Where Our Children Are Way Ahead of Us
Last Friday, Moore County Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence went before county commissioners and said, "Today's students are technology-driven and require a very different model of instruction."
I saw - in high-resolution, touch-screen detail - clear and convincing evidence of this testimony. At the same time Spence was delivering his remarks to commissioners during their annual retreat, I was boarding a bus last Friday with about 80 sixth-graders from West Pine Middle School.
Our destination that day was Raleigh and the state's Museum of Natural Sciences, but it was I who would come away schooled.
"Technology is the future, and God knows it's a constant battle to keep up," Commissioner Jimmy Melton said at that retreat.
Keep up? Here's news, Jimmy, and all the rest of you. The battle's over and we've lost. There's no catching up. The kids are way ahead of us, and the sooner we know that, the sooner we can start to give them what they need to win the larger race of their peers.
I'm sure there was a child or two who did not have a smartphone or tablet on those two Holiday Tours buses last Friday, but I'm hard-pressed to think of any. Virtually every child boarded with an iPhone, an iPod Touch, an iPad or a Kindle Fire.
In the teacher's note to me and fellow field trip chaperones, she wrote that she was "allowing personal technology" on the trip and hoping the kids would use it responsibly. I was amused by her choice of verb, as if she really could have controlled what these kids had tucked in their North Face jackets and Under Armour sweatshirts.
The future cannot be denied any more than the past. The kids would have their devices, regardless of school policy.
Moore County Schools - West Pine Middle in particular - are fairly enlightened. Faculty and administrators are slowly coming to accept "personal learning devices" in the hallways and classrooms, within well-defined parameters.
Smartphones and tablets are no longer expensive diversions and playthings for these kids. They are communication and learning tools to the same extent that I carried around a dictionary and calculator at their age.
No one - not one child - asked how to work their device. No one asked how to download an app or look up something on Google. One did ask if the museum had Wi-Fi. Oddly, getting a signal in the modern wing of the museum was next to impossible.
We can't keep up with these kids, and we can't even really do an adequate job of regulating the technology that has already been unharnessed. They are already masters of it.
"It's a very different paradigm from what we remember," Spence told commissioners, describing today's learners. "Before, the teacher closed the classroom door and went to work. Now, she opens the door and the students work with others."
Learning is collaborative, and smartphones and tablets give our children the means with which to complete lessons, amplify what their teacher is instructing, or share with others.
While on the trip last Friday, the kids took pictures of the exhibits, took pictures of each other, and texted back and forth with their parents. When the researcher in one of the DNA labs used the word "supernate" in describing a solution in the students' vials, a couple used their phones to Google the word for its origin. A separate lab had iPads set up to guide lessons. Foolishly, the researcher bothered to tell the kids how to forward through the iPad. They looked at him in silence, as if to say, "Duh."
These were just three classes in one school in one school district. Expand it out and you see the exponential impact this has on the future of learning in North Carolina and our country.
The takeaway from this field trip: Indeed, our kids are technology-driven, requiring a very different model of instruction.
Technology isn't the future; it's the present. We fool ourselves if we believe we can control the pace of adaptation. We face a breathless challenge to keep up.
And these were just 11- and 12-year-olds. The younger ones are just starting to get their hands on these devices. And you know what? No one's having to teach them how to work them, either.
Contact John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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