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January 22, 2013
Julie is a freelance journalist and co-author of the book, Making Up With Mom.
Parents often blame excessive screen time for a lack of creativity among their children, but educators are finding it can have the opposite effect when applied to the classroom.
As more educational programs turn digital, teachers are finding that blending technology into the learning experience offers kids a crucial leg up in the classroom -- especially for those in economically disadvantaged communities. In researching this topic for an article I wrote for Mashable, I was astounded to find that digital learning has become central to classrooms in a remarkably short period of time.
Most classrooms around the country now have wireless access. Educators have found that innovative computer programs can engage students, especially in the areas of math and science, where the U.S. clearly lags behind other countries. And it provides students in rural areas, or those with limited resources, the chance to take classes online, gaining expertise they otherwise would not have.
Many schools pride themselves on their digital focus. At Rocketship Education, one of five charter schools in San Jose, California, students spend 25% of their school day in a computer lab. The school, like many other progressive institutions, is pioneering blended learning, where students spend a portion of their day engaging in technology. The results are impressive. Rocketship schools were the highest-performing elementary schools serving low income students in California last year, according to scores on a state standardized test — outperforming even schools in more affluent areas. The big plus with digital learning is that it allows students to be more engaged, while customizing a student's learning based on their individual needs. It also makes better use of class time. Students can view online lectures at home, which provides teachers the change for more interactive dialogue in the classroom.
But at the same time that technology can bring benefits, in many ways it further divides the haves and have-nots. Many districts, including poor, urban cities, certain rural communities and Native American reservations, lack sufficient internet access. Others may have wireless access but don't have the funds to train teachers in how to use the technology appropriately, so it's most effective. This is an area that merits further exploration, so these children don't suffer even further disadvantages as they embark upon a high-tech society.
1. Make sure schools have a team of teachers, or specific administrators, who are responsible for overseeing the technology.
2. Visit classrooms to see how technology and learning relate to and complement each other. Nix schools that focus on using technology solely for memorization in favor of those fostering student inquiry and problem solving.
3. Make sure staff have training in how to use the technology.
4. Avoid schools with only a dial-up system or minimal wireless hotspots.
Julie Halpert is a freelance journalist with more than two decades of experience writing for national publications, including The New York Times, Newsweek, Family Circle, MORE, CNNMoney.com, AARP Bulletin, Ad Age and Automotive News. She is also co-author of the book, Making Up With Mom. She covers everything from parenting to technology, finance, science, the auto industry and how boomers are reinventing retirement. You can follow her on twitter: @julhalps. Her website is: http://juliehalpert.com/
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