Can Computers Help Schools?

Jay Mathews, Washington Post Education Reporter, delves into the topic Can Computers Help Schools? Mr. Mathews immediately shows his lack of background in educational technology or best practice use of technology when states:

“School districts have embraced the computer age with the fervor of a mother welcoming a new baby. I don’t want to seem like a wet blanket by pointing out there isn’t much data yet showing these new machines and software are helping more kids learn.”

Hmmm … it seems to me that schools and home schoolers invest a lot of money in many tools to help students access learning. Where is the data that shows that pencils or paper help kids learn? What about data showing textbooks are helping more kids learn? We spend more money on textbooks than technology – where’s the data? Is there data showing chairs and desks help kids learn? Chalkboards? Whiteboards? Crayons? Rulers? Compasses? Paint? Blocks? Playground equipment? Copy Machines? … No data? … Then no important learning happened. (Don’t I remember something about not everything important gets tested?)

And then he states:

“In the classes I visit, plenty of students are working on computers. I am happy they are mastering the essential tools of modern life. But I wish there were more evidence that those hours tapping keyboards are making them better at reading, writing and math.”

So students shouldn’t be “…mastering the essential tools of modern life…”? They’re essential tools, but essential tools aren’t important enough to spend time or money on in school? How did teaching handwriting (an essential skill at one time) make students better at reading and math? Any data? What “more evidence” are we talking about here? Could it be standardized test results again?

Why is it that some seem to believe that project based learning and utilizing technology as a tool to get at and enhance learning is antithetical to teaching reading, writing and math? (Echoes of if you’re against the war you don’t support the troops disconnect).

Don’t you love it when people say they’ve “visited classrooms” and that has led them to some great understanding of everything going on there? Like kids are widgets that are all essentially the same and learn the same and have the same issues and that walking through or checking test results gives a clear picture of what’s going on?

Mr. Mathews and way too many others don’t get it that one of the biggest reasons students are behind in reading is because of their lack of understanding of the world around them and the people and events around them. Most of my own students have their phonics and word attack skills down. What makes reading difficult for them is it is boring to read and near impossible to get meaning from what you read when you don’t understand the significance or humor or horror or sadness or history or science behind what you read. And we don’t test the subjects that build that schema and vocabulary the best – science, social studies, art, PE, projects, field trips, in fact we cut them out of the curriculum to push the “basics” for the very students that need them the most (thanks NCLB).

Mr. Mathews is correct – reading, writing and math are essential skills that most students need to master at a certain level to be successful. However there are other skills, competencies and experiences that are both part of mastering those subjects and part of the basic “toolkit” of knowledge we each need to make sense and enjoy and understand life. Besides having strong programs in reading, writing and math, students also require and deserve to have strong programs in the other essential skills of life – you can’t have one without the other.

Learning is messy!

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3 thoughts on “Can Computers Help Schools?

  1. One interesting thing I thought that was mentioned above is the statement that more money is being spent on textbooks and less on technology. This is very true but I believe in the future more money will begin to be used toward technology for students. For example students may get individual labtops which may reduce the use of textbooks. The internet is being used on an every day basis and textbooks are now becoming available on-line. I do not think textbooks will become obsolete in the near future but twenty years from now it could be a definite possibility.