Last week, MNN parenting blogger Jenn Savedge asked an excellent question about technology in the classroom: How much is enough? She cited a NY Times article that covered the trend of Silicon Valley parents sending their kids to Waldorf schools — where no technology is used in the learning environment. If the pioneers of technology were limiting their own children's use of computers, then what does that mean for the rest of the parents out there struggling with the question?
Yesterday, a counter-argument emerged. The New York Times profiled a school in Mooresville, N.C., that's leading the laptops-in-class digital revolution, pointing to some pretty extraordinary test results achieved after introducing laptops into the school (and controversially eliminating 10 percent of their teachers to pay for it). After three years of laptops in classrooms, and a significant overhaul in the way teachers interact with students, the results are in.
According to the NY Times, "The district’s graduation rate was 91 percent in 2011, up from 80 percent in 2008. On state tests in reading, math and science, an average of 88 percent of students across grades and subjects met proficiency standards, compared with 73 percent three years ago. Attendance is up, dropouts are down." Those are some pretty unignorable stats, and that's with increased class sizes — all of which has educators talking, and regularly visiting the school to see how they do what they do.
Turns out that technology is only the foundation for a newer way of teaching that takes into account a learning conundrum that has stymied instructors and students for years; different rates of learning. I can't be the only one who whizzed through my English, social studies and science assignments, and was ready and eager for more, and was a slowpoke when it came to math. By the time I got to college, I was significantly behind in my math education (which never got made up for) and way ahead in other subjects. I was one of the best students in my classes, and achieved many academic honors, and yet even I was failed in one area of my education. If that's what happens to good students, what about the rest?
After all, we know that kids learn at different rates, and that the same kids learn varying subjects on different timelines. One of the boons of the technology they're using at the Mooresville school enables teachers to let kids go at their own pace. By working independently on a computer, if a fifth-grader is ready for sixth-grade science work by December, she can move on. If a fourth-grader is performing math below his grade level, he can be given extra time and practice on those problems that trip him up. Teachers benefit from individualized reports from each student, so they can see where the issues are. And best of all? For shy kids, there's the opportunity to discuss subjects and ask questions virtually, so while bolder children always get the help they need, those less likely to raise their hand aren't left behind because they're afraid to speak up.
Ironically, technology here is used to tap into the real human emotions that make for better learning:
"The difference, teachers and administrators here said, is that they value computers not for the newest content they can deliver, but for how they tap into the oldest of student emotions — curiosity, boredom, embarrassment, angst — and help educators deliver what only people can," reported the NY Times.
So instead of teachers being replaced by computers, they are being helped by them — which is the essence of good technology, isn't it?