17 May 2008

Yes, but are they learning?

Teacher Magazine recently declared that Technology-Rich Classrooms Render Textbooks Useless. The article describes two fourth-grade classrooms in Kansas where "lessons are delivered through different media that are more interactive and, teachers say, more engaging." Media, in this case, includes computers, Smartboards, and internet access.

"We rarely use books," said Mary Hamlin, who teaches fourth-grade science, math and social studies.

Instead, she relies on Web sites like eHarcourt, affiliated with the school's math book company. Students can get their homework straight from the site and do it right there on the screen, or print it out if they don't have Internet access at home.

The Internet is used, too, for research, like when members of Kristy Zeller's fourth-grade class each did a project on a famous explorer, or for fourth-graders' current topic of researching famous Kansans.

The technology also allows teachers to create what Hamlin called "tracks" — a series of Web sites all related to a certain topic of study, so students can move from one site to the next as they complete an assignment.

"We use the computers every day — sites that reinforce what we're learning in the classroom," Zeller said.

That's much more fun than exploring topics with books and taking notes with pencil and paper, according to several members of Zeller's and Hamlin's classes.

"It's exciting, because you sometimes go to new places on the Internet," Rafael Diaz said.

One of his favorite things to do in class is to go online, but technology use at Gertrude Walker, however, extends beyond Internet exploration.

Teachers said they also use the hardware to engage students in lessons, like having them edit grammar sentences on the SMART Board, and to have them present information to the class. Hamlin said her class is especially skilled at creating Power Point slide shows, like those they're currently making about their famous Kansans.

Okay, I applaud the efforts at increasing student engagement. I also think the skills students are developing in using hardware and basic software will be ones that will serve them well throughout their lifetimes. But are they learning any content? This particular factor is curiously absent from the article.

I mentioned recently that technology is not just stuff. Right now, I feel like this article is highlighting two examples of teachers who are teaching the same as in the past, only using a Smartboard instead of an LCD projector. How is using the computer to research a report on famous Kansans any different from getting books from the library with similar information? Where are the opportunities for students to be collaborators? Creators of content?

No comments: