Getting dumber

On Education Gadfly, Checker Finn reviews the many and contradictory ways reformers hope to improve high schools.

Gadfly also reports on a fascinating tidbit from the PISA test:

Two German researchers found that students who use computers at school frequently (i.e., several times a week) perform “sizably and statistically worse” in math and reading than pupils who use computers (at school) seldom or never. The researchers responsibly factored in home and school affluence to arrive at their conclusion, and theorize that frequent computer use comes “at the expense of traditional learning methods.” The optimal computer use seems to be somewhere between a few times a year and several times a month — which might come as a surprise to techno-utopians (and computer marketers).

Or, as this story puts it, PCs make kids dumber.

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  1. Interesting article on reading and math skills as they relate to computer use.

    My experience as a student has been that computers are good supplementary materials when it comes to learning math. Example: Microsoft Excel is great for learning logic functions, converting algebraic expressions into symbolic notation, designing graphs to reflect trigonometric functions, and data analysis. However, in order to use these functions adequately, you need to understand the underlying math. Excel enhances your understanding because it is a fairly visceral way of approaching math. But it won’t teach you how to do math and how to reason mathematically.

    As for reading, I think computers are generally useless, for a number of reasons, including: reading is a highly interactive and physical activity for which computer monitors are not well equipped. That said, computers can help here as well, as for instance, serving as a digital dictionary for new vocab words.

    But it must be true that the uses of computers as a teaching tool are fairly limited.

    Additionally, there is an interesting article in the Wall St. Journal about science and math education here:,,SB110263537231796249,00.html?mod=todays_us_marketplace

  2. My kids’ school has them use computers very sparingly until they are in 7th grade. Then they use the internet as a giant encylopedia to help write papers. This is, I think, a very good use of the technology.

  3. Hmmmm … I remmeber my early computer programming days, when I was able to do long division in my head in octal. Then I got a calculator that could do it, and I never did it again. I’m sure there’s a moral in this someplace.

  4. One factor that may influence these results is the fact that many of the frequent users in elementary schools are the students who are using the computers for remediation, not for grade-level activities.