Monday, September 5, 2011

Computer Canard

My classroom technology set-up is pretty basic. I have an LCD projector, a computer (which works very nearly all the time), and speaker installed in the ceiling. Overall, it's fairly standard when it comes to technology in the classroom. Some classrooms have SmartBoards, but I am not one of the chosen. Anyway, I tend to shy away from slide-show presentations because I think they are boring. I do use them occasionally. Mostly, the projector is used to throw graphic organizers and other visuals on the screen. It serves the same function as an old overhead projector with acetate transparencies. I do have about 12 computers in my room, but they are used for my Yearbook and Newspaper classes and are not used by the lion's share of students who come through my door.

The technology has been...acceptable. Sometimes it works well. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I have to spend 5 minutes fidgeting with some cable or settings while my students chat. Sometimes I want to punch Microsoft Windows 7 in the face. Teaching isn't a very easy job and when the tools on which you rely don't work properly it makes things all the more difficult. We do have boffins who are happy to come and fix things, but you can only contact them through our Brazil-like on-line help ticketing system. 

It's not a great situation, but things are starting to become much worse. Technology is creeping into the new Common Core standards for Language Arts and Mathematics. In addition to teaching critical thinking, language, grammar, literary analysis, I am supposed to teach basic computer literacy.

Computers and their applications are becoming the new silver-bullet in education. School districts like the Kyrene Elementary District-- a suburban school district outside Phoenix--  have invested heavily in one-to-one laptops, Smart Boards, and expensive educational software that would make the learning environment more valuable. You can read a really great article about it at this link. Policy-makers and reformers have a positive gut-reaction to computers. Everyone believes that they enhance learning environments. Computers are interactive and engaging. However, there has been no conclusive evidence that computers do what the reformers claim. Larry Cuban, Education Professor Emeritus at Stanford University has stated that there has been no evidence to support that huge investments in technology translate into higher student achievement. The idea that technology can fix what ails us is a canard continued by companies that have a vested interest in nation-wide educational technology integration.

La Belle Époque depiction of a school in the year 2000.

Do parents want their children to be taught with computers who feel nothing or by people who care? Is a school an information factory or are they places where we share our cultural values? Can technology ever be bad?

What absolutely must be done is technology needs to be evaluated based on its efficacy and not its modernity. That is where the CTP comes in. I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with pen, paper, typewriters, conversations, and the mind. Replacing any of these things with a computer hurts far more than it can ever help.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Small Update

Finding time this week to do a blog update has been a challenge. Last Thursday was Open House and I had the opportunity to meet many of my student's parents. The parents had a chance to met the typewriters. In addition to nostalgic reminiscences there was an overwhelmingly positive response to the Classroom Typewriter Project. So many parents popped in and said, "It's the typewriter guy!" There are certainly worse things to be called.

The ribbons are in the machines and they are a resounding success. We had a chance to use them today. Many of my students never used one before, so this was an entirely novel experience for them. I can easily imagine the conversation around the table at the end of the school day:

     "So, what happened at school today?"
     "Nothing. I used a typewriter in class today.
     "What year are you in?"

The CTP: Facilitating unusual dinner-time conversations since 2010.

Monday, August 22, 2011

You Will Be Jealous!

The new school librarian came into my room today with 3 dozen of something every typewriter user needs:

New in blister-pack. Only the packaging plastic is yellowed.

According to the packaging each little clip can make over 1200 corrections. For three dozen 12 tab packages, that would be 24,000 corrections. Well, I'm set for a month.