Do kids want tech? Do teachers fear it?

School Sleuth is asking What Do Kids Want? when it comes to classroom technology.

And What Are Teachers Afraid Of? 

Comes the revolution . . . not yet

Whenever I eat strawberries, I hear my father’s voice saying, “Comes the revolution, we’ll all have strawberries and cream.” Then, since he had an MBA from the University of Chicago, he’d explain why communism doesn’t work. (Even under capitalism, we never had cream. Just milk.)

As a historian of school reform, Larry Cuban has written frequently on the “rose-colored, feverish, high-tech dreams” of transforming teaching and learning. He recommends Derek Muller’s short video, This Will Revolutionize Education.

Technology can’t replace ‘human connection’

Technology can’t replace “human connections,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, at a NationSwell Council event.

 Microsoft’s technology-rich “School of the Future” in Philadelphia underperforms the city’s public schools, which is “quite a feat,” said Kopp. On a visit last year, she noticed that “every single kid in the room was IMing their friends, or trying to fix the computer, or surfing the Internet, while a teacher talked very loudly in the front.”

“If we try to stick technology in there to solve this problem without those foundations [of human connection in the classroom], we’re going to see things go in the wrong direction,” she said.

Virtual ed works in Florida

“Virtual education” is working for Florida high school students, concludes a Program on Education Policy and Governance working paper.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) students taking Algebra or English I earn do as well or better on state math and reading tests as those in traditional courses, report Matt Chingos of Brookings and Guido Schwerdt of the University of Konstanz.

FLVS has expanded access to Advanced Placement and other courses, the study found.

Technology can support at-risk students’ learning concludes a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). “Well-designed interactive programs allow students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations.”

LA teachers don’t use iPad curriculum

“In the first formal evaluation of the troubled iPads-for-all project in Los Angeles schools, only one teacher out of 245 classrooms visited was using the costly online curriculum,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

District staff focused on distributing devices, rather than helping teachers figure out how to use them effectively, the analysis concluded.

Teachers used technology to display documents, replacing an overhead projector or whiteboard.  In a few cases, researchers saw students using the iPads to do Internet research, take notes or create PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.

However, teachers said it was difficult to log in to the curriculum and no high school math curriculum was provided. Four out of five high schools reported that they rarely used the tablets.

Carnival of Homeschooling

The new Carnival of Homeschooling at HomeSchoolBuzz looks at how homeschoolers use technology.

Dollars for degrees: Engineering pays

North Carolina is making it easier for students to predict the dollar value of college degrees. A new state web site will provide median earnings and employment by major, degree and campus.

All the top-paying two- and four-year degrees are in engineering and technology. A four-year graduate in nuclear engineering can expect to earn nearly $90,000 in five years, while the median income for theater graduates is $10,400 after five years.

Why Hoboken is tossing all its laptops

Mothballed laptops locked inside a storage closet at Hoboken Junior Senior High School.

Five years ago, federal “stimulus” dollars paid for laptops for every student at Hoboken Junior Senior High School. Now the school is throwing away all the laptops, reports WNYC.

Laptops broke. Laptops vanished. Students defeated the security software that was supposed to keep them away from pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. “There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Jerry Crocamo, who installed the software.

The computers were slow. They crashed frequently. “Often, there was too little memory left on the small netbooks to run the educational software.”

The $500 laptops lasted only two years and then needed to be replaced. New laptops with more capacity for running educational software would cost $1,000 each, (Superintendent Mark) Toback said. Additionally, licenses for the security software alone were running more than $100,000 and needed to be renewed every two years.

Worst of all, the school had no plan for how to use the new technology to improve teaching. Teachers received little training, concedes Toback, who wasn’t there at the time.  

This has been a problem since the invention of the personal computer.

“Probably in the last few months I’ve had quite a few principals and superintendents call and say, ‘I bought these 500 iPads or 1,000 laptops because the district next to us just bought them,’ and they’re like, now what do we do?” said Allison Powell, who works for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

The district plans to pay a recycling company to dispose of the laptops. I’ve got to believe they could find a nonprofit to rehab and donate them.

Low-tech ‘duet’ blends video, teaching

Combining science and math videos by experts and active learning sessions led by the classroom teacher has made MIT BLOSSOMS “one of the most exciting and effective” blended learning ideas, writes Annie Murphy Paul on Slate.

There are no adaptive algorithms and no personalization. All it takes technologically is “an old television and VCR.”

Concord-Carlisle, Mass., teacher Sandra Haupt co-teaches with the Blossoms lesson “The Power of Exponentials, Big and Small."Sandra Haupt, a teacher in Concord-Carlisle, Massachusetts, co-teaches with the Blossoms lesson “The Power of Exponentials, Big and Small.” — Photo by M. Scott Brauer/Courtesy of MIT Blossoms

Richard Larson, a professor of engineering systems at MIT, got the idea from a teacher in rural China. She played a video of a science lesson for a few minutes, then taught an interactive lesson, then showed a few more minutes of the video.

Back in the U.S., Larson began creating “science and math videos that were designed to be interrupted, to be complemented by active learning sessions conducted by a classroom teacher,” writes Paul.

Larson himself starred in the first video, a lesson on triangles, random numbers, and probability that featured the professor sawing a yardstick into pieces. Today there are more than a hundred lessons available free on the BLOSSOMS website, covering topics in mathematics, engineering, physics, biology, and chemistry, all taught by experts in their fields.

Each lesson offers a series of brief video segments, plus a teacher’s guide to the classroom active-learning sessions. A lesson about mathematical models in epidemiology, for example, intersperses video segments explaining how infectious diseases are spread and controlled with role-playing exercises in which students see for themselves (via classmates who don red, green, or blue-colored hats) how taking preventive measures reduces the risk of contracting illness.

The lessons are now used in schools all over the U.S. and countries all over the world, including China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil.

BLOSSOMS is “teacher-centric,” notes Paul. The video and classroom teachers are “sages on the stage.”

Unlike other blended learning models, instruction isn’t self-paced. Students work as a team.

The “teaching duet” doesn’t threaten teachers, writes Paul. “Ed-tech enthusiasts who think they can do an end run around teachers will find that teachers are still the ultimate arbiters of what’s welcome in their classrooms: Witness the interactive ‘Smart Boards’ introduced with such fanfare into America’s schools, now functioning as so many expensive bulletin boards.”

Technology: the great unequalizer

According to Annie Murphy Paul and a number of researchers, technology is not narrowing achievement and opportunity gaps; rather, it seems to be widening them.

Susan B. Neuman, a professor of early childhood and literacy education at NYU, and Donna C. Celano, an assistant professor of communication at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, spent hundreds of hours observing children in the high-poverty Badlands and the affluent Chestnut Hill sections of Philadelphia. They found that technology exacerbated inequalities between rich and poor children–not because the rich had more of it, but because they used it differently. Paul writes: “They select different programs and features, engage in different types of mental activity, and come away with different kinds of knowledge and experience.”

Paul relates this to a well-documented “Matthew Effect,” a term coined in 1968 by Roger Merton. (“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” [Matthew 13:12]). That is, when rich children use technology for educational purposes, they make greater leaps than poor children.

Not only do poor children gain less from technology than their rich counterparts, but they may even lose. In a forthcoming article, economists Jacob Vigdor, Helen Ladd, and Erika Martinez report a possible negative effect of technology on poor students’ performance: after broadband was introduced to public schools across North Carolina, math and reading performance went down in each region where it was introduced. The scores of disadvantaged students dropped the most.

Paul suggests that affluent children have more guidance from adults when using the computer; thus, they may be directed toward intellectually challenging activities.

There may be still more explanations of the phenomenon. Schools have been told that technology will help raise the achievement levels of the disadvantaged. High-poverty schools are clearly under great pressure to raise the achievement levels of the disadvantaged. So, when technology comes their way, they may require teachers to use it, even when it doesn’t serve the lesson well. (A pre-Danielson classroom observation form in NYC had a check box for technology use–nothing about whether it was used well or poorly.) I have attended PDs where the emphasis was on making use of technology no matter what, not on examining how it might or might not enhance a given lesson. At one PD, we watched a video that ended with the a principal’s advice, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

How can schools improve the quality of their technology use? Paul has a few suggestions:

Addressing it would require a focus on people: training teachers, librarians, parents and children themselves to use computers effectively. It would require a focus on practices: what one researcher has called the dynamic “social envelope” that surrounds the hunks of plastic and silicon on our desks. And it would require a focus on knowledge: background knowledge that is both broad and deep. (The Common Core standards, with their focus on building broad background knowledge, may be education’s most significant contribution to true computer literacy.)

Amen: I suspect that if schools focus on that last part–building background knowledge (and foreground knowledge, for that matter, and ways of interpreting the knowledge)–the proper uses of technology will present themselves, not automatically and naturally, but relatively easily all the same.

One minor quibble, though (minor because it’s tangential to her argument):  The Common Core, particularly in ELA, doesn’t focus on building background knowledge. It stresses the importance of curriculum but focuses on skills. Not that the Core should have specified a curriculum–but as it is now, one can “implement” the Core–to the satisfaction of state officials–without a clear sense of what is being taught and why.

In the spirit of Paul’s last point, though, schools would do well to have technology serve the lesson and not the other way around.