Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant impact on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.
The long-awaited report amounts to a rebuke of educational technology, a business whose growth has been spurred by schools desperate for ways to meet the testing mandates of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.
Oh my, another chink in the armor of NCLB. I am not surprised. Technology is worthy of many things–a teacher it is not! Without technology this blog would not be possible, critical exploration of deep space, research into drug development, and so much more would simply not be possible. But, sitting a child in front of a computer to do drill and kill is no different than handing the same child a worksheet. It numbs the brain. It kills curiosity.
Not too very long ago my then 6 year old grandson was visiting me from his home in Phoenix. Because he was missing a couple of days of school, his 1st grade teacher supplied him with multiple worksheet assignments. He balked at doing this homework. When I asked him why he said, “Poppa, it is really stupid work. I know how to do it all so it is just a waste of my time–time I could be spending with you and grandma.” Aside from the fact that he will grow up to be a diplomat, his analysis was right on. In fact, it was a waste of his time. If a 6-year-old child knows this and can articulate his knowing this well something tells me the DOE did not have to pay for an expensive study.
We have known for some time that drill and skill worksheets don’t work at any age for any topic. What does work is to engage children as curious, inquiring learners. It is a grand Deweyan myth but he could have said this, “If you want kids to learn about volume and container size, send them out to the sandbox with different size buckets and have them play in the sand. Then come back to the classroom and discuss what they did in the sandbox.” Learning through experience works. It engages kids in ways that involve their natural curiosity so that what is learned is retained. Beating them over the head with drivel simply gets lost as the children get lost in the process.
But NCLB pushes notions of basic skills for reading and math. Curiously, nothing is ever said about what one does with the skills acquired. What are the real world applications of having a set of skills that one has not been able to internalize because they hold no interest.
If technology is to be effective as a classroom tool then it must be seen as interactive, messy, and authentic. Not some pre-programmed worksheet model that crushes children in the process.
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