Many kids, like my 6 year old son, have a favourite stuffed animal that they bring to bed with them every night. His favourite is a cuddly little fellow from Seasame Street, named Elmo. He doesn’t laugh when tickled and is beginning to look worn around the edges, but Elmo does bring a lot of comfort and happiness to my eldest son. Quite simply, he loves Elmo.
Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree because I too am in love with ELMO. However, mine isn’t red, fuzzy, or cuddly. I don’t take it to bed with, nor would I want to. My ELMO is white, shinny, and new. It sits on my desk in my classroom, next to my computer. In simple terms, my ELMO is a document camera. In reality, it is much more than that. It is a transformative piece of technology that shifted my professional practice and dramatically improved student learning.
For much of the past decade I have worked at the International School Bangkok (ISB) in an environment that continually sought out and supported innovative educational practices. ISB is a rich learning environment in many ways. SMARTBoards, scanners, FLIP cameras, digital microscopes, laptop carts, VoiceThreads, wikis, and blogs are integral parts of the learning environment. However, it’s the people who are truly the source of its wealth. I consider myself to have been extremely fortunate to have worked along side wonderful colleagues like Dennis Harter, Tara Ethridge, Kim Cofino, and Jeff Utecht, and many others. Each exemplified ISB’s ideal of 21st Century Learning — creative, collaborative, flexible, tenacious, etc. Although they were each extremely helpful when technology needed an introduction, explanation, or went awry, the technology was not the focus. Connectedness and collective knowledge was. By making their thinking visible, each contributed in their own way to my professional and personal transformation.
This is why I love ELMO. More than interactive whiteboards, laptops, wikis, blogs or any other piece of technology, my ELMO helps foster 21st Century Learning. Throughout the day, regardless of subject area or interest, it helps make the group’s thinking visible. In Math, a variety of possible solutions are shared and discussed. In writing, author’s can quickly share the process they used to develop an idea. The mystery of your peers’ thinking disappears and understanding improves. We learn together, from each other. In doing so, ELMO has helped improve the levels of collaboration. It is an invaluable tool for collecting real time feedback, for providing exemplars, and modeling thinking and tenacity. Accountable talk is an important part of inquiry based learning and ELMO is a piece of technology that does a wonderful job of facilitating our collaborative inquiry. As a teacher, document cameras, like my current ELMO, have helped me focus on student learning rather than my teaching. When combined with interactive whiteboards, the impact of a document camera is multiplied ten fold. More than any other piece of technology, document cameras have truly transformed my daily professional practice and helping develop 21st century learners.