Thursday, February 04, 2010

20.5 Century Education

I was floored by a statistic cited in the Boston Globe article "Parents seek balance as screens’ allure grows." It states that, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, American kids between 8 and 18 spend seven and a half (7.5!) hours in front of a computer screen, phone, TV, or some other electronic screen. In 2004, it was just one and a half hours. If this trend continues, in six years, will students be spending nearly every non-school hour in front of a screen? I can only stop and wonder: Is this the reason my students are always so tired in school? Perhaps it's because my cluster's English class just finished reading Fahrenheit 451, but are we leading our students down the road of awake-all-day, awake-all-night, with no down time to stop, reflect, and think? Guy Montag would be concerned.

In middle school (and adolescence), exploration and testing boundaries is normal, typical, and healthy. Like anything, however, balance is key. The Globe suggests that, like a diet, one must have a healthy balance of screen time and non-screen time, as well as different types of technology. In my classroom, I advocate for a 21st century learning environment and push the envelope in my building and with my students to encourage new technologies, new applications, and new styles of thinking. Frequently, I proudly proclaim to colleagues and myself, "I am so progressive! Look at how much technology I am integrating into the school day!" Hoping to inspire and teach others to try new ideas in the classroom, I failed to realize that students were already spending the majority of their non-school like in front of a screen. So, the question is:

1. Since students are so comfortable with electronic screens, does using electronic screens in the school day help or hinder their understanding of concepts?

2. Should schools be a hotbed of electronic screen use or an break from them?

3. Is it time to temper technology use by combining 21st century skills and the good ol' 3 Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic)?

I'm not sure how I feel about questions one and two, but regarding question three, I propose we make a return to 20th-and-a-half century skills. I'm not proposing we return to a school environment of the 1950s, complete with atom bomb drills and rote memorization, but instead, let's use the Boston Globe's idea of moderation - like anything - as being beneficial for our students. There's a time and a place for technology, and like differentiated instruction, it shouldn't be used every day and for every lesson, but when it's appropriate. The two biggest advantages of using technology in education is (a) the efficiency with which students can learn information and (b) the level to which they can make connections abstractly and creatively. Should it be integrated every day? I'm not so sure...but rather used deliberately and thoughtfully, not just for technology's sake, but to develop thinking, creativity and writing skills, access the curriculum, and collaborate. As a rule of thumb, if technology isn't helping achieve one of these goals, should we really be using it? If students are inundated with technology for entertainment and for technology's sake outside of school, as educators, we must teach students moderation, efficient time use, and deliberate technology use.

Now with that being said, here I am reading online news articles, blogging about them, and microblogging them to Twitter. Perhaps what I need is a reminder that if we don't model what we teach, then what are we teaching? I look forward to your thoughts.