Computers do no good in elementary classrooms and may do harm by shortening attention spans, says this story in Education Reporter.

An awful lot of money has been wasted on poorly conceived technology projects on the assumption that if you wire it, they will learn.

I was a programmer/database designer. I *love* computers – just love ’em. But when I start teaching math, I don’t want one within a hundred miles.

Graphing calculators in 6th grade? Not for me. It’s rise-over-run, kids.

“if you wire it, they will learn.”

The rule here seems to be,

“If you spend money, you look good.”

Technospending shows “caring.”

I agree. Too often, ‘experts’ are impressed with the concept of technology, when in fact, nothing has had the effectd on the classroom that textbooks and chalkboards/whiteboards have had.

I’m not a fan of the way computers are being used. Great big money drain, in my opinion. However, a local district uses something called Waterford or something of that nature for reading in the early primary grades, and it apparently does get some very good results. Like anything else, it has to be used well, and I think too many districts do see computers as some sort of panacea.

I think that the research is unclear, because the teacher is considered a fungible resource. Teacher’s competency is critical – if the teacher understands the basic concept he/she is teaching, regardless of method, the students have a chance to learn it. Too many times teachers, particularly elementary teachers, lean on the technology to teach what they don’t know.

I use technology in many ways – to improve student writing (the ability to edit quickly is the key, not the grammar and spell checkers), to enhance math instruction (graphing calculators rock), and to gather data using data-collection devices hooked to computers or calculators. I must say, however, that I have spent over 100 hours a year for the last 8 years learning how to use the technology, and apply it in the classroom. Most teachers won’t spend anywhere near that time. And, if they don’t, the instruction will be a weak substitute for the old-fashioned way, which most teachers at least understand.

With the load of books kids carry today, partially because drug warriors got rid of lockers, I would think substituting CDs and DVDs for books would be beneficial. Perhaps they need a teacher’s lock to keep kids from wandering off topic?

The only sentence in which I’d use “graphing calculators” and “rock” together is “I’d like to smash my students’ graphing calculators with a rock.” Graphing calculators inhibit the actual learning of math.

I learned college algebra and calculus without one– in fact I didn’t own one until I married a man who did. I got through my entire Bachelor’s with a major in MATHEMATICS using only a $15 scientific calculator. People have been learning mathematics for millenia with nothing more than a wax tablet or a board covered in sand. Even our “modern” mathematics that is taught at the high school level was largely known to the Chinese for centuries, and they didn’t have graphing calculators.

But our students, who have the most whiz-bang calculators out there, don’t know any real math. Some of my college algebra students had calculators that would do symbolic integration, and they flunked miserably because I required them to be more than button-pushing calculator monkeys. They could not graph a rational function without the calculator to save their lives, even though I’d shown them how to do it repeatedly (and even then they couldn’t competently enter the damn thing in because they didn’t understand parentheses). They were just too used to depending on technology to understand that they needed to put the knowledge in their BRAINS, not their FINGERS.

Graphing calculators may increase the proportion of students who can produce a graph of a particular function, but they do not by themselves increase the proportion of students who understand what that graph means. And since it’s the teacher (not the technology) that increases that proportion, the calculator is not a necessary tool for the instruction of mathematics. It fools students and teachers into thinking that because students have produced a graph, they must understand what it means since the graph is there in front of them.

So, graphing calculators: useful tools for the already-trained, evil spawn of Satan for the young student of mathematics.

I’ve heard good things about Waterford. It’s not that technology never works, but schools tend to buy backwards. They start with the gizmo and then try to figure out how to use it. And they invariably skimp on teacher training, even though everybody knows it’s critical.

The headline is “Experts Speak Out Against Computers for Youngsters ,” but most of the experts cited spoke out 3 or more years ago. Is there a long lag time at that publication?

Computers are just tools, just like a primary reader, a math or English textbook, or a weight room. They are means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. They have temendous capacity to enhance the learning experience, but they are not a substitute for the experience itself. In the end they are like any other education tool, and only as good as the teacher utilizing them.