Chris Lehmann, the principal of a science-focused magnet school in Philadelphia and a rock star in the ed tech world, kicked off WestEd’s Board of Directors Conference Wednesday in San Francisco with this idea: Technology is no substitute for great teaching.
“The purpose of tech should not, cannot ever be, to reduce the number of caring adults in the classroom,” Lehmann said.
Don’t mistake that sentiment for a concern about the amount of technology in the classroom. Lehmann’s students at Science Leadership Academy each bring their own laptop, provided by the school, to class every day. They publish their work online. They use digital cameras to document their science labs. Smartphones are encouraged.
Lehmann’s big idea is not that teachers should use this or that new ed tech solution in the classroom. It’s that they should integrate technology so fully into the educational experience that kids are using it just like working adults use it: as a tool, as a means to an end.
“Technology has to be like oxygen,” Lehmann told the crowd of educators from across the country, “ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.”
Lehmann has been hailed as one of the movers and shakers of education reform by a dozen organizations and publications in the last few years, not the least of which was a Champion of Change award from the White House. But he sounded old-school explaining the need to teach the whole child, to let kids direct their own learning and to do away with, or at least severely limit, standardized tests.
“The goal of education today is to make sure kids minimally suck at everything,” Lehmann said of the ongoing push to raise test scores in multiple subject areas.
A favorite on the ed tech lecture circuit, Lehmann has given a similar talk at TEDxPhilly and TEDxNYED. His presentation at the WestEd conference was followed by several hours of breakout sessions and guest panels focused on how to make technology in the classroom a given at all schools and not just an innovation at a few.