Computers in the Elementary School, Continued

If you haven’t yet read my first post on this topic please do so here. http://www.greentigercreations.com/intechgration/?p=185

While I intended to write several posts regarding “Fools Gold”,  I have come to the conclusion, after reading the six chapters, that, while the authors of this book have some valid points, many of them can be solved easily.  Below are just a few points made and my proposed solutions.

In Fools Gold it states that, “The National Science Board reported in 1998 that prolonged exposure to computing environments may create “individuals incapable of dealing with the messiness of reality, the needs of community building, and the demands of personal commitments.”

While this may be true, I am uncertain which school is asking students to sit in front of the computer all day long without other learning activities. In my experience, computers are a learning tool, used at times throughout the day, when the teacher, along with the assistance of a technology facilitator, have collaborated and decided it will best fit the students needs.  I am unaware that there are computing environments, even in a 1:1 situation, where the students are using the computers exclusively.  Any good teacher knows that the best tool to use is the one that will help get the job done in the most authentic way.  If this means that the students are participating in a real to life situation doing a hands on activities, working in groups to inquire or create, or using computers to assist in the learning activity, then they are doing this because the teacher decided it was the best way for them to learn.  It is also my experience that computers in a 1:1 environment have the ability to create an online community of learners.  In fact, this community of learners interact with each other online and offline, therefore, the interaction and community is built in more than one area of their academic life.  The learning community now extends outside the school more often than one without computers. Classroom life is a very real place, where the students are working together to solve problems and are committed to taking an active role in their own education.  Having computers as an available tool will, in my opinion, assist teachers in helping to create a more authentic learning community.  It is important to remember, that with all things in life even the use of the computer in the classroom, balance is needed.

In another area in “Fools Gold” it mentions “Intense use of computers can distract children and adults from these essential experiences.”  Again I have to say one thing, balance.  I have yet to experience any classroom where the teacher relies solely on computers as a means of instruction.  Any good teacher knows that students have various learning styles and needs.  These highly trained professionals, will differentiate their instruction, to the best of their ability, in order to reach all their learners and supply all essential experiences. We are not asking the computers to replace the teacher.

As mentioned in Fools Gold, “Children learn best with real experiences.  Life experiences help children gain valuable insights into the world they are ultimately and intimately a part of.”   Computers are a big part of this world they will ultimately be a part of, so why not make them available to use in schools when it is deemed as the tool that will provide the most assistance to a particular learning activity? Again, not the only tool but the one that is deemed needed at that particular time along with other real experiences.  If, however, the students can’t have the real experience, because it is just not feasible or too dangerous, then a virtual one provides the next best thing.

Another valid point made in this book was, “Emphasizing the use of computers in childhood can place children at increased risk for repetitive stress injuries, visual strain, obesity, and other unhealthy consequences of a sedentary lifestyle.”  Once again this is easily solved by first, only using computers when they improve the lesson and second, by educating students about a balanced lifestyle.  It is just as easy to get “visual strain, obesity and other unhealthy consequences of a sedentary lifestyle”, by reading too many books.  I am sure that the authors of Fools Gold wouldn’t suggest we get rid of books in early childhood education and elementary schools.

I could continue with many of the other points mentioned but feel it would be a waste of my time.  It is very important that we consider the computer for what it really is, a tool which, when integrated properly into the learning environment helps to create a more authentic learning environment,  connects the classroom with the real life of the digital natives learning in this room, and helps the teacher and student experience more about the world than just whats available in the building.

My own thoughts about what I read, was that they left out the first step of any technology integration model, which is to determine if the technology is going to improve the learning experience.  If this step is done, and it is determined that technology would not improve the learning in anyway, then the technology would not be used.  It is in this way, that technology is only used when needed and the students participate in a variety of learning experiences.

I guess it really comes down to having trained professionals classroom teachers, and an ICT Facilitator, to collaborate and decide when to best make use of computers.

Below are the recommendations of the authors of Fools Gold. These were taken directly from Chapter 6, page 98 of the downloadable PDF.

  • A refocusing in education, at home and school, on the essentials of a healthy childhood: strong bonds with caring adults; time for spontaneous, creative play; a curriculum rich in music and the other arts; reading books aloud; storytelling and poetry; rhythm and movement; cook- ing, building things, and other handcrafts; and gardening and other hands-on experiences of nature and the physical world.
  • A broad public dialogue on how emphasizing computers is affecting the real needs of children, especially children in low-income families.
  • A comprehensive report by the U.S. Surgeon General on the full extent of physical, emotional, and other developmental hazards computers pose to children.
  • Full disclosure by information-technology companies about the physical hazards to children of using their products.
  • A halt to the commercial hyping of harmful or useless technology for children.
  • A new emphasis on ethics, responsibility, and critical thinking in teaching older students about the personal and social effects of technology.
  • An immediate moratorium on the further introduction of computers in early childhood and elementary education, except for special cases of students with disabilities. Such a time-out is necessary to create the climate for the above recommendations to take place.

Please comment if you would like.

Fools Gold A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood, published by the Alliance for Childhood.  http://www.allianceforchildhood.org/ This publication is available at http://drupal6.allianceforchildhood.org/fools_gold .

Thanks for reading,

Shannon Doak

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