An article in the LA times expands on a general intention from the current federal administration and influential high tech interests to get laptops, ipads and the like into all elementary schools. Those of you who read this blog and others that advocate a mindful (and restricted) approach to media and children, will likely cringe at the idea of computers in every classroom.
Now the good news is that the LA times article, like the NY times article of month’s previous, is critical of this initiative citing quotes like “Computers, in and of themselves, do very little to aid learning,” and that studies found that the difference in test scores between the software-using classes and the control group was “not statistically different from zero.”
Those are not opinions, those are statistics – and though statistics are only as good as the studies that breed them, numbers do have currency in general public.
My proposal is that along with all the stats and control group studies, parents around the world have their own control group study with their own children. Give them an ipad and some instruction on how to use it. Set them up with an app that teaches them a bit of American history or the water cycle or something age appropriate that they might be learning at school. Let them use it for 20 minutes and be available to answer questions. Then take the ipad away and propose to do something else. How do they respond? What was the quality of their experience? How are they relating to the content and the intentions of the lesson? Pay attention to their behavior as well as the feeling in the room. Your feelings count too. How do you feel?
Then the next day try a different approach. I propose an approach that asks more of you as educator. In this approach you need to do more work and engage yourself in the lesson. Take a similar lesson as the one taught in the app – history, science or whatever – and this time put together a short story. If the lesson is about history, tell the story of that nugget of history. If the lesson is about something scientific, tell a story about the natural world or about children experiencing the science involved. Then say, “Once upon a time” and keep talking for 15 minutes. Tell the story. When you are finished, give a little space for questions or responses and then pay attention. Ask yourself the same questions as before and note the difference in your child. Remember to pay attention to how you feel.
Now – aside from the natural anxiety that comes when preparing to tell a story – please note the tone in the room and how the rest of the day goes.
I know my relationship to technology. I am so very grateful for spell check, Wikipedia, access to blogs, email and huffington post. Creating content is easy and allows me to sit in my chair and be able to find stuff out that I would not otherwise be able to find.
I also constantly battle the desire to check my email, favorite blogs, huff post updates, google analytics and my email again. It feels like a drug sometimes – like everything will be OK if I just check. That seeing a spike in activity on our website will bring me peace. But it doesn’t. It only feeds the desire for more checking.
If this lives in me – imagine what lives in a developing mind? A mind that is building entirely new neural pathways that will be the unique mental infrastructure of that child’s life. What dynamics are we allowing when we place incredibly stimulating technologies in front of young children. Dimitri Christakis, a neurologist and parent sees a definitive connection between screen time and attention deficit – because real life does not match the hyper-stimulating world of contemporary TV and computer apps.
The question is in the air and is still being justly criticized. The time is now to propose a highly conservative approach to educating children – making it a human experience. Hand held devices are only as useful as the hands that hold them – so lets start with those first. ‘Head, Heart and Hands’ is a motto that just makes sense to me.
Here is some high tech I can stand by: