Friday, August 28, 2009

A Plugged in Culture

To set the stage for this edition of Singing in the Bathtub, please take a moment and watch this video that I recently saw on Facebook:

As an educator this video boils my blood! I do not dispute the claims and statistics that are starkly presented here. I acknowledge the power that technology has to teach and I agree that our educational system is sorely in need of reform. I just think the conclusions that are drawn are wildly off base. What this video says to me is "Let's spend money to put computers in our classrooms, but continue to pay teachers a pittance to compete with these digital influences."

My first experience with computers in the classroom was in my very first preschool class. A computer was donated to the LEAP school, and it made the rounds from room to room with several educational games for the students to play. In our class we made a turn-list and set a 5 minute time limit for each turn. Let me share two observations: 

1) I could tell those students who were accustomed to playing on the computer. They knew exactly what to do, where to insert the DVD's how to scroll through menus and directions and these were three year olds! The funny thing was, that these were the children who threw startling fits when they were forced to abdicate their turn. Our culture is just starting to recognize video game addiction as a serious problem. I shutter to think what these, now teenaged, video junkies will have to deal with in their life. 

2) In this classroom there was a boy who was on the mild end of the autistic spectrum. At three, he was still hanging in with most of his classmates, but by the end of the year it was clear that he would only fall farther and farther behind as they matured. One of the main goals that we worked towards was to facilitate social interaction for this boy. He would be content to live in his own world, but what he desperately need was to model social behavior. Watching this boy play the computer was staggering. For a child who needed constant support for even the simplest classroom tasks, he was a whiz on the computer. He clearly excelled beyond many of his classmates. This may sound like a victory, and using these tools in the appropriate way would be great, but the flip side is that he was completely isolated while playing video games. The room could have been on fire and this boy would have continued to match shapes and colors. What would happen to him in the future? Yes, perhaps he could find a job in programming or graphic design, but could he walk down the street and buy a carton of milk? The most important element of school for this boy was being with other kids. Let him shine on the computer when he's at home.

This year I have noticed a dramatic shift in my struggle to compete with technology. It is due in part to the fact that I was dealing with older, wealthier children this summer at Rock and Roll Camp. It was shocking to me to see how many 7 year olds showed up to camp with iPhones. They would stealthily appear in the middle of a class and I would find these tech-addled 'tweens unable pay attention for more than 10 minutes without playing with some gadget, surfing the web, or just stroking the phone like Gollum from Lord of The Rings (seriously!). It wasn't like I was trying to teach these kids linear algebra, we were learning, playing and making music. 

When I put my foot down and removed all iPhones from the classroom, it was an amazing shift. The kids were attentive, and enjoyed playing actual games as opposed to the virtual ones. That isn't to say that there wasn't a scary "withdrawal" period where I was vilified for expecting my students to pay attention to what was actually going on!

When I see the statistics that are touted in the video above, my first instinct isn't "Great! let's give these kids more opportunities to plug in!" I'd like to combat these statistics with some others:
  • A classroom with 30 students will have between 1 and 3 children with ADHD.
  • Boys are diagnosed with ADHD 3 times more often than girls.
  • Emotional development in children with ADHD is 30% slower than in their non-ADD peers. This means that a child that is 10 years old will have the emotional development of a 7 year old, a 20 year old will have the emotional maturity of a 14 year old.
There are also studies that show 70% of children in america are not getting enough vitamin D because they will spend on average 50% less time outdoors as my generation did  20 years ago. Between 1980 and 2006 the rate of childhood obesity has increased from 5% to 17%. One in three of these children will go on to develop type 2 diabetes in their life time.

In addition to the annoyance factor of having my young rockers constantly pulling out their iPhones, you'd be shocked to see some of the things they were surfing onto. Every song that they would ask to play had copious swearing, every video they would watch would be violent, sexually inappropriate, or include confusing mature content. Children see 20-25 acts of violence in "children's television" each hour. I've had to speak to parents about 3-4 year olds imitating sexually inappropriate behavior that they picked up watching High School Musical.

The Mike Brady Wrap-up: I am in no way saying that I think technology and education are at odds with each other. I actually find it to be a very powerful tool in learning. I just think our society is obsessed with instant gratification and technology's ability to deliver this. I think a clear example is the difference between watching a kid play guitar hero and actually play guitar (which I see each day at the Live! School). Kids are much less likely to strive to get better at actually playing guitar these days because it's a challenge. Anyone who's learned to play an instrument and has overcome this challenge knows how much more rewarding it is than getting a high score on a video game. There is nothing creative about guitar hero, even though music is involved. It is a slippery slope once technology is introduced into a classroom. Children are much more tech savvy then their teachers, and when asked to compete with an internet browser the teacher will loose every time. Kids will find a way to bend the rules and access questionable material when they should be paying attention and respect to their teachers. Cyber-bullying, video game addiction, diminished attention span, and dwindling creativity are the result of a society that is too plugged in.

Cut the cord and send them outside before it is too late!

Kid Quote of the Day: "I didn't get to sleep last night until really late! My sister woke up me, woke up my mom, woke up my dad. When she went to be, then I couldn't sleep. I couldn't fall asleep until I fell asleep!" ~Khami (age: 8)


Anne Deysher said...

Whoa! My blood is boiling, too! I am heartened to know that someone as young as you is troubled by this technology instead of real life experiences, too. I and many teachers of my generation think we are dinosaurs when we espouse the value of social interaction and getting outside, reading books, playing instruments, creating with real art supplies, and so on. We've made similar observations about preschool children's behaviors, and we've see radical changes over the many years we've been teaching.
So the kids will be tech savvy. Who will perform day to day tasks for them? How will they form real relationships? How can they care about our environment if they've never spent time in the great outdoors? I could go on and on.
I thought that message was way too long, too! Boring! I'm with the "Last Child in the Woods" advocates...

Bec said...

My school received a grant to be a Technology magnet. This meant that our PI school received 5 desktops per classroom, an LCD projector, a smart board, a teacher laptop, camera and video camera, and an tv/dvd. This all rocks. The students use the internet for research. If I don't know an answer to one of their questions, they look it up online. The Smart Board is incredible for interactive/tech lessons.

THIS is how I like to use tech. in my classroom. You and Anne are right: kids NEED social interaction. Teachers are responsible for teaching citizenship, communication, and personal growth.

What, may I ask, is this "creative thinking" that this video is proposing computers can do for children? It mentioned using Google for an answer, or looking up a location on Google Maps. Yet, where is the creativity in finding the answer opposed to constructing the answer through experiment and experience? Where is the spacial/mathematical development in typing in a location on the internet vs. looking at a map or in an Atlas?

In 5th grade the hardest standard I teach is making inferences and generalizations. Will Google tell me what I can infer... or will thinking about my own experiences ... oh wait, I sat infront of the tv all day...

Yes, children must be well-versed in technology and yes, it is crucial for teachers to step up to the plate to meet the changing needs of a new generation. HOWEVER, this also needs to be kept in-check.

Nick! said...

This is an example of getting technology in the classroom right, and I hope I expressed my acceptance of this strongly enough.

A comment that I made to the original video on Facebook was, "My nightmare is a classroom of eight year olds with laptops open on their desks, I hated that enough in my recent stint in college, but in grammar school?" I've seen this image in HP commercials!

I think teacher directed use of technology is important because these kids will need to learn this. Especially in the inner city where they may not get it at home.

My experience has been with kids who have been used as commercial pawns, bullied into thinking they need the latest technology to find acceptance, valuing it over actual face to face interaction, and who live in families of affluence who can indulge them because it's easier than saying "No!" and having a conversation about why.

Anne Deysher said...

Well said, Rebecca, especially from your perspective as a 5th grade teacher using technology responsibly.
Another thought about googling is where is the critical thinking and discernment involved? It's scary to think that while kids can obtain whatever factual information they want, can they actually perform academic tasks without technological help? Technology should be a way to augment learning but not supplant academic skills and real life knowledge.

maura said...

Actually, I have found that my students, while they have a lot of electronic gadgets, are not very savvy. They have been using a TI-83 graphing calculator with me for over a year, which I think is pretty intuitive to use, and they are completely lost anytime I try to teach them something new. I ask them to find something on the Internet, and they are not as quick as me. They learn to use their specific electronics but don't have transferable skills. Perhaps that is my fault as a teacher, but I believe it is the fault of the narrowness of tools they use.

I, too, was totally steaming as I watched the video. Text messages are "time spent with rigor, relevance, and relationships" !?!?!?!? I am not sure I have the words, but I'll try. If you have ever read an email or paper from an average current high schooler, you will realize that they spend far too much time reading texting language and not enough time reading proper English language. There is no academic or any other type of rigor in texting. I'll leave the relevance point alone, as I don't see how text messages are an argument for relevance. And relationships: plenty of students (and probably myself included) text or email friends who are within reach by phone or, say, walking across the school. There is definitely a loss in personal relationships due to the invasion of personal technology. Half of my students would fail a quiz that asked them to address an envelope correctly.

I think there is a place for technology to complement traditional classroom lessons and certainly, I hope that I am teaching my students skills that will help them be successful in the digital world, but I actually think their character is a lot more important. So I'm going to stick to that. I'd much rather teach a student who already shows respect, responsibility, curiosity, and integrity but needs a lot of support to use a graphing calculator, than the other way around. While a podcast might help them with their listening skills and might excite them at first, they are never going to reminisce at their 20th high school reunion about that great podcast they had. Also, I'm never going to write a glowing letter of recommendation for a student who is a tech genius if they don't know how to interact with me as a teacher and whose interpersonal skills I question.

Although, I did just get an email (written in proper English) from one of my students about a sale on almond butter and apples, which is my daily snack at school. Thank goodness for technology sometimes.

Thanks, Nick, for posting this video and getting the conversation going. I might bring this to my kids and see what they have to say.

Anne Deysher said...

Another insightful response. It's interesting to hear from an elementary school teacher and a high school teacher (not too reassuring about the students' lack of transferable skills).
At the preschool level it's all about socializing, interpersonal skills, self-help skills and so on. In our school where we see children for a few hours a week and know that nearly all the children spend time on computers (no cell phones or text messaging yet, thank goodness), we have made the conscious decision not to have computers in the classroom. Only on rare occasion do we show a literature based video. We are confident that the children will gain the technological skills they need at home, but what we provide is the opportunity to learn to function as social beings and to learn interpersonal skills. We read, sing, dig in the dirt, make art, and provide real life experiences using as many senses as possible. It's upon those skills and experiences that the children will be able to build meaningful technological knowledge as they grow.
Like you, Maura, we feel more assured about the future success of a child who has good social skills, curiosity, imagination, and self- confidence, who may be lacking some academic acumen than one who can spit out all kinds of facts and figures but who can't relate well to others or take care of themselves.
I just keep thinking and thinking about all this and how the issues look at each stage of education.
Thanks, Nich for initiating some compelling discussion, and thanks fellow teachers for participating (again, using technology to allow us to communicate across the country)!