When my youngest son’s brand new elementary school opened its doors five years ago, it boasted an impressive tech lab complete with dozens of iMac computers and a mobile tech cart outfitted with enough Macbooks to serve a complete classroom. In addition, each classroom had at least two laptops for student and teacher use. The PTA got busy raising money to fund a full-time tech teacher and parents were asked to pony up additional donations to help support the technology initiative at the school.
And surprising as it may be considering that I live in a home with almost twice as many computers as human beings (and that doesn’t count iPods, iPads and iPhones), I was not in support of any of it. I saw the computer much as the calculator – a tool, not something to place at the center of my son’s education. But after five years of being a quiet curmudgeon, I’ve had a change of heart – mainly because I’ve seen first-hand what happens when we expose children early to emerging technologies and integrate their classroom learning experiences with what they are learning in the tech lab.
The school’s administration demanded a lot from the teaching staff to integrate classroom lesson plans with technology-based projects. First grade students created simple slide shows while third graders worked in groups to produce movies about ocean wildlife. The projects were burned on DVD’s which the children kept at home – and played over and over since they and their classmates were the stars of these projects, reinforcing the content they learned in the classroom.
This year my son, now ten, wrote his own screen play (no small feat for a child born with dysgraphia) and produced a short film which won a prize in his school’s PTA Reflections contest. With the skills he’d learned at school, he produced his own music tracks using Garageband, edited the film in iMovie and uploaded the finished product to iTunes where he burned it to DVD.
A recent article in the New York Times highlights several school districts which are now embracing the iPad as a learning device, going so far as to invest tens of thousands of dollars on the devices for students to use both in school and at home. It points out the concerns of unnecessary expenditures when schools are strapped for cash and that some parents think the device is nothing more than a distracting toy, and a few years ago I would have been right there with them.
But when you consider that just one school was able to cut copied pages down to 1 MILLION copies from a staggering 2.3 Million in a single year by placing quotas and allowing students to e-file report – saving the school $18,000 a year – one has to start asking when a single device which costs a few hundred dollars becomes more cost effective than what we’re doing now – not to mention that integrating the multisensory experiences of technologies challenges creativity, problem solving and communications skills to much higher levels than filling out a photocopied worksheet.
My company’s own iPhone/iPad app was created based on the understanding that we want a pleasant, easily accessed interface in which to conduct the business of our daily lives. We want to access information on the go, integrate what we find with what we need to do, and share that information easily with others. Understanding how important it is to make sure that happens in the classroom is not only good for our kids but also, in the long run, good for our wallets.