Although my teens are digital natives, it’s amazing to see how much technology has grown along with them. My oldest started kindergarten just over 10 years ago but back then, most classrooms typically had only one computer and it belonged to the teacher. These days, many students carry more powerful technology in their pockets and purses. Here are eight ways how technology is changing how kids learn.
Toss the Glitter Glue
Gone are the days of painstakingly decorating static posters and trying to get my boys to write as large and neatly as possible in order to create legible presentations. Today, even elementary school students use new tools, like Prezi, Power Point and Glogster, to communicate their big ideas. My younger son has even used Scratch to create animations and interactive games to summarize lessons.
Focus on Learning
Lia Freitas, who teaches kindergarten at the Catholic Academy of Sunnyvale, observed how technology attracts her students’ attention. She reports that her kindergarten students are “Much more focused during iPad time. They are learning and don’t even know it.”
One night, my then-first-grader and I were struggling to make sense of the directions for his math homework. I laughed when he asked if we could call the teacher at home to clarify things. I know, we shouldn’t laugh at earnest children, but the idea seemed preposterous back then. Now, as a high school student, my son might send a question to one of his teachers as late as 10 p.m. and still receive response before he’s ready for bed.
High Tech Note Passing
Gone are the days of discretely trying to pass notes to a BFF across the classroom. Today’s students simply share a Google Doc and use it to communicate back and forth, all while maintaining an air of productivity. In addition to enabling discrete note passing, Google Docs are also an excellent resource for group projects, allowing everyone to have access to the most up-to-date project materials at the same time.
Dot Com Dictionary
Another story about first grade: way back before iPads were even a thing, my son had to walk to a third grade classroom to look up his advanced vocabulary words. Although this didn’t dampen his love of reading, it was a disruptive and inefficient process.
These days, explains Tammy Astor, a teacher at Dewey Elementary School in Evanston, Illinois, “Students can look up a vocabulary word much more quickly on a laptop or iPad with a dictionary app than in a print dictionary. And every word is accessible. This helps maintain reading engagement.” Astor appreciates the immediacy that technology provides and feels it increases student productivity.
My boys now regularly exchange text messages with their teachers and coaches. I know this sounds like an invitation for trouble but their school uses a third-party service called Remind that allows teachers to text students and parents without having direct access to personal phone numbers.
In the Classroom
My fourth grade teacher often reminded us to “keep it to a dull roar” during independent study time. Nowadays, apps like Too Noisy objectively measure the noise level of a classroom and help students monitor themselves.
Remember that feeling of eagerly raising your hand to answer a question and holding it up until you nearly lost all feeling, only to have the teacher call on another student? Apps like Teacher’s Pick help teachers randomly select students to answer questions and record which students are most active.
The 3 Rs Are Now the 3Cs
With more than 20 years of teaching under her belt Christine Ruder, who teaches at Truman Elementary School outside of St. Louis, certainly sees the advantages of modern technology: “Technology allows my students to learn beyond the book…beyond the walls of the classroom.” She adds, “It allows them to create, communicate and collaborate both within the classroom and around the world.”
As the monthly “art enrichment mom,” at my children’s grammar school, I once took my youngest son’s classroom on a trip to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam thanks to Google Art Project of the Google Cultural Institute. We were able to get an up-close look at one artist’s famous sunflower paintings. I projected it onto the classroom smart board and was able to zoom in to such detail that we could make out the texture of his thick brush strokes.
Today’s students are fortunate to grow up in such an information-rich time. But as Ruder reminded me, “Technology is another tool.” We shouldn’t rush to label it as a solution to all of education’s current woes.
I’m grateful for all of the tech innovations that have improved my boys’ education but it’s doubtful they will ever look back upon a favorite app the way they will about a favorite teacher.