The question is how, not if, technology will change classrooms
Just ask Big Guy, who's reduced to bartering Batman stickers for Nintendo DS time because I won't buy him one.
Just ask Boots, whose lovely session of Mario Kart was disrupted when I crashed the party after a half hour.
Yet I'm realistic, and I bought Big Guy Guitar Hero around Christmas, though not the Wii version he yearned for.
We have "educational software" too, though Reader Rabbit didn't teach Big Guy the alphabet and the sounds they make. Actual human beings did that; the games served as a reinforcer.
In this era, you're doing your kids a disservice if you don't expose your kids to technology. It will drive their worlds.
But I'm not ready yet to concede that classrooms filled with kids who game the day away is the solution.
That's why overblown statements about the value of educational gaming bug me. "Recent research on this game concluded that playing it had a positive effect on student math achievement in a public high school setting,"Centers on Media and Child Health wrote this week.
The game is Dimension M by Tabula Digita. The state of Virginia agreed this week to a four-month pilot program involving the game.
"Clearly the state Department of Education recognizes what current research supports: that students can learn and perform at higher levels when using technology-based tools that are relevant to students,” company Chief Executive Officer Ntiedo Etuk said in a news release.
OK, let's look at that research, a report done last year at the University of Central Florida and posted on the Dimension M Web site.
Researchers did indeed find that specific games improved math scores, but with an important caveat: Gaming in computer labs alone did not work. It had to be combined with classroom instruction that first taught the concepts. Drat. There come those pesky humans again.
And here's the interesting thing about the group of 193 students involved in the study: 63.4 percent had low or very low math skills at the start of the study, while 74.1 percent were proficient or power computer users.
Anyone else disturbed that almost three-quarters were proficient at computers while nearly two-thirds were bad at math? Is it possible the first caused the second? Other research suggests precisely that. How ironic if educators turn to the gaming industry to solve a problem the industry helped create.
No where in the University of Central Florida report does the word "remedial" appear. Yet that's exactly what the sample suggests.
Also keep in mind that it's much easier to move the needle in a study if you start with a base of low achievers.
For example, if you begin with an average score of 30, you need to improve only 3 percentage points to jump 10 percent. If you start with an average of 60, though, you need to improve 6 percentage points to make that same 10 percent gain.
In essence, the study took kids who were very good at one thing (computers) and very bad at another (math) and used the first to teach the second. No surprise that the students improved.
Ay, but it cured their math phobia, teachers said in interviews.
How did they become math phobic? They probably weren't born that way. It's likely a fear learned and reinforced by years of poor performance.
So why not solve the problem before it becomes a problem, by making sure kids have access to quality preschool and enter kindergarten at least knowing how to hold a pencil and scissors?
Why not provide intensive help in the beginning rather than coming up with a flashy interactive solution after kids have experienced years of failure and become drop-out risks?
Yes, today's children must learn technology. But it seems cruel, bordering on Munchausen by education, to invest on technology on the back end, after students are struggling, instead of on help on the front end, when they're still eager and curious.
Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.
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