Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Setting Out on the Right Foot

Starting this school year, our school district issued iPads to all the ninth graders (and possibly to the entire high school, but I'm not sure about that, so let's just go with the freshman, with plans to continue to add in future years).  I had heard this was coming, but I really didn't know much about it, having no current dog in this hunt.  But I'm finding out more and more about the program, and indeed, the plans for technology use in middle and elementary school around here, and it's raising a lot of questions in my mind.

As I understand it, the freshman use their (school property) iPads for just about everything - their schedules, their textbooks, their notebooks.  They are required to submit assignments via the device, even when they might more easily turn them in written on actual paper.  They have the technology with them all the live long day.  That much I know for sure.

What I can divine from the situation is that the program is so new, there are a lot of holes.  Downloaded material and apps aren't are completed vetted as they need to be  In fact, it seems like higher ups are pushing for extensive classroom use even when the teachers don't have a full grasp on how to implement them (it would seem they are left with the task of figuring out what apps and website to use).  And as I'm hearing, security measures are not robust.  There was an incident early in the year when students were instructed to download an app, and when they complied, inappropriate pictures popped up on the screens.  Clearly, this was an accident or virus or something else unintended, but it happened nonetheless.

I also heard tell of a sixth grade teacher requiring her class to get Twitter accounts.  Requiring.  11 year olds.  To engage in social media.

I am all kinds of mixed up about this.  I love technology.  I love iPads, tablets, smartphones, and all kinds of devices.  My kids use tablets on a regular basis because I see them as a better alternative to handheld gaming devices that use expensive cartridges.  I can control what apps get downloaded and can choose games that have educational value for my particular kids at their particular ages.  I believe iPad use has helped my son improve his hand eye coordination.  And in some cases, Sammy has learned better and faster using a computer than more traditional classroom methods (specifically reading - he took a major jump in his ability when he started using a program called Read Naturally).  The internet has allowed me to meet people  that I would likely never have met in real life (stupid geography) and find friends that are a lot like me (introverted and shy).  I am grateful for the world wide web.

But here's where I'm torn.  I believe technology has a place in the classroom, but not as the be all, end all.  Yes, children need to learn about and how to use technology because that's a big part of the world today.  But they don't need technology to learn.  The fundamental concepts of elementary, middle, and high school do not require technology to be taught.  The require the information (texts), someone to explain the information (teachers), a means to record that information for future review (notes), and a means to determine how that information is being retained (I'll use the word tests here with the caveat that I don't only mean written or standardized testing).  There are lots of ways to have all of these things, which is good because kids learn in lots of different ways.  In a way, making students use an electronic device for almost 100% of those 4 elements is forcing all students to learn the same way, which seems counter-intuitive. 

I also worry that, especially without really strong limitations, that devices in students' hands in the classroom might provide significant distraction.  If the wifi is open so students can upload work and download material, they likely can skip over to non-sanctioned forums like games or social media.  In fact, I've heard from one middle school that he can sit in the back of class and count the number of classmates he can see on Twitter, Facebook, or Angry Birds.  It takes passing notes and talking in class to a new level, one that probably drive the teachers batty. 

I'm typing all these thoughts out and I realize I'm not exactly forming a cohesive or even coherent argument of any kind, but I wanted to talk about this issue because it's new and it's coming for all our kids, some maybe sooner than later, but all of our kids.  What is the right amount of technology use in the classroom?  How does it change as kids get older?  How do we put controls in place to keep technology use to its intended educational purpose?  What security measures can be used to keep kids safe online without limiting their ability to work?  How do we get through to kids that technology, while wonderful and useful, is full of noise and distraction and, yes, danger?  And how do parents work with the schools to figure all this stuff out?

It all makes me feel very old.  What's wrong with a red pencil and a Big Chief tablet?  What - no, you get off my lawn!

It's just such a big concept, and I'm struggling with it.  I don't know what the right answers are, but I'm happy to discuss how to figure it out.  I think it comes down to balance.  We have to find the right balance in the classroom.  We need to teach the kids that their devices are just tools like any other and have their specific uses. 

I could go on and on, but I'd probably get even more lost and end up wondering about nanobots in the water system or something, so I'll wrap this up.  Tell me, as technology seeps more deeply through our kids' lives, what do you think the role of electronic devices should be in the classroom?

(One day, we'll look about on this issue and think how precious we were worrying about tablets in school when we have robot armies to deal with.)

1 comment:

  1. I always think it is worrying to implement technology like that across the board without any real idea how it's going to work out.