Category Archives: numeracy

A Narrow View?

Yesterday, I tweeted the following article:

The response was interesting, with many suggesting that it was a great idea (with the irony that they saw and are sharing those thoughts Twitter).

Now before I even talk about the article, I do have to say that I totally respect a parent’s rights to choose whatever type of education they want for their child.  The best school system in the world doesn’t necessarily work for all students, and it is not my place to challenge that idea.  That being said, there are a few things that I found interesting in the piece.

First of all, anyone that seems to be anti-technology in education has referenced the OECD report from last month, and this article does not steer from that:

Earlier this month, a global study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that investing heavily in computers and new technology in the classroom did not improve pupils’ performance, with frequent use of computers associated with lower results.

If “results” mean test scores, then technology probably could get in the way. But if we are rethinking what school could look like, the way we measure probably should change as well.  Dean Shareski wrote eloquently about this point recently:

First, we have to understand that technology changes the way we learn. Going back to Seymour Papert, smart people have seen how computers afford new learning opportunities. In the past decade, most everyone with access has experienced what it’s like to learn from anyone, anywhere at any time. In everyday life, this is no longer an event to behold but the way we learn. Any policy maker or leader who doesn’t understand and live this needs to find other employment. I can’t imagine people not being exposed to these ideas and shifts by now. Recently I listened to a podcast about a person living in the US and had never seen the Internet. The episode was called Unicorn. Sadly, it seems many of our leaders have also missed out on the learning revolution that is taking place all around them. The second thing that has to change is our definition of “doing better”. We should be asking how technology is changing teaching and learning. Questions like “What can this technolgy do that couldn’t be done without it? Thes questions lead to fundamentally different ideas about what classrooms can and should look like. This means new measures of success. Whether it’s how well students communicate and tell stories using a variety of media, building and creating art, solving and finding real and current problems, collaborating effectively with people around the world or writing code, there are infinite examples of doing better than are never going to fit inside a spreadsheet cell.

Frankly, I’m tired of reading about districts who view learning and technology in such narrow terms. Fortunately, there are many district and district leaders who are working to address these 2 things. Did the leadership at LAUSD not look around or are they so big they couldn’t imagine learning from others? At any rate, equating “doing better” with “increased test scores” is a tiresome and outdated perspective even without bringing technology into the conversation. When districts invest dollars into technology they have a right and responsibility to see results and change. It begins by seeing changes in the classroom and ends with students demonstrating their learning in ways that go way beyond a test score.

Here is the second point that I struggle with. One of the students was quoted by saying the following:

“I get annoyed sometimes that I can’t watch television. It’s being able to chat about it and stuff. But I like the fact I’ve got an imagination that lots of kids have not.”

This is a conversation I have been having with many regarding the notion of “meaningful screen time(by the way, many pediatricians have changed there recommendations on screen time). If the only way we use technology is for “free time”, then we might not necessarily see the value for stoking creativity and imagination.  Does teaching students to code give them not the ability to create, but to make ideas come to life? Do things like connecting to networks actually stoke creativity and imagination?  As Steven Johnson says and argues often, is that “chance favours the connected mind.”  We need to look at ways to stoke ideas, but sometimes it’s being around a ton of ideas where this can happen. Technology can provide that.

The last thing I want to challenge, is not from this article, but another one that was shared with me regarding the “Waldorf School”, that seems to have a similar viewpoint in the use of technology.  This quote stuck with me:

“Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”

If we take the word literacy as simply as meaning to “read and write”, then technology might take away from that (although David Crystal would argue that as well).  But if we look at something like literacy as ever-evolving, the ability to write this blog, embed tweets, link articles (after finding them easily through my own curation techniques) is also part of literacy.  Do things like coding and design promote numeracy? And with the largest library in the world in our pockets, critical thinking is needed more now than ever to be able to “create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts“, as discussed by the National Council of Teachers of English.  Literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking are something that all schools are focusing on, but what these things look like change over time, and saying that technology distracts us from learning them is kind of a narrow view.

As I said earlier, parents should focus on making the best choice for their own children, and what works for one, might not work for another.  But to think that technology is detrimental to learning, is not accurate.  It just might mean that learning can look different with it, and sometimes, more powerful.  One of my favourite quotes is from Dr. Yong Zhao, who stated, “reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling”, and with the access to not only consume, but to create information in our pockets, how are we moving above that floor?