Monday, July 9, 2007

Pre-Teen Computer Use Causing Problems?

I read with interest Dr. John Rosemund's Parenting column in Saturday's Derrick. A parent was concerned because Grandpa insisted that her children become computer-savvy. The parent didn't want her children to use computers yet. Rosemund supported the parent, contending that "computer use before the pre-teen years can harm developing problem-solving skills." He says that "Computer programs are becoming so user-friendly that a computer-illiterate 18-year-old can be 'up-to-speed' in about a month."

I strongly disagree that an 18-year-old can be become computer-savvy in a month. Yes, perhaps he can learn how to find information on the Internet. But will he learn to evaluate that information for reliability or bias? Maybe he'll learn the basics of productivity software. But will he be able to use the software to format professional-looking documents, to take notes when doing research, or to evaluate data and draw conclusions? Will he learn how to develop a web site for sharing information? Prepare an effective presentation? Edit and manipulate photographs? Construct a digital movie to demonstrate and share learning?

These are skills that Keystone students develop as they use technology as a tool to learn. Our students have grown up with computers, and they are very motivated by technology. And these are skills that they will be expected to use in college and in the work force. I've found that students who don't have access to computers at home are more unsure of themselves when they are required to use technology at school. Their skills are not as well developed as those students who use computers for homework or for socializing.

At Keystone, we stress that technology is just one more tool, in addition to books, pens, and paper, for learning. We don't use technology for technology's sake. We encourage curriculum-based technology integration--the curriculum must drive the technology.

My research also shows that young children benefit from technology as well. The key is to use technology as a tool for learning, not as a replacement for human interaction and socializing. Computers shouldn't be used as babysitters any more than televisions should!

Research shows:

  • Computers are motivating for young children and can increase language and social skills.

  • When interacting during computer use, children demonstrate high levels of spoken communication and cooperation.

  • Open-ended software encourages creativity and problem-solving. (Drill-and-practice software can have a negative impact on creativity.)

  • Computers allow children to learn through exploration and discovery.

  • Word processing software helps some students become better writers.

  • Computers are another tool that when used effectively, can help students master the curriculum.
Yes, Keystone Elementary students use technology as part of their instruction. Primary students use Buggles software to supplement and reinforce their reading curriculum. All elementary students use SuccessMaker, a PA Academic Standards-aligned software, which diagnoses deficiencies in math and reading skills and then provides individualized instruction to target those deficiencies. Teachers monitor student progress through SuccessMaker-generated reports and can target classroom instruction to address problem areas identified by the software. Elementary students use age-appropriate search engines to find information on the Internet and then share their knowledge through PowerPoint presentations or Kidspiration webs. Also, we've seen that students are much more willing to edit their writing when they use word processing software. KES students are also learning to keyboard at an early age.

In my opinion, technology is an important and effective instructional tool for today's "Net Generation." However, technology use should be curriculum-driven and adult-supervised.

Read more about using technology with young children:

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