Technology, schools, and kids

Because students in our district are issued iPads between grades 3-12, we get a lot of questions about electronic devices in school.  While individually issued technology is a new wrinkle in school for parents, for the generation of kids in school expect to live and work in tech rich environments, it is just the way the world is.  Schools vary in their approaches to technology, here is what we have decided to do in our district and why.

1. Teach don’t block: this is the first decision any school district adopting massive use of technology must decide.  There certainly is a good amount of content out there that is not appropriate for kids or for school use.  There are also many things a person could do online that we would not approve of either.

However, there is also an amazing amount of information on the web that is of high educational value.  I have seen creative teachers make use of sites, such as Facebook, YouTube, etc., in order to communicate and share information with students and with school, national, and international communities about what we are doing in school.

We decided that it is important for today’s generation of kids to learn about how to use the internet responsibly.  Starting with our elementary aged students, our amazing technology teacher, Jacquelyn Leiker, educates kids about their digital footprint.  She teaches about the wonderful things technology can help us with.  Jacquelyn also teaches kids that being a good digital citizen means being aware of the fact that anything we do on the internet is archived and permanent, even if we don’t believe it is.

Mind you, we do block apps that we have determined have little or no educational value.  We have blocked Snapchat, meow chat, and other similar apps that too often prove too tempting for young people to do only negative things.

2. Control of devices: another reason to teach rather than block is that we have more control of district issued devices than even just a year or two ago.

District issued student emails go through a screener that searches for key words or phrases.  When suspect language is noted an email is sent to a district administrator.  The student receives an email letting them know that such notice has happened.

Schools also have the ability to customize apps down to the individual student level.  If we have a student who has demonstrated that they have issues using their device appropriately, we can lock down their iPad so that only specific apps and functions are allowed.

At the classroom level our teachers are able to lock students into or out of specific apps while they are taking a test, for example.  Thus a student would not be able to gain access to an answer site during a time the teacher prohibits it.

3. Another question we commonly get is what will happen to these kids should the internet go away.  Having been born when, I’ll just say LBJ was president,I certainly understand why parents might ask this question.  There are a couple of answers to this question.

I remember my father telling me stories of what folks thought when refrigerators began coming into homes.  People thought they were not safe.  There were rumors that the things might blow up!  It’s funny to think that this was a concern when one of the homes my dad lived in still had the old interior gas lighting installed in it!  I think I’d be more worried about those than my refrigerator!  Anyhow, dad tells me folks thought refrigerators would go away too.  They were just a fad.  Thanks to the Internet (ironically here) you can go online and read accounts of the fears any disruptive technology brought with them (cars, televisions, etc.).  History shows though that new ways of doing things do not go away.

Technology has become so interwoven into our lives that we now take it for granted.  If the Internet were to suddenly go away we would all be unable to access our bank accounts, use electronic forms of payment, and businesses and business services would slam to a catastrophic halt.  Whether or not a student’s school iPad functioned would be among the least of our problems!

Technology has made things possible that were impossible or took much longer in the not very distant past.  Our kids have access to an incredible amount of knowledge at the next swipe of their device.  Schools need to teach kids to function in a world that is technology rich.  Making technology readily available to all children is an important part of receiving a twenty-first century education.

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