Kay Toliver Conversation
Kay Toliver has taught for more than 3 decades at East Harlem Tech/PS 72 in New York City. She has received Presidential, Disney, Kilby and Essence Awards for this work. She was the host of the Peabody Award-winning PBS series, “The Eddie Files.”
How do you think technology will impact inner city schools such as yours?
In my classroom kids are always involved in some sort of discovery process—whether they are using handmade manipulatives or conducting research. What makes math an enjoyable subject is when people become doers, not just followers. When they truly understand where an idea came from and how it’s used in the world, students take ownership of the information.
As teachers we always have to keep our eyes on the ultimate goal of education. This goal is the same for students anywhere: to help them gain the knowledge they will need to take their place in the adult world in a productive, enjoyable way.
Technology—computers, the Internet—can offer a way to level the playing field, to help kids in inner cities and poor rural areas have some of the same opportunities for discovery as those in the wealthiest schools.
How can technology level the playing field?
In the coming years, due to the emphasis on getting all schools wired to the Internet and furnished with good computers, the hardware itself shouldn’t be a problem. Once schools are connected, any child in any school could potentially have access to whatever information he or she wanted.
But we need to keep in mind that accessing information is not the same thing as becoming educated. As educators we need to push to make sure that there is lots of content that has real educational value.
That’s why I decided to join The FUTURES Channel. This is a way for me to act on behalf of my colleagues, creating Internet materials that will make subjects more exciting and relevant to students. I want to give teachers good ideas about incorporating what’s great about technology into their lesson plans.
Have you always been a big fan of technology?
Not really – you can’t get excited about what you don’t have, and for a long time there was very little technology at our school. Now that I’m starting to have access, I’m finding it’s a great tool to help with instruction.
I have always believed that the best way to get children to learn is to make their studies relevant to the world outside the classroom. Now, if one of my students gets excited about something I am teaching, he or she can use the Internet to research how that particular kind of math is used in the world. And these are real examples, not just fabricated stories in textbooks. If a student loves sports, I can guide him to the home pages of sports teams for a lesson on statistics he won’t soon forget.
Much of your time is spent mentoring or training other teachers. Can you utilize the Internet to carry on this work?
Actually that’s one of the most exciting aspects of technology as far as I’m concerned. It will allow me, in a variety of ways, to share my work with a wider audience of educators, through e-mail, chats, and digital video. As the technology progresses, and more and more teachers have access to the Internet and The FUTURES Channel, it will become a two-way street, allowing all of us to share our good ideas and keep each other inspired and on track.
What do you see for the future?
There’s no doubt that many of the most creative uses of technology will come from new teachers who have been growing up with computers and the Internet their whole lives. I expect the possibilities for change will be enormous—right down to the very physical structure of our schools and classrooms. Of course, we must avoid getting carried way with the dazzle and always remember that we are there to serve our students. But if we use tools of technology to inspire them and connect them with the real world, we will have students who are excited and interested in learning. And when your students want to learn what you want to teach them, you can accomplish just about anything.