Educational Technology: Using the Power for Good
November 14, 2014
I sit across from my 8-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, patiently waiting for our dinner to be served at a well-known chain of family restaurants. My mom has joined us for a quick bite to eat, but the service is taking longer than expected. My stomach growls impatiently. I’m surprised because my children seem unaffected by the delay. Usually, by now one of them would be voicing a complaint by kicking the other under the table. I follow my son’s gaze to see the reason for his rapt attention. A TV. My daughter, not normally shy about expressing herself, also seems unphased by the delay. I think she is absorbed in the conversation at the table, but she, too, is enveloped by the allure of another wall-mounted, kid-anesthetizer. My mom and I look around the small dining room and count no fewer than seven TV screens in plain view. What could be so enticing? Golf. My kids have never shown any interest in the sport. Has that suddenly changed? No. It’s simply the lure of a moving picture. As an editorial director for a children’s educational publishing/media company, I wonder:
What plagues so many kids and adults is that reading is something we have to be taught. English is a very difficult code to decipher in part because, for every rule, there’s an exception to that rule. In order to succeed in school and in life, every child must learn how to read.
As a former special educator and researcher for Sesame Street, I know the statistics about the impact of illiteracy on the nation’s children:
We know that the better a child can read, the better he can learn all other subjects.
Over the past several decades, as a nation, we have seen a decline in U.S. academic performance. Concern about how future generations will remain competitive with other countries has led the majority of states to adopt the new set of educational guidelines, the Common Core State Standards. A list of what children should know, grade by grade, from Kindergarten through 12th grade in math, English and literacy, the CCSS were intended to develop the critical-thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills students will need to be successful in college or the workforce.
While CCSS is being rolled out in the majority of states, it is not without its challenges. It has proven to be a highly controversial issue and rollout is being threatened in several states. NY Times columnist Bill Keller wrote that [Common Core] is an ambitious undertaking, and there is plenty of room for debate about precisely how these standards are translated into classrooms. In fact, a new survey of 20,000 teachers found that the majority are enthusiastic about implementing CCSS in their classrooms.
However, more than three-quarters of the teachers reported that they need more time to find teaching materials and develop lesson plans that align with CCSS. In addition, many school districts across the country face budgetary shortfalls and larger class sizes, which means that providing an adequate number of computers in schools to administer the Common Core assessments is also challenging.
With all this in mind, I came across a study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. The study looked at screen time and children’s behavior. It found that kids ages 2 to 10 spend almost two hours a day on digital media. Then the study looked at how much of that time is well spent on educational media, as reported by parents. The researchers learned that:
These numbers would be less concerning, in my opinion, if kids’ overall media consumption didn’t rise precipitously as children get older. A different study from Common Sense Media focused on media consumption of children ages 0-8 and found that:
These two studies revealed a gaping hole to me that seemed like a huge opportunity and a huge responsibility.
With school budgets being slashed from coast to coast and average class sizes on the rise, classroom teachers need all of the support they can get.
- Students are highly motivated to use digital resources.
- Electronic media can allow students to go at their own pace and choose their own level and settings.
- Interactive media can maximize learning by providing immediate corrective feedback to students, not allowing them to progress until the answer is correct.
- Digital resources can help maximize learning in small groups and allow teachers to provide targeted instruction.
Even the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center recently teamed up to publish a joint position on the use of technology and interactive media for young children (ages 0-8). It states, When used intentionally and appropriately, technology and interactive media are effective tools to support learning and development. Their position is that:
- Be active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering.
- Give the child control.
- Provide adaptive scaffolds to help children progress in skills development at their individual rates…
- Be used as one of many options to support children’s learning.…
- Expand children’s access to new content and new skills.
- Become routine and transparent… [so that] the child or the educator is focused on the activity or exploration itself and not on the technology.
In the future, I hope to see more standards-based, effective and fun educational apps developed for school and home use. Educators can seek out guidelines (like those offered by the NAEYC/Fred Rogers Center) for evaluating cost-effective, interactive media for young children that is also Common Core aligned. All of this, of course, is in an effort to ensure that no child gets left behind.
Unfortunately, it’s not hard to see that as long as there are places that we as a society have to wait (restaurants, gas pumps, the DMV), electronic media will be there, ready and willing to sedate our children’s brains with the likes of “least-common-denominator” programming or Candy Crush. In the meantime, I vow to fight the good fight and provide children with media options that will help them become readers, thinkers, and problem solvers-before society introduces them to the newest wave of reality television shows.