Folks Who Think Our Program is a Waste of Money Might be Right

In looking over comments on my Facebook post, comments on online newspaper articles, emails to school board members, and statements at city council meetings, it is clear that one opinion held by numerous people is that we’re wasting our money by giving kindergarteners iPads next fall.

And they might be right.

Remember, their understanding of school, and especially primary school, is based on what they experienced as students and as parents of young children. And they are right. If we were going to continue to do school the same way we always have (meaning using the iPads to do what we have always done) then we definitely will be wasting our money.

Remember the definition of “insanity”? It is, “Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.” And frankly, if we were going to use the iPads to do the “same thing,” we clearly could use much less expensive resources.

But this project, like Auburn’s other projects, are about doing things differently, so we have some hope of different results.

We perceive the public school system as being broken. In Auburn, our primary literacy rate is around 60%. We have one of the highest dropout rates in the state. And our kids are bored in school and attendance rates are low.

This doesn’t mean we have bad teachers. In fact, we have great teachers. They continue to do amazing work with the kids that thrive in a traditional school setting. But a traditional school setting is not sufficient for meeting all our needs anymore.

It’s the school system that is broken, because we essentially have the same school system we had in 1890, and yet the rest of the world has (of course!) changed. To fix the school system, educators must respond creatively to at least three of the major changes in the larger society: technology, jobs, and kids.

Technology has changed how all of us (including young children) work, find information, learn, communicate, and socialize. Pay phones have all but disappeared (as have video rental stores, and cable TV fears it is next!). Skype means grandparents are staying in closer touch with grand children. People come to their doctors with a wealth of information from the web (let’s hope at least some is from reliable sources, such as Web MD!). And Facebook has connected people to long forgotten friends.

Jobs have changed. They require different skills. Skills that our traditional schools aren’t good at teaching. Proctor and Gamble has a plant in Auburn, and a P&G employee recently told a group of educators and community members that they have a hard time filling positions, because the schools aren’t teaching the right skills. They’re teaching students facts and skills, but P&G needs learning and problem solving. They don’t want to hired an electrician. They want to hire someone they can train to be an electrician for this project, but then train to be something else for the next project. And if we want students to learn how to learn and problem solve then we cannot afford to start anywhere other than the beginning of our educational system: early childhood education.

Kids have changed. Schools, families, and religious institutions used to have pretty much a monopoly on what and when young people learned. Today, young people learn what they are interested in learning, when they’re interested in learning it, and how they learn best. When schools ignore this and try to teach kids what, when, and how they want to, we run the risk of students slowly and quietly starting to believe that, even if school is required, it may be irrelevant.

If we want to succeed with more students, then we need to do some things differently. And the iPad is a good tool for doing things differently. Its easy of use, large selection of developmentally appropriate apps, immediate feedback, and engaging interface make it a great learning aid for teachers to customize learning and engage young learners.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

3 thoughts on “Folks Who Think Our Program is a Waste of Money Might be Right

  1. Bill Ivey

    My (middle level) school is considering using iPads beginning next year. Yesterday, I was struck by a reservation someone made in a comment to a blog about using iPads in school. They were concerned that by its very design it would encourage a shift to student-centered, constructivist learning. Talk about mixed feelings! They had, in one stroke, confirmed my instinct that the iPad would be an outstanding match for my school, and forced me to confront the sad-to-me notion that sincere, thoughtful people would oppose student-centered learning. Your piece gives me some useful context for different perspectives, plus pushes me to advocate even more strongly for iPads in my own school.
    On Twitter, Diane Ravitch has been denigrating this decision. Her rationale is that younger kids should be doing hands on learning, especially in kindergarten, not retreating into the virtual world. I urged her to follow you, and also commented (along, I noticed, with Marsha Ratzel) that it is not really an either-or situation. To whatever extent you may want to follow up on that, I thought I would bring it to your attention.

  2. Mike Muir Post author

    Wow, Bill! “They were concerned that by its very design (iPads) would encourage a shift to student-centered, constructivist learning.” What a great problem go have! I hopoe you make their worst fears come true! 😉

    1. Bill Ivey

      Thanks, Mike. To be fair to my own school, I’m seeing no opposition to iPads there at all beyond perhaps a fear that they may not be resilient enough to stand up to the inevitable bumps and bruises inflicted by even the most responsible and well-meaning middle schooler. The objections were from a different school considering iPads and posted on a blog written by someone at yet another school. But we are all over constructivist, student-centered learning. At this stage in my career, I don’t think I could work in a school that didn’t feel that way. So – I shall endeavour to create a nightmare for that other school, in the hopes they might someday see it as a dream come true.

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