Technology Is Not A Teacher

I respect Cal Newport, everything he writes, and take his advice seriously.  Reading his resourceshas helped me increase my productivity immensely.  However, a recent passage in his new book, Deep Work, caught my breath and made me give the ‘wait a second’ stink-eye. 

“The complex reality of the technologies that real companies leverage to get ahead emphasizes the absurdity of the now common idea that exposure to simplistic, consumer-facing products-especially in schools- somehow prepares people to succeed in a high-tech economy.  Giving students iPads or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for a high-tech economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics.”

I heard my mental microphone yelling “Cal, wait a second, technology in schools is a good thing, iPad, Chromebooks, they all increase student learning!”

Further, he was attacking the very root of integrating technology into schools- preparing our students for a techno-based economy when they enter the workforce.

This article is not about disagreeing with Newport.  It is about me organizing my thoughts on technology’s role in education.  As someone who teaches on TV, whose room is LOADED with technology (I’m the guinea pig in our building for new tech), I need a clear standpoint regarding technology in the classroom.  

Why You Should Test Your Students Everyday

"Researchers Find That Frequent Tests Can Boost Learning"- it's a catchy line, isn't it?  But how can this be?  Every teacher website, ed-blog, expert, administrator, educator, and parent are screaming that students are being tested too much.  Right?  We are sick of tests.

I bit and read the article --and the copywriters got one more view with this super seductive headline.

The article by Annie Murphy Paul in the August edition of Scientific American was a disappointment and a surprise.  I was disappointed because I was ready for a fight and didn't receive one.  I was prepared  to start swinging with my 'kids are tested too much already' rhetoric but I didn't even get in a small shoving match.  I agreed with the arguments presented and that surprised me.  I was surprised because Annie Murphy Paul reiterated what every effective educator already understands: recall is as important as content exposure.

Evidence of memory formation comes in the form of retrieval or recall through some sort of observable behavior.  If you teach a dog to sit and you'd like to make sure they learned the behavior, ask them to sit.  It they plant their butt on the ground, they were able to retrieve the memory and you were  a successful teacher.

The same can be said in any classroom.  Teach the students content.  Follow up by engaging them in a behavior that requires them to retrieve and recall that content.