Sunday, December 18, 2011

Click on Your Brain

From the Dallas Morning News, Dec. 17, 2011

Paul refused to stand up in the sand. He tipped sideways. Tumbled forward. Fluttered backwards.

My second-graders groused as they tried to prop their homemade paper figures of the Christian missionary atop sloping “islands” — boards we covered with shifting white grain and shells.

There was a great flicking of sand. An “I quit!” Some made pleas for rescue.

Of the dozen or so children who attended my Sunday school class that day, not one — including my own 7-year-old twins — could figure out how to make tiny Paul stand tall.

I eventually provided a strategy — dig Paul a hole and glue him in — and we moved on with our craft. That morning, however, a seed of worry planted itself in my mind.

My Sunday school class is made up of incredibly bright, wonderful children raised gingerly by middle-class, well-educated parents in Flower Mound, Highland Village and Lewisville. They attend some of the premier elementary schools in the Lewisville Independent School District. A few have been deemed so accelerated, they are plucked from their general education classes weekly to take part in LISD’s gifted and talented program.

Yet, when I asked this group of leaders to do critical thinking, they not only failed, they balked at even trying.

So when I received a survey from my neighborhood elementary school a few weeks ago essentially asking if I thought it was a good idea to provide my very young children and their classmates with in-school access to technology — iPads, iPhones, iTouches and the like — to do “research,” a red flag went up.

Simply put, I worry that kids will supplant critical thinking with quick clicking in a day and age in which creative, agile minds are necessary to compete globally.

Already similar concerns are swirling around LISD as the Bring Your Own Technology program is phased into the district’s 42 elementary schools over the next few months.

The initiative, installed in high schools last year, aims to “unleash personal technology” but remains optional so that families don’t feel burdened, said LISD Public Information Officer Karen Permetti. The hope is that teachers will engage students in new and different ways, she said.

“The kids love it,” Permetti said. “They say they learn best with technology … and they want more of it.”

Still, I find the issues ominous — and mind you, I’m not an anti-tech ogre.

My children get a kick out of practicing their numbers on Fast Math, a district-endorsed educational website that drills little ones on basic addition and subtraction. And, which is used by LISD in part to teach history, helped inspire my son’s Halloween costume of the Greek God Perseus.

But technology offers only one type of learning. It doesn’t require kids engage their physical bodies or spiritual selves. They don’t have to negotiate with others or even interact with them.

Moreover, in my experience, programs designed for the very young place limits on their creativity and dominates playtime.

In fact, controlling technology was such a problem in our house that my husband and I eliminated the use of every type — including television — during the school week. None of my three kids wanted to play a board game, make-believe or even go outside when the option of technology and its instant gratification was available.

I can only imagine teaching a classroom full of small kids with hand-held gadgets: You’d have to be on fire to get their attention.

As a mother, a veteran K-12 education reporter, a liberal arts graduate and a taxpayer, I respectfully suggest that technology is a distraction to the real learning that needs to take place in our schools.

I’ll do my part by pushing my precious Sunday school students to think critically. Because I want Paul — and every single one of my church children — to stand strong on their own two feet.