Saturday, September 28, 2013

Gadgets and Education

Friday, we teachers were trained by some nice fellows from our local Barnes and Noble on the proper use and care of their electronic reading device, the Nook. It is a handy little device. You can read books on it, including many that you can download for free since they're in the public domain. You can also electronically highlight passages and take notes. There is a built-in Merriam Webster dictionary that you can call up simply by resting a finger on the word you are having difficulty with. I had no idea these devices had come so far. Not only can you link to the Barnes and Noble website or Amazon to buy books, you can also link to Google and get some of the books for free. You can, I think, surf the web. You can listen to online music. You can play games. There are apps. Some are included. And you can buy lots more.

Wait. Back up. You can play games? Yes, but they're educational games that are either included with the Nook, or that you can download. Well, they might not all be educational. The teacher next to me was playing one of those games where you make objects disappear by aligning a certain amount of the same object and then clicking on it. Of course, our students won't have access to those silly games. They will be trapped into playing reading, and phonics, and math, and grammar, and science games. Right? Well, actually,
It’s elementary. Public education bureaucrats do the darnedest, stupidest things. Clever kids are ready, willing and able to capitalize on that costly stupidity in a heartbeat. Within days of rolling out a $30 million Common Core iPad program in Los Angeles, for example, students had already hacked the supposedly secure devices. The Los Angeles Times reports that the disastrous initiative has been suspended after students from at least three different high schools breached the devices’ security protections. It was a piece of iCake. The young saboteurs gleefully advertised their method to their friends, fellow Twitter and Facebook users, and the media. “Roosevelt students matter-of-factly explained their ingenuity Tuesday outside school,” the L.A. Times told readers. “The trick, they said, was to delete their personal profile information. With the profile deleted, a student was free to surf. Soon they were sending tweets, socializing on Facebook and streaming music through Pandora, they said.” Goodbye, Common Core apps. Hello, Minecraft! The district spent untold millions of taxpayer dollars on iPad “training,” but many teachers still couldn’t figure out how to sync up the souped-up tablets for academic use in the classroom at the start of the school year. In less than a week, though, teens were able to circumvent the locks for fun and playtime at home faster than you can type “LOL.”
The way I see it is, if we teachers are having difficulty in using these things, all we have to do is ask a student for help.

Back when my own kids were in high school, they had to take a computer class. They would come home many a day complaining or laughing over the fact that they completed the teacher's assignment in 10 or 15 minutes and spent the rest of the period playing Solitaire, doing homework for other classes, or just goofing off with their friends. Every kid in the class did the same thing, but these waste-of-time classes were mandated. Every kid in the class had grown up with computers but was being "taught" to do tasks they'd been doing for years. To them, it was a joke.

Since then, computers have advanced. High school computer classes haven't and neither have elementary classes. My students go to their technology class once a week to "learn" on the computers. While not all of them have computers at home, the theory behind teaching children with computers is that they will play educational games. I call it the "Noodle Kidoodle" theory of education.
While various engaging, colorful games have now been used for years, I haven't seen any evidence as to their effectiveness. Of course, that means nothing. The educational establishment is sold on technology, as are parents, as are students, as are the developers of these games and programs.
Remember: These “reform” programs are not about stimulating brain cells. It’s all about stimulating the Benjamins. Pearson is the multibillion-dollar educational publishing and testing conglomerate at the center of the federally driven, taxpayer-funded “standards” racket. For Pearson, ed publishing and ed computing are a $6 billion global business. For nearly a decade, the company has plotted a digital learning takeover. According to industry estimates, Pearson’s digital learning products are used by more than 25 million people in North America. Common Core has been a convenient new catalyst for getting the next generation of consumers hooked. As I reported last week, Pearson sealed its whopping $30 million taxpayer-subsidized deal to supply the city’s schools with 45,000 iPads pre-loaded with Pearson Common Core curriculum apps earlier this summer. I repeat: That works out to $678 per glorified e-textbook, $200 more than the standard cost, with scant evidence that any of this software and hardware will do anything to improve the achievement bottom line.
Somehow, even when there is no money, or less than no money, there is still money to waste - uh - I mean spend on computerized gadgets. And somehow, no matter what kind of corruption and poverty  is being written about, any writer can attack Detroit as the epitome of all that is wrong with this country.
The abysmal history of federal investments in ed technology is as crystal-clear as an HD touch screen. Take President Obama’s $49 million technology initiative for the Detroit public schools, funded by federal stimulus money. The city is bankrupt. The urban school system is overrun by corruption, violence and incompetence. The federal ed tech program showered some 40,000 new (foreign-made) ASUS netbook computers on Detroit, plus thousands of printers, scanners and desktop computers to teachers and kids from early childhood through 12th grade. The district budget is $300 million in the hole. Meanwhile, the board slashed special education buses and shut down 70 schools. Have the devices helped students “compete in a global marketplace,” as champions of the program promised? SAT scores in Detroit remain “stagnant.” High school graduation rates are rock-bottom. According to the most recent data, just 3 percent of Detroit fourth-graders are proficient in math; 6 percent are proficient in reading. In 2010, 11 people were charged in connection with a lucrative fencing scheme involving hundreds of DPS computers, which they stole and sold on eBay or peddled to friends and family.
One of the painful facts of education is that it is not a game. It is as serious as your life. You would think that people who have been in the educational profession for as many years as some of these computer-pushing dolts have been would understand that, but I've come to understand that many of them can't make that admission. In their mind, there has to be a "magic bullet" that will get information and skills into students' brains easily and painlessly. There is no such thing. Education isn't always fun, in fact it may rarely be fun, but it is always rewarding. Yes, games can be good for review, but when it comes to absorbing content, you'd better get out that pencil and paper, along with a book, and get to work. You can play on the internet after you've done your homework.

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