Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ah, the end of vacation

There are many great things about being on vacation, not the least of which is catching up with reading.

I've been spending some time perusing what numerous sites have to offer and alternating between horrified laughter and lots of hmmm-ing...but through it all, I think there is a point that is being slightly missed by many people who are writing about the use of technology in the classrooms.

Not all of y'all are missing this point, but some are, and it is showing up in the slightest of ways.  It's a simple phrase, but it makes my hackles rise, so I'll put it out there to get it off my mind. (So I can turn to wondering exactly what a "hackle" is...)

The phrase as is generally put: "In order to interest students in learning, give them an iPad (or laptop, or tablet or whatever device)."


What interests human beings in learning is not the presence or absence of the latest technology!  Students didn't become more interested in learning because of the creation of erase-able ink, nor did the advent of the typewriter suddenly make learning sexy.  My students don't get pumped for class because they are going to get to use Noteability, Twitter or Evernote. To assume that in order for students to be engaged they must have a gizmo is to display a stunning lack of understanding about why we learn.

Students of all ages want to learn because learning is stimulation for the brain. Students of all ages are turned on to the act of discovery of something that feels new, different, and thought-provoking to them! While we adults may have settled on answers to life's big questions, our children have not!  Ask a group of 16 year-old young men and women to define and demonstrate the word "Truth" or even better, "Justice," through different scenarios and watch them go!  Have a group of 9 year old boys and girls discuss what makes a baseball pitcher (or any athlete) great and require that they use statistics to back themselves up, and step aside.  Ask a group of 12 year old students to write an opinion piece about the latest hot book/movie/song and then comment on each others' works, and they are off and running.

What's great about the iPad (or any piece of technology) is that it can help with students IN THE COMPLETION of all of the above.  It is a tool for expression, organization, and information gathering, but it, in and of itself, does very little to attract students to the task nor does it complete the task for them simply by existing.

Want to make students interested in learning? Ditch standardized tests that require only one right answer.  Shred scantron sheets in favor of actual writing, drawing and figuring.  Abolish practices that reward teachers and administrators for teaching monkeys to throw bananas in barrels.  Foster and reward risk-taking, innovation and creativity in every discipline of school life. Bring back recess, music, art and P.E. into all of our schools at all of our ages; balance matters!

Want to make students interested in learning? Hire a good teacher. Give that teacher access to the tools for students do articulate their understanding. Then get out of his or her way.

We need to stop throwing gizmos at the problems of education, and start dealing with the real gremlins that hold our schools back and keep our children from being excited about learning.

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