Monday, February 15, 2010

Never Too Late

Our first computer quickly became the object of fasination for our then two year old son. Sesame Street had produced a CD that allowed him to point and click his way around the town, following Elmo into Mr. Hooper's store where they would count pieces of fruit. Our son's second favorite CD was the same Elmo party, but with letters replacing numbers. This early exposure proved to be the foundation for the strong and insatiable reader he is today at 16 years old.

The digital learners of today grew up with the added benefit from such software programs. That is to say, most have. Classrooms still struggle with students who did not benefit from a home computer, or the influence of parents who model daily reading. Teachers of every discipline will come across these issues and must step in to motivate and encourage the students whose low reading skills undoubtedly impact all their other classwork.

Teachers can expand a student's abilities with content related vocabulary, and the use of classroom computers for building skills necessary for the class content. Websites such as 'Reading Rockets' and 'LD Online' offer games, skills assessments and handouts for families. Websites created by both the school and the teachers are currently used for additional credit and practice. These are often used in class, and can be expanded to include reading assessment and track accomplishments.

Whether the student has benefited from computers, or it is a new experience for them, the classroom offers access for the digital learners. Given the time for practice, it is the classroom computer that will make the difference for the student who has not yet become a full-flegded digital learner.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Turn off the phone, and solve for x

At first, I thought she was kidding. She appeared to be a reasonably smart young women, but her inability to grasp the obvious gave her away. The discussion was on the ethical implications of technology in a classroom. After having covered all the wonderful things that a smart phone can do, it was obvious how instant communication with the World Wide Web, or a text to Ricky's really smart girlfriend, would make the accurate testing of a student's math skills impossible. We were all in agreement, or so I thought. This young, attractive and seemingly capable student said, 'but I have an application on my IPhone to use it as a calculator, and I USE it as my calculator, and I can't afford a graphing calculator." Hmmmm. I didn't say what first came to mind...something about how much did her IPhone cost, or how much does she spend every month on those pretty acrylic nails. Nope, not me. For the first time in quite a while, I thought about what I was going to say before saying anything at all.

I am likely the oldest student in this class, and most assuredly, the only one with teenagers. As such, I was able to impart my aged and gentle wisdom on the subject...."YOU CAN'T HAVE AN IPhone ON DURING MATH TESTS!" Just kidding...simply what I wanted to say, but I refrained. My two boys have owned graphing calculators for years. It is required in math classes starting around the 6th grade. My boys tell me that there are several loaners available for the kids who either left theirs at home, or they simple couldn't afford the $100 price tag. After explaining the availability of calculators, my entire class was finally in agreement: there are times when all technology must be pushed aside for the purpose of real and specific learning. Four of the students in my row are planning on becoming math teachers. For us, the final class decision was obvious, and already set in our minds as truth.

My 8th grader chooses not to bring his cool phone to school. He knows that if he makes the life-altering mistake of having the phone on, and it were to ring, he would forfeit the phone to any school official within earshot. And the phone is only returned to the inconvenienced and irritated parent who must show up and claim it...not that I have had to do that for his older brother. At the Seminole County high school, my older son knows that his phone must always be in silent mode. The use of phones is allowed at break, and in the common areas of the school. Some of his instructors actually allow texting provided there is no test being administered. (They must have read my last post about 'digital kids'.)

I received an automated call from my son's school last week. It was a quick reminder about the Florida Writes exam and the state rules of how it will be administered. Any student who is found to have a cellular device within arms reach, will fail and must be rescheduled to take the test. They cannot have a cell phone with them at all. Not in the backpack, not in a pocket, even if the phone is turned off. Period. Plain and simple, no questions asked.

My experience as a parent has shown me how effective communication is needed by teachers, parents and school administration, and how when this extra step is taken, controlling technology can be achieved. As a prospective math teacher, I am impressed with the effort that the Seminole County School District puts forth to ensure the student's technology, aka IPhone with calculator app, does not interfere with the basics of education.