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In some classrooms, iBooks have replaced textbooks. In others, students prepare video yearbooks that can be delivered to their classmates’ cell phones. In still others, teachers ask students a question and they punch in the answers with “clickers” that look like TV remote control devices.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent getting computers into classrooms, and teachers and students around the country are using technology in new ways. That raises two important questions for parents:
1. How is technology being used to improve learning?
2. Are students developing the skills they’ll need to understand and use it in the future?
Pointers for Parents
It can be tough to assess a school’s use of technology. There is little research to go on since many of the tools and techniques that employ them are new. Here are three pointers to help assess how technology is being used:
1. Ask the teacher or principal how technology is aligned with grade-level goals. Parents might be wowed by an 8-year-old’s ability to produce a Power Point presentation without looking closely at the thinking that went into it. While students need to develop technological skills, it should be in the context of thinking and learning to solve problems. That means the technology needs to be aligned with learning goals, says Shelley Pasnik, senior researcher for the New York-based Center for Children and Technology. “There needs to be a vision on the part of the instructional leaders at the school,” she said. “The content should lead, the tool should follow.”
2. Ask your child about how he uses technology in doing his assignments. Pasnik advises parents to talk to their children about how they use technology in their assignments. If, for example, your child put together a multimedia presentation about the Lewis and Clark expedition, ask why he chose the elements he did. You’ll find out pretty quickly if technology was used for its own sake or because there was thought behind it. “If your child says, ‘I was able to use not only my words to describe Lewis and Clark’s journey, but also a picture’ or ‘I chose this font because it looked like something Lewis and Clark might have used in the 1800s,’ you’ll see that technology was used to give deeper meaning to learning.”
3. Volunteer in the computer lab. Pasnik also encourages parents to help out in the school computer lab to see how technology is used. When you’re visiting the school, ask the teacher why the computer was used in a particular lesson. If she says, for example, that she’s using the Internet so students can pose questions to experts in the field, that’s a sign that technology is being used with a purpose. Continue reading