. I’ve become pretty well-known on Twitter and helped others get started there who have far surpassed me.  🙂  I’ve co-started a blog that got thousands of hits in a day and I’ve helped organize things like #Blog4reform. My students have wikis and blogs and some of them have even presented in international conferences like k12online! I continue to be seen as a vanguard in the use of technology and have won many grants to try new things or support the use of technologies that have proven to be useful.

But t answer the question, “how did I get started with technology?,” I go back to my childhood. I watched my dad tinker to fix things. I observed my mother  using a pressure cooker regularly to make our meals and got lessons in how it worked. I played with my brothers’ toys–lincoln logs and erector sets. I played in the dirt, I built in the sand when we went to the beach, I played in the water and I created things in my backyard. I was allowed to build forts out of blankets and bats and chairs and tables. I climbed trees and still remember the day my brother knocked his teeth out when he fell because he was trying to swing like Tarzan from one tree to another. I remember another  brother’s tooth being chipped as he and some friends threw rocks straight up at the street light. I learned from their mistakes. (I certainly learned form my own, too, but theirs were always more spectacular.)

I explored heights and found open spaces by climbing out of my bedroom window onto the roof. I found hidey holes by exploring the undersides of turned over boats and trailers and climbing into boxes in closets with those brothers–and then delighting in the stories we made up in the dark. I roamed my neighborhood, both on foot and on my bicycle. I looked closely at how things worked as I saw oddities–toys or tricks that made one think.  I grew up in a home that played card games and logic games and counting games and word games. Part of the fun of Christmas for me growing up was that afternoon AFTER we had all examined our Santa “loot”–playing the new games anyone had gotten! Logic was a part of my life, as were tools. I grew up curious and asking questions–and having experiences that allowed me to think deeply and ask about those deep thoughts. I grew up having my thinking and my curiosity and my questions honored and respected…and so I learned to be a thinker, to be curious, to ask questions.

THAT’S how I really got started with technology.


2 thoughts on “Technology–How Did I Get Started?

  1. Hello Paula, I am an EDM 310 student at the University of Alabama in Mobile. I loved your blog post on how you got started with technology. I did not know emails have been around since the 80’s, I thought it came around in the 90’s. It amazes me how far technology has come in the short amount of time. I wish more students would play outside and use their imagination, instead of in front of the TV, and then we would have students that are more creative. Thanks for sharing your post.

  2. Ms. White,
    That response is probably a little bit longer than what the person who asked the question thought that they were getting! It is very interesting to see how far we have come as a society when it comes to technology. I bet your students really appreciate your outlook on technology. Thanks for posting!

    Amanda Patton
    University of South Alabama EDM310

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