Saturday, April 9, 2011

It's a balancing act

Thanks to the fact that I now spend some time each day on Twitter, I have much more exposure to articles and videos promoting technology in the classroom than I ever realized existed. It's new, it's exciting, it's cutting edge, and it should be continually examined for it's educational implications.

I just watched about a nine minute PBS news video about a school in North Carolina which provides a laptop to every student from grades 4 to 12. I saw children engaged with their screens - listening, looking, "interacting"; teachers explaining that making a video or podcast is the same as writing a paper, kids saying that school is a lot more fun now. The principal sent a message to a child who was playing a game instead of doing his work. The school no longer buys textbooks and they save money on paper. They feel that the old kind of school was preparing kids to drive a car by teaching them to ride a horse. They feel that now they're preparing kids for the world they'll be living in.

Then I read an article about the obstacles to using technology in the classroom. In brief, it says that administrations don't take advantage of the number of mobile devices that kids already own which could be used as learning tools, such as smart phones and that schools think they're using technology well, but kids don't agree.

At one point in my childhood, I ate meat three meals a day, if it was available. Then I became a vegetarian for eleven years. I know plenty about all or nothing thinking! When it comes to technology in the classroom or home, I don't want to see all or nothing thinking going on. For kids to spend many hours of their school day on mobile learning devices, whether cell phones or computers, and then go home to relax and go on Facebook, play video games, share music, etc. is not the diet I would want for my children or my students. Nor would I banish the 21st century technology. Balance. That's where we need to keep aiming.

Making a video is a fabulous project which can certainly incorporate any educational goals, from acquiring knowledge to analyzing and interpreting it and applying it to new situations, critical and creative thinking, opportunities to write and revise and edit. I just don't agree with the teacher on the PBS news show who says it takes the place of writing a paper. There are excellent movies and excellent books. Why say that one medium could take the place of another? We need to be able to use written and spoken language to describe, analyze, interpret, respond to the world around us. Words have the power to incite, to destroy, to create, to organize, to promote change - whether we speak them, text them or write them, we need to continually improve our ability to use them.

And when all those children are facing screens all day long, what about the discussions? People say computers are interactive, but it's a different meaning of interactive than the one I value in our classroom.

My 4th-5th grade class recently finished reading The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Discussing it in small and large groupings, sharing humorous quotes, looking for ways that the author built tension, summarizing, predicting, visioning, analyzing, agonizing when one character didn't share her concerns with another character which endangered them all. . . No digital "interaction" could ever replace any of those discussions.

Then there's the issue of censorship. Our school blocks certain searches, but, since we are a small, private school, students can ask permission to have the block removed. In these larger districts, that's unwieldy. According to the PBS report, a student in this North Carolina school district can't research topics the district has declared off-limits. They block youtube, facebook and any access to information they feel is dangerous, such as sites accessed by the key words, "hate crimes" or "terrorism" or "gun control." Does that sound too much like the Chinese approach and not much like American education?

Of course technology has allowed us access to information in unprecedented ways - and we need to provide safe ways for our students and children to enjoy that access. It has also allowed teachers and students opportunities to collaborate beyond our school walls in ways that no horse and buggy world ever allowed. Let's just remember that our face to face interactions, sharings, discussions, even arguments all have enormous value as do our many uses of written language. Let's go for balance!

1 comment:

  1. Jan, you write so wonderfully, it's a pleasure to read....I agree with the notion of balance, but look around you, isn't that one of the most difficult places for we human beings to reach? Food, exercise, music, reading, technology, we tend to go full tilt or not at all. I think this will be a hard one for school districts to move towards. When most of our educational policies are developed with cost as the primary backdrop, I think we might have to look to the home for balance. Uh-oh! Chris