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Heresy

This may sound a little odd coming from me, but I have a couple of points to lay out about technology in the classroom.
  • Children under age eight should not use computers. The only computer in K-3 classrooms should be sitting on the teacher's desk.
  • The model of scattering a few (two to six) PCs in every classroom is dumb. It's a waste of resources and make the classroom harder to manage. [1]
  • Student computers should either be in the library, in computer labs, or on laptop carts. In the latter two cases, there should be one computer per student, or they shouldn't be there.
  • Providing Internet access to the classroom (even the filtered Internet mandated by law) is a bust. It has nothing to do with academic success, and a lot to do with distraction and wasted time. [2]
  • The goal should be for every teacher to have a computer, before the first student gets one; make the teacher more effective and you make everything more effective.
Every year, in late summer, we cram hundreds of new PCs into schools. My cablers pull miles of new cable. My crew installs piles of switches and scores of wireless access points. This exercise is repeated in thousands of school districts across the nation and across the world. I have this unshakable feeling that we're wasting a hell of a lot of money and not doing the students very much good.

ETA: In response to a comment from katymulvey I have detailed why I think that kids shouldn't have classroom computers before the third grade.


[1] Laboratories and shop rooms where computers are there to fill a specific function, such as running scientific instruments are a fine exception. Throwing four PCs in the corner of every room because "technology is good" isn't.

[2] I did some research a while back looking at elementary school Internet use rates vs. Connecticut Master Test (CMT) scores here in Hartford. There wasn't one. Or, more precisely, there was a very interesting one. Schools with the very highest and schools with the very lowest rates of Internet use had the best scores. Schools muddling along in the middle of the pack had the worst scores. This tells me that conventional tech-free teaching works just fine, and that there are a few who can teach really well by using the hell out of technology. But that bathtub-shaped curve was completely overshadowed a far stronger determiner of academic success. When I plotted CMT scores vs. the percentage of students in the school who were eligible for free or reduced-price hot lunch, the two lines moved in near lock-step.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
kriz1818
Aug. 26th, 2006 01:36 am (UTC)
I'm with you on that one. When N. was in daycare, we specifically asked them to limit his time on the (one) computer they had in there, which was one of numerous "activity areas" in the room. At Bowers school, he goes to computer lab once or twice a week. And that's it. He's 7; he doesn't need to do research yet, and that's what the blinkin' Internet is FOR, academically speaking.
netcurmudgeon
Aug. 26th, 2006 12:23 pm (UTC)
What does the class do in the computer lab?

...I'm glad, at least, to see that the school keeps kids together for this activity!
kriz1818
Aug. 26th, 2006 02:15 pm (UTC)
I believe they play learning games and practice this "typing" thing, seeing familiar words turned into print instead of their own handwriting. In 2nd grade, I don't know.
katymulvey
Aug. 26th, 2006 04:47 am (UTC)
Why age eight? Is there a significant developmental milestone? A change in the way the classroom is run when kids hit grade 2 (grade 3?)

(Parent to a child entering Kindergarten next month, in a school district where the K classrooms have a computer for the teacher, and two computers in the corner.)
netcurmudgeon
Aug. 26th, 2006 12:18 pm (UTC)
It's an semi-scientific dart-throw on my part, but based what I think are some good reasons. I'd really rather see computer use pushed back to fifth grade, but in the current climate that would probably get me laughed clean out the door. There are three core issues I'm concerned with.

First, is developing fundamental skills. Children need to learn how to read, write, and perform basic math unaided. Yes, with the right teacher computers can help. However, there is data that shows that students have poorer reading comprehension when reading from a screen vs. reading from a page. There are also the issues of distraction and dilution. The distraction part is self evident to any computer user. By dilution I mean that any given human being learns at x rate. Class time is limited, as is the critical developmental window in early childhood. Let's not waste a chunk of Johnny's and Janey's x learning to use the computer while they're learning to read. Reading and writing are fundamental to everything that comes after. They deserve the teacher's and child's full attention.

Second is cost. Technology costs a lot of money, and the balance of that is after-purchase support. A $1000 desktop is cheap. The technical support, back-end systems (servers, switches, routers), and consumables (paper, toner, ink) aren't. Every school budget is an act of compromise. Let's focus technology resources in the upper grades where students can make better use of them. If you told me that the district's tech budget was adequate for computers in all grades, I'd tell you that I would rather see a paraprofessional added to a first grade classroom than a pair of PCs.

Third is cost, but not in dollars. Take a good look at those two computers in the corner of your child's soon-to-be classroom. Are they set up in an ergonomically correct way? (See here; roll down to the section on Repetitive Strain Injuries.) Most classroom computers aren't. The brand-new high school computer lab I toured Wednesday night certainly wasn't. Granted, young bodies are more resilient than adult bodies, but do we really want to be dealing with cases of carpal tunnel syndrome in high school? Here's your diploma and your wrist brace. It's not just wrists that are at stake, but eyes, necks, and backs. Most schools pay lip service at best to ergonomics, so we should limit computing time. In concert with the issues above, it makes sense to keep the smallest kids away from keyboards and mice completely.

And there you have the logical underpinnings of my heresy!
(Deleted comment)
netcurmudgeon
Sep. 3rd, 2006 02:49 am (UTC)
I can just picture a parent - teen conversation going something like this:
"Where were you?"
"I went over to Joe's place when the lights went out."
"Why didn't you leave a note?!?!"
"Well, the power was out so I couldn't use the printer!"

Sigh.
(Deleted comment)
netcurmudgeon
Sep. 3rd, 2006 02:46 am (UTC)
I was 'advanced hunt-and-peck' myself until my sophmore year in high school, when my mother insisted on typing class. I may have groaned about it then, but what a useful skill to have!

OTOH, matociquala has banged out over a million words (including six novels currently in print) with her 'two fingers on each hand' typing style.

Bear's prolific example not withstanding, I agree that all school children would benefit from formal instruction in keyboarding. Especially if there are lessons in how to type properly and not wreck your wrists.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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