Kids have it so easy today in school. If I’d had all the advantages of the internet, early computer access, digital ‘chalk’ boards and the army of technological gadgets available today I would have breezed through school. Right?
I’m not so sure about that.
For starters, kids at increasingly earlier ages are required to learn so many additional skills beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. Sure, they’ve spongy little brains designed for this task but is it mental overload? Does the need to learn the skills associated with the technology distract from absorbing the information required from their core classes?
My son had to produce his first typed report in the third grade. His rain forest project involved a Papier-mâché animal, a one page research paper and a class presentation. He spent time in class researching his topic: the caiman lizard. After hand-writing a first draft, a fourth grade peer edited his paper and made suggestions for improvement. We spent three weeks on the lizard itself. The final weekend he came home, tasked to type the paper and be ready to present and turn in the assignment on Monday.
Although my son had spent time on the computer playing video games and some limited web browsing, he’d never spent any time with a word processor. It took him hours to type the one page, five paragraph report. Tempted to type it for him, just to relieve his frustration, I resisted the urge to bail him out. Instead I encouraged him to just type it and we would work together to fix the spelling errors and formatting issues. It was the worst part of the entire project. Until that moment he’d enthusiastically thrown himself into the research, the art portion and even the writing of the paper.
On one hand, it’s great that he is learning these skills at a very early age. He will have an advantage when he’s older if he’s competent at typing, word processing and general computer navigation. On the other hand, the complete lack of practice in this skill detracted from his enjoyment of the entire project, leaving a somewhat bitter taste at the end of an otherwise interesting activity. Unfortunately, the teachers do not have time to work in computer skills practice (beyond the limited time they receive as the formal course curriculum).
Are we asking just a bit too much of our elementary school children?
I’m also concerned about fact retention. With the ease of finding general facts, the complete, permanent availability of all information, all the time I grow concerned that we’re getting lazy about remembering actual details and things and stuff.
Now that my phone can tell me when to turn and where, I’ve stopped paying attention to landmarks that help entrench the route I’ve just driven into my memory. Rather than memorizing a map of where I’m headed I dutifully wait for that precise voice to tell me, “At the next light, turn right.”
Knowing that I can refer back to web article on internet security, I no longer bother to remember what the article had to say. Honestly, I don’t even bother to remember the web address of where I saw it because I know that I can just Google it later. Later comes and I’ve moved on to some other topic. Article and information are lost in the caverns of my mind, failing to have made it into long term memory.
Do our children go through this same process? Are they foregoing memorization because they know they can always find it later?
Let’s face it, how we process and remember new information has fundamentally shifted. I love the advantages that these advancements bring my kids (All your textbooks on one reader or tablet? YES!) but I also don’t just assume that it really makes it any easier on them.
What do you think?