Summer is here. That’s when millions of teachers hit the beach! Well, not really. Actually, many of us hit the keyboard or sign up to take classes about technology. I took an iPad class with 31 other teachers last week. As my husband said, “What is so hard about using an iPad that you need to take a class?” We don’t take the class because the tool is hard; we take it because the technology is so easy that we need to learn how to best use the tool in the classroom. It’s too easy to put an iPad in the hands of a kid and let them dink around in the unfocused tech world.
We teachers are scrambling to use time wisely since we have fewer instructional days and more to cover. New technologies are likely to change our teaching emphasis from passively taking in information to actively producing evidence of newfound knowledge. iPads are like covering broccoli with cheese sauce; they are a sneaky way to lure kids into doing what is best for them. The focus of technology in the classroom should be to raise education to a higher intellectual endeavor: that of using knowledge to experiment and create. Creative citizens who can focus on problems and devise ways to solve them are key to our economic health. Using iPads is an itty-bitty step to achieving a broader goal.
I recently read an article, U.S. Students Know What, But Not Why, about a pilot science assessment given in 2009 by the NAEP where students needed to prove their prowess not by regurgitating facts or interpreting data but by designing simulated experiments to solve a problem. These new assessments can potentially record the keystrokes used, giving a picture of the process the student took in discovering a method. According to the data from the enhanced assessment, “The first-ever use of interactive computer tasks on a national science assessment suggests that most U.S. students struggle with the reasoning skills needed to investigate multiple variables, make strategic decisions, and explain experimental results.” We educators have lots of work to do.
Currently our tests strive to find out who knows their math theorems, and who can name the bones in the body, identify literary devices and other other arcane knowledge that can quickly be accessed by anyone with a smart phone. Reasoning skills are not currently included on any high-powered test of school achievement, but in an ever-complex world it seems that the ability to reason is not yet something that can be done by a computer and is thus a skill vital to today’s youth. In order for us to be smart educators, we need to focus on developing students who can reason, which is much different from students who can absorb and retain information. Combining technology as a tool for students to create and explore with an assessment that can track the thoughts and reasoning of students could be a teacher’s ticket to developing students who can truly navigate our increasingly complex world.