The Boys and the Tech Connection

The painting below sits at the front of my research journal for my Masters coursework. It took me twenty years to find and, that story, though too long and not quite relevant enough to include in its entirety here, has woven its way into my inquiry. That painting symbolizes a new layer of understanding into why I do what I do at home, at school and in my Masters research.

Mother and Child

Madame Vigee-Le Brun and her daughter, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise,  1789
(painted by Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun)

Last night I sat supposedly working on report cards watching and listening to my children. My two sons were both on the home PC playing with a friend. The friend was far away – a 6 hour drive from here – visiting family. The friend, let’s call him Leif, has been my older son’s best friend for years. They are both rough tumble boys who seem to be from two worlds; the first world of tree forts and dirt biking switches back and forth with the second, newer world of video games and Youtube.

The boys were playing a free online video game that had a chat feature, so the three of them were chatting away, laughing, yelling, discussing what to do, goofing around, having a great time. They were using, very proficiently, a variety of technological tools to have fun with a friend.

A confession: I don’t always like technology. I do love it for some things, but it’s awful in other ways. It can be a huge waste of time, it can create real problems in people’s lives and I question the overall health of sitting in front of a screen for too many hours in a day. But it’s a part of our lives, our childrens’ and students’ lives very much so, and I feel it’s important to stay one step ahead of the younger generation in order to guide, role-model and help them navigate the world through the lens of technology. That’s a huge, heavy lens that nearly all children wear now. I want to be able to help them be able to stand up under its weight and think critically while looking through that lens. I also want to help them realize that they can, and should, sometimes take that lens off and unplug.

I stopped writing report cards and started to pay attention when I realized what the boys were doing. I stopped when I realized how the technology was allowing for a positive, transformative friendship-solidifying experience. I started to pay close attention to how the communication enabled by the technology was enhancing the connection and relationship between the boys, even over a vast geographical distance.

I started to think about the connection to my job. What the boys were doing is basically the same thing we’re doing with the Elementary Connected Classrooms project. One goal for the project is to create and maintain a relationship, a real connection, using technology, to bridge geographical distance and enlarge students’ peer group while at the same time giving them practice, in a safe and guided way, to learn how to learn from and with others online.

And that’s what my boys were doing. Using technology, under my guidance and watchful eye (from the kitchen table where I sat, I had a direct view of the computer screen, not to mention that I was close enough to hear the chat perfectly) to bridge the distance and maintain and enhance a friendship. They were using technology to play with a friend. It sounds so simple, but the more I think about it, the more complex it seems to be.

One thing I’ve known for years is that motherhood is a huge motivator for me. For example, all that I do with technology…from TLITE to the MEd inquiry to the Connected Classroom to all my independent, online PLN pro-d…it’s all, at the very heart of the matter, to do with being a mother. I am very motivated to stay one step ahead of my children and want to know just enough so that I know more about technology than them. I strive to keep them productive and literate and competitive and safe with their use of technology. I know they are growing up as Marc Prensky’s ‘digital natives’, and I want, as their mother, to be able to help guide them and help them along in that technological environment as I strive to do in every other aspect of their lives. I’ve known this all along. I’ve always known that, before my students, who I do absolutely love working with and who I try to be a wonderful teacher to in so many ways, are my own children. I am always so much more a mother than I am a teacher.

And that’s when I really had to stop. I was reminded of my older son’s entry into a visualization exercise we did at class one day. Basically, in the middle of a guided meditative type exercise to focus our thoughts on our inquiry, my son popped his head into my envisioned classroom. Since it happened, I’ve been wondering why. I was convinced, out of guilt, I think, that he was literally barging in on my imagined inquiry because I was neglecting him and his brother with all of the extra work and travel that the Masters has brought to our lives.

But he wasn’t barging in, he was reminding me. He was reminding me that motherhood is the driving force behind all that I do with technology. I do care about my students and take my job as a teacher in this small community very seriously. But I’m a mom first and foremost in all that I do. Which brings me, finally, to the painting of the mother and child…

I’ve loved that painting since before having children of my own. It is motherhood, simply and beautifully.

I placed that image at the front of my research journal weeks ago, not really knowing how it connected to my inquiry, but sensing and trusting that it did. Watching the boys and the tech connection tonight helped me to not only understand why my son appeared in my visualization, but also to remember why this inquiry is so important to me. Those boys and their technology made me realize that motherhood is one of my deepest motivators and the one lens that I never take off.

Thanks boys. Just another reason to appreciate those rangy boys that I’ve always enjoyed so much…

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