I’m feeling like Marty McFly this summer, jumping from the futuristic world of 24/7 technology at the ISTE conference, to the distinctly old-school peace and quiet of our total no-tech Sierra summer cabin… and then back to the future again at the Google Apps for Education Summit.
I kicked off my summer by co-teaching a flipped-class workshop, then flew down to San Diego for ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). I spent four days lugging my laptop and iPad around San Diego’s enormous convention center, taking workshops like “Teach your students game design in one week,” “Fired up with SketchUp,” and “Interactive games, movies and animations with Alice and Scratch.” I will be teaching a new, digital media elective class for 8th graders this year, so I spent my time at ISTE gathering as many resources as I could for this not-yet-developed curriculum. I was overwhelmed but very excited about what I would be able to offer my students in the fall.
Then I flew home, traded my laptop and iPad for shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops, and headed for the hills and my parents’ summer cabin. Perched up the mountain above a tiny jewel of a lake, the cabin has changed very little since it was built in 1930. There are no roads around the lake (thus no cars) and no electricity. We rely on boats to get to and from the cabins, our water is piped to us from a snow-melt spring up the mountain, and we live without most modern conveniences while we are there. Kerosene lamps light the table for board games at night; the days are filled with traditional mountain activities like hiking, swimming, reading and soaking up the sun. Until cell phones interrupted our tranquility, we got by without outside contact (if we needed to make a phone call, we canoed to a pay phone at the end of the lake).
I know that I need to teach my students how to be successful citizens in a digital world; while most of them live in tech-rich homes, I have learned that precious few are savvy in the new literacies that our 2.0 world commands (see my “Myth of the Digital Native” post here). But my time at the cabin reminded me just how precious is a life lived close to the land, and I wondered: are parents teaching kids to be successful citizens in the natural world, too?
I love how new technologies have improved the way I teach and my students learn; writing and reading become more collaborative, interactive and creative, and with just one mouse-click our work is published. But I am pretty sure that in our fascination with and reliance on new technology, we are losing our connection to the land, to nature, to the very Earth that we so love to navigate (virtually) via Google Earth.
While I teach my students to be responsible digital citizens, where they design computer games, create digital animations and share cat videos on YouTube and tumblr, I wonder: who will bring them back to the land? Who will teach them to live as responsible citizens of our natural world? Who will show them how richly satisfying it is to unplug, walk outside and enjoy all that Mother Earth has to offer? More important, who will teach them to protect and care for her?
I don’t think we can assume that kids are learning this on family camping trips and at summer camp. My own students write about family vacations on cruise ships, in luxury hotels in Hawaii or driving from one soccer tournament to another. And the last summer camp I saw offered zip-lines and BMX biking: hardly a recipe for teaching a reverence for the land. So it looks like it falls to the schools to raise up the next generation of nature’s stewards.
There is hope: recently I stumbled upon Green Ribbon Schools, which recognizes schools for achieving four cornerstones: Environmentally-friendly Campus; Nature Adventure; Health, Fitness and Nutrition; and Natural Classrooms. Of course, I was noodling around the internet when I discovered this great program on Twitter…