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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Comments

  1. georgelarson says:

    ” Very few teachers became teachers to teach basic skills.”

    Isn’t this where the need is greatest?

    Do teachers really prefer to teach something other than basic skills? Is this true? If so, maybe that is why children have problems with basic literacy and numeracy.

    If computers were good at providing these skills why haven’t they accomplished this goal already after spending big bucks on computers and software for so long a time? Is it because they were used for other purposes or the teachers were not trained, or were the computers not maintained so they were not used after a few months?

    If basic skills come from putting a kid in front of a computer with the right software why isn’t this happening?

  2. Peace Corps says:

    I didn’t choose to become a secondary math teacher to teach fractions, or adding and subtracting integers. I really thought that by ninth grade students would understand these basic skills.

  3. georgelarson says:

    Pease Corps

    I agre with you, but if that is the attitude of teachers in elementary school how will anything improve?

    He said “very few teachers” not some teachers.

    Do you think basic arithmatic is best taught using computers?

  4. Peace Corps says:

    I wish that I could coach elementary teachers on what my future students need to know at each grade level. The students that don’t have the tools and skills by the end of each school year should get: 1) intensive remediation, 2) summer school, or 3) be held back. Possilby a combination of the above. I don’t know the amount that computers could be used for the remediation, but I would be willing to try if the students seemed more enthusiatic about working with them instead of a teacher.

  5. Good topic for discussion!
    Well, I agree that computer is best at basic teaching purpose, And in the other side, teachers always plays an important part in nurturing the students. Computer can’t teach the body language, can’t understand the students emotions but teachers do!
    I also agree with the point that its quite tough to be a elementary teacher.
    Well both have their own importance!
    What’s your opinion on this point??

  6. How true.

    That phrase, “Drill and kill,” killed the development of some excellent software.

    Computers can function as excellent teaching machines. Diagnosing and then presenting programmed learning with error branching, they’re a dream come true.

    One of these days, I hope they can once again tap that potential use.

  7. Very interesting. The idea of having kids practice basic skills and facts on computers is hard to argue with–I’ve seen this work quite well with my own children at school as well as at home while they were practicing math facts, geography facts, etc. Though I would think the children would benefit first (before the practice part) from instruction from a teacher rather than from an aide.

  8. “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”

    Nothing’s ever impressed me like teachers devotion to teaching ‘critical thinking’.

    And sorry – teaching values is the parents job – education not indoctrination.

  9. Kirk Parker says:

    PC,

    I wish that I could coach elementary teachers on what my future students need to know at each grade level.

    Wow–what kind of dysfunctional district do you work in, that these requirements aren’t already communicated to the various levels?

  10. Peace Corps says:

    @Kirk Parker: I am changing school systems in the fall, so I hope things are better where I am going. My impression is the MS and JHS teachers think that if the kids know how to use a calculator to perform the task, then that is good enough. No need to really know how to add and multiply fractions.