Tuesday, October 25, 2011

the new virtual classroom

There is a huge push to computerize the American classroom and teachers are being laid off to cover the huge increase in spending on technology, despite no evidence that such new schools are working. You can read about it in the New York Times. Grading the Digital School: In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores

“This is such a dynamic class,” Ms. Furman says of her 21st-century classroom in the Kyrene School district in Arizona which spent 33 million last year on new technology. “I really hope it works.”
"Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.

Since 2005, scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen.

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning."
“The data is pretty weak. It’s very difficult when we’re pressed to come up with convincing data,” said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. When it comes to showing results, he said, “We better put up or shut up.”

And yet, in virtually the same breath, he said change of a historic magnitude is inevitably coming to classrooms this decade: “It’s one of the three or four biggest things happening in the world today.”

Critics counter that, absent clear proof, schools are being motivated by a blind faith in technology and an overemphasis on digital skills — like using PowerPoint and multimedia tools — at the expense of math, reading and writing fundamentals. They say the technology advocates have it backward when they press to upgrade first and ask questions later.
I highly approve of technology in the classroom. Appropriate technology, that is. Rudolf Steiner, creator of the Waldorf Educational method maintained that children should only be introduced to technologies that they are at a level of learning to understand. If any of my readers can help me to find the exact wording and source of this quote, I would appreciate hearing from you.

A new study reveals that 40% of 2-4 year old kids have regular exposure to smart phones, iPads and other high tech digital devices. It seems to be accepted by most parents that the use of real tools to learn to do real things is no longer required. A description of the study can be found here: Common Sense Media Research Documents Media Use Among Infants, Toddlers, and Young Children--Proliferation of digital media use among the very youngIt is proven that the amount of screen time is directly related to a variety of developmental problems in kids, but damn the torpedoes. We no longer seem to care about kids.
Despite the proliferation of new technologies and platforms, television continues to dominate children's media use. Among all 0- to 8-year-olds, an average of 1:40 is spent watching television or DVDs in a typical day. Even among infants and toddlers, screen media use dwarfs time spent reading. In a typical day, 0- to 1-year-olds spend more than twice as much time watching television and DVDs (53 minutes) as they do reading or being read to (23 minutes).

"Much of the focus in recent years has been on the explosion of media use among teenagers, whereas our study examines media use among young children during crucial developmental years," said James Steyer, CEO and founder, Common Sense Media. "Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirmed their position that children under age 2 should not engage in any screen time, yet the data shows infants and toddlers are growing up surrounded by screens. This use data is an important first stop toward understanding how the prevalence of media and technology affects the development of our youngest kids."
One of the many developmental problems researchers have noted is poor development of vocabulary by young media users. It seems that vocabulary is best developed through conversation with real people. Another problem noted by researchers is that children who have little free unstructured time away from digital media lack real problem solving skills. We are developing a generation of children easily entertained, but with little real world competence. That is a very sad thing to do to ourselves and our children. Hammers anyone?

In the meantime, make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous5:01 AM

    Seriously. Give them hammers.


  2. Regarding Steiner: yes he said many such things. Here's a little ditty about handwork in Waldorf education.


    I'm currently engaged with a Waldorf school in Minnesota and we've been exploring folk education and, in particular sloyd, as a way to extend our work in the community. I just found your blog and will explore it, and then hopefully have chance to connect more about the overlaps of these two educational approaches to developing the whole child.

    Here's an interesting recent article in NYT about Waldorf that sheds some light on the use of technology in the education.


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  4. jsb, I have a friend in Sloyd education in Minnesota. Are you in St. Paul?

    You can email me through the email link on the blog page.

    Also, thanks for the article. I've passed it along to my colleagues at school.