November 4th, 2011

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Gadgets, gizmo’s–yea or nay?

Friday, November 4th, 2011

In the two previous posts, the Eduskeptic wrote about technology use in the classroom and whether it did any good, was useful, or had any proven results.

Todays musings target an ongoing question: is any of it necessary for learning? At what grade level? The short answer to the necessary part is no. As to the grade level issue, it depends.

Children in the elementary grades do not need the techno gadgets in order to learn. Some say that the use of computers (just one of the available techno gadgets) in the early grades is just plain wrong. Others offer a more diffuse opinion, saying that it can’t hurt.

If one adheres to the Waldorf, Steiner, Montessori or developmental philosophies, then computers, especially in the early grades, simply aren’t a necessary part of the learning formula. From a teaching perspective in the public sector, mine to be exact, they don’t need to used at all in the early years. They can be, but don’t have to be.

The balancing act is this: with every minute spent on the computer, time is taken away from hands on imaginative explorations either inside the classroom or outside. Children learn best by doing. The tactile quality of what they use, coupled with auditory and olfactory input (what they touch, hear, and smell), is extremely important in the process. There is no way to replace those experiences. The stick, that lovely piece of wood that exists all over, is actually in the National Toy Hall of Fame. It is probably the most versatile toy on the planet. Its ability to morph into a wand, pony, spear, bridge, best friend, is unlimited. Imagination dictates what it may become.

Young children need to be active. Running, jumping, swinging, climbing, rolling about are all part of learning how to do things. Mud, snow, rain, dirt, rocks, are all part of it. They need to be able to explore without adult interference. They learn so much by doing so.

They learn patience, what works and what doesn’t, how to fix what doesn’t work so well, how to cooperate, how to be compassionate, how to lead and follow, what cause and effect are, how to make up and follow the very complex rules they invent for the very complex games they invent. The result of all this is that they learn about the real world and how they fit into it. Their imaginations create all kinds of wonderful experiences. Skinned knees, hurt feelings, the wonder of a best friend, smiles and tears imprint their brains with very real lessons.

Without all that, the joy of being a child is lessened. None of that can be had on a computer, not because computers are bad, but because computers are not animate. A day in the mud cannot be had on any computer generated program.

Young children need all of that curiosity and activity in order to have the letters and sounds and words they study make sense. Dry, wet, cold, hot, hurt, joy all come from real experiences with real things. Those things pop up when connected with words.

As children progress through the grade levels, increasing use of the available technology offers tools that help them put their ideas into a universal format that othermakes can understand. If the use of a computer program helps a 4th grade student to read or write better, use it.

The ability to use the tool, and understand the consequences of using it, stems not from the computer, but from the lessons learned rolling around the floor, the dexterity that comes with climbing things, figuring out what comes next, and the expanding curiosity that comes with it. There is a time and place for everything.

As always, assume nothing, verify everything.