What computers do best, what teachers do best

“There are things that the computer does best and things that teachers do best,” says John Danner, co-founder of Rocketship Education, in a conversation with Liz Willen on the Hechinger Report. Rocketship uses a “hybrid” model:  Students spend part of the day in small classes taught by well-paid teachers and the rest working at their own pace in a computer lab supervised by an aide. The San Jose elementary schools, which primarily serve low-income, immigrant students, are among the top-scoring high-poverty schools in the state. They even do well compared to schools with middle-class students.

There are things that the computer does best and things that teachers do best. We think that computers do basic skills best. Traditionally, people have maligned computers in the education space for ‘drill and kill,’ but computers help kids practice things and help kids who don’t understand what they are practicing figure it out and go back to the original lesson. Computers can adapt on the fly to an individual child’s mistakes or successes, and that would be impossible for a teacher in a class of 25-30 kids.

What are some of the things that teachers do best?

We think it is social and emotional learning, and helping kids to think critically, along with project-based learning and integrating skills. Very few teachers became teachers to teach basic skills. They became teachers because they like to work with kids and help them learn values—and take what they know and apply it to problems, and help kids understand and cement concepts. There is a big difference between that and what you will see in low-income schools, where teachers have to spend all their time on basic skills. We can do both.

Rocketship hopes to open 20 charter schools in Silicon Valley by 2017 through partnerships with up to 11 school districts. Danner’s ultimate goal is to expand the Rocketship model to 50 U.S. cities, he tells Willen.

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