Teaching Digital Natives with Marc Prensky

Ok, I’m glad this post is juxtaposed with my last post on digital natives.

Just because I dislike the term “digital native” does not mean that I dislike Marc Prensky or his message.  In Marc Prensky’s workshop, he didn’t really talk about digital natives, and we didn’t even spend that much time talking about technology.  He focused on making learning relevant to the world in which students are living…  moving beyond test scores and grades and toward building portfolios or resumes in which real world problems are solved. He talked about using student passions to fuel learning. Now this is a message I can get behind.

In his book Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning, Prensky does a great job of emphasizing the “verb” of the learning and allowing the tech tool to be simply a tool.  Again, preaching to the choir here.  I’m 100% behind this message.

My dislike of the term ‘digital native’ stems from teachers saying things like “these kids either all know how to do [insert random technology assignment here] or “they all know how to figure it out on their own” without taking the time to learn it themselves or providing any support in the classroom to ensure student success.  This makes no sense to me.  Why do we assume that because students were born into a world full of technology that they just “get it”?  They were also born into a world in which spoken and written English is everywhere, and they don’t all naturally write and speak English correctly.  Most aren’t born appreciating the beauty and power of language.

For example, my 9th grade students studied teen stress and stress management strategies.  In collaborative groups, students shared their research, infographics, videos, photography, and animations on websites.  Our main goal was to encourage our student body to think carefully about their schedule registrations and about how they will juggle their academics, extracurricular activities, and social life.  We wanted to spread the #challengesuccess gospel using valid medical research to support our claims and to make that information as accessible as possible to our student body by taking advantage of different forms of multimedia.  Our other goals included applying the CRAAP test to information that we found online, using the C-D-C format in our writing, and applying MLA-style attribution.

I didn’t just say, “Hey, make a website.  It’s due in a week.  Peace out.”

We talked about information hierarchy, graphic design, copywriting for the web, and copyright.  They made practice websites one day individually to make sure that everyone knew how to make a website on Wix.  We didn’t even code this website from scratch; we used a page builder.  Sure, half of the class could have figured out Wix, but the other half the class would have probably taken a zero without the scaffolded support.  All of the websites were better because we talked about the “science” behind the things we were doing.

My main gripe with the term “digital native” is that it too often provides teachers with an excuse to be lazy.

In the workshop, Prensky validated much of what I, too, wish for education.  I hope that more teachers in our school system buy-in to his message.  Overall, a worthwhile PD.

If I have any constructive critique of the workshop, it mostly came from the student panel in which I feel like the overarching message was lost.  I’m not saying that the student panel wasn’t informative; it just went off on a tangent for a little too long.  I would also like to see specific examples of teachers/students who are implementing this message successfully because Prensky relied a little too much on “super special” scenarios as evidence.  Maybe he could film short interviews with a few teachers and students so that his audience would be more likely to accept that this mindset can work in normal classrooms with normal teachers and students.

I’m a believer that this can work, but he doesn’t have to convince me.








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