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For about five years, I’ve been running an online community with a few teachers and their students at my school. This year, as “Web 2.0” continues to expand our educational options, I’ve started finding ways to wrap some of these features into the site, and I’m very excited about the tools we can offer students now.

However, I’m fully aware that simply having a tool does not, in itself, do much. I’m definitely aware that “simply having a tool” doesn’t meet any curricular objectives. And in my defense, I do have lots of ideas popping into my head for how to use these new tools, but two things are keeping me from acting on those ideas yet.

The first is the same problem educators always face: time (to think through, to plan, to train, to implement, etc.)

The second is related to the first, but casts it in a positive light and is much more important. I want to give my students time to play with these tools … to figure out what they can get them to do, to make them their own, maybe even to break them (or to get themselves stuck … and then unstuck). I think this is a vital and important part of learning with technology, and restores some of the passion for learning that students had when they were younger.

Everyone loves to play. We know that the same kid with “ADD” who can’t sit still for five minutes in class can spend three hours without even blinking while trying to master the latest videogame. Why? She’s engaged. And part of what makes a game engaging is that it’s challenging–you have to work some to get anywhere. The tools of “Web 2.0” are fun and engaging in a similar way: they let you do cool things, but you have to work some to get anywhere. And I want to give my students the chance to be engaged, to be challenged, and to just have fun first. Why does the world of education seem so afraid of fun?

Also, by letting my students play a little first, I get to follow them, watch how they use (or don’t use) the tools, see what they understand intuitively and what they need help with, and discover possibilities through them that I would never have imagined on my own.

I remeber a teacher telling me in my first year of teaching to always “get there” before the students, meaning I should be in the classroom before they arrive. “If they get there first, you’ll never be in control,” he said. But what I’m trying to do is empower my students, not limit them unnecessarily. So I’ll gladly spread the toys out and invite them to play, be challenged and engaged, and gain a sense of ownership over the tools I’ll soon be asking them to use.

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