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October 2015

#TBT Part II: Parents Understanding “EdTech”

This post is in response to and based on an article published here by TechThought titled “The Bare Minimum of Technology Integration”, and a post titled “Technology:  the savior of education?” posted by iLearn Technology.

In the last post on edtech (or “educational technology”) we went through a checklist of questions to ask teachers about how technology is being used to teach.  In other words, how is technology doing a good or better job of making sure children learn all they need to know, in the best way possible?

The “bare minimum” for how teachers are supposed to use edtech are below:

  1. Create a class website
  2. Create a class YouTube Channel
  3. Create a class twitter account and make international accounts
  4. Get your students blogging
  5. Find other classes to collaborate with on projects
  6. Do mystery Skypes/Google Hangouts
  7. Invite expert guests via live video conferencing
  8. Code with your students
  9. Do Genius Hour with your students
  10. Gamify your classroom
  11. Strive for a paperless classroom (here are 26 iPad apps for a paperless classroom)
  12. Create digital portfolios
  13. Automate quizzes with Google Forms
  14. Use Google Forms for student check-in and exit slips
  15. Let students use their device in class

Numbers 1 and 3 were covered in our last discussion, and numbers 11-14 have obvious benefits: they help teachers collect work from students in a less complicated way.

The question now is (for everything else) how do parents know that these are adding anything beneficial to their child’s development?

Another interesting article on this topic was posted, about Anastasis Academy.  It’s a school that uses computer software to predict the ways a child learns best, based on some preliminary information collected on the child.  I’m assuming this means that, if a child likes to learn using videos, the program would provide more videos on whatever subject the child is learning about (for example).  The founders of Anastasis Academy also claim that the program is Common Core ready, and adjusts based on what a child is interested in learning about.

As the writers wisely suggest, this program would be the dream of every school in America – especially when such a program demands that each child get his/her own iPad.  But again, there must be a purpose and a realistic goal to achieve that requires parents to ask certain questions:

  1. How does this program support children with special needs (i.e. dyslexia, social/emotional disturbance, those on the autistic spectrum, those with limited fine motor skills, etc.)?
  2. At what age/grade level do children begin to use such a program?  As early as pre-kindergarten?  Only starting in middle school?
  3. Does it guarantee that a child performing way below grade level can at least catch up to grade level by the end of a school year?  If not, what kind of progress can parents expect/ask for?
  4. How does this program make sure there’s diversity in what all students learn?  For example, will texts only come from “traditional” writers or canons, or will books, blogs, newspapers, and other texts written by authors of different cultures and backgrounds be included? (And not just the common MLK, Jr. or Pam Muñoz Ryan texts, but real variety and diversity in texts?)
  5. How much training do teachers and children need in order to use this program, especially children who rarely have or never used a computer before?

More and more questions can be asked, but the point is this:  parents, don’t take technology in the classroom for granted.  By that I mean, seeing technology in the classroom doesn’t mean you are also seeing enough and proper learning happening.  It doesn’t automatically mean that POOF, your child will be an Einstein by the time s/he gets to college.  You must ask TOUGH questions of your teachers and principals to make sure the (expensive) purchases of new technology actually prepare your child to be a successful and independent person outside of school walls.

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#TBT Part I: Parents Understanding “EdTech”

This post is in response to and based on an article published here by TechThought titled “The Bare Minimum of Technology Integration”.

Parents, the shiny new laptops, the new computer lab smell, or the latest iPads in your child’s classroom might feel special, and make you proud that your child gets to enjoy something many other schools do not.

This makes sense.  As a parent, you want the best for your child, and you want them to have it better than you did at their age.  And to be honest, if you can’t afford to buy these things yourself, it might make you happy that your child can at least “play” with an iPad at school.

Hopefully your child is also learning important skills they will need for college and a job with this new technology.  As a parent, you may want to know how and why using computers at school helps your child learn and grow.  So here’s a list of some ways teachers use computers, and some questions/ideas you may want to think about before getting excited over new gadgets.

  1. Your child’s teacher might make a class website, and ask him or her to use it for classwork, homework, projects and/or important announcements.  This is helpful because very soon most of our jobs will involve using a computer, and your child will (a) apply to colleges, (b) apply to jobs using a computer.  But there are still three things you should think about and then discuss with your child’s teacher:
  • Does my child know why we have websites?  Do they understand why a website might be better than a textbook, for example?
  • Does my child know why a website looks the way it does, and how a website “works”?  For example, does my child know how to use hyperlinks or archives?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how easy would it be for my child to go on and through a website by his/herself?

If any of these three questions have an unclear answer, then it’s unclear whether using  computers and a class website will make sense to your child and help them grow.  You need to make a strategic plan with your child’s teacher(s) so that they actually learn something valuable.

2. Your child’s teacher might make a Twitter account for the class, and ask students to use it to speak with and learn from different people, cultures, and experts.  Twitter might be a good start in helping your child write grammatically correct sentences and complete thoughts about a subject.  Many students struggle with writing paragraphs or essays, so Twitter can be used as practice until their writing skills improve.  Also, if your teacher follows the right people on Twitter, students can get quick and interesting facts about different countries and people they have never met or knew about.

BUT, you might want to ask the teacher:

  • What specific grammar skills are you going to teach using Twitter, and why do you think using Twitter is better than using a regular grammar book?
  • What kind of topics/people will the class follow on Twitter, and will you protect my child from finding/following things that I find inappropriate?
  • How are you going to make sure that, after using Twitter, my child will know how to write paragraphs and will understand the structure for writing an essay?
  • Will my child be safe on Twitter at your school?  (This could mean safe from child predators, or safe from cyberbullying.)

The excitement of using technology will quickly lose its shine unless there is a purpose behind everything that’s done.

Next week in Part II of this post more ideas and questions on edtech will be explored…

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