Technology in Elementary Education: Better preparing our children for tomorrow

In recent times, much controversy has been made about online education, with massive open online courses (MOOCs) being largely debated for their effectiveness all over the world.

However, much less focus has been given to the rising technology advances in elementary schools. In the past number of years, technology has been used in a variety of ways to aid student learning. Students in elementary schools use iPads for research, as side notes during class, for gaming and as a resource for curriculum data such as dictionaries, math problems etc. This addition of technology seems to have an overall positive impact. Young students value easier access to information, the ease and portability of the devices, and most importantly the kids enjoy it. When students are enjoying learning, it results in more engagement and motivation in the classroom.

As much as there appears to be benefits to technology in the classroom, not everyone is on board with the idea. A poll conducted on The Economist suggested that there is about a 50/50 split between those who see technology helping education, and those who think that it does not add value to education. Some people even blame technology as one of the reasons that American education has slipped so far in the past 20-30 years. The main concern for technology in education for me is whether or not we are getting the right type technology for our kids. Schools may jump at the opportunity of purchasing gadgets that they don’t necessarily need just to keep up with the other schools.  The cost of this technology is generally not cheap. Some critics argue that tech companies that sell educational software are simply in it for the business and do not have the students’ best learning interest in mind. A large review of online learning studies showed only a modest academic benefit in technology use in the classroom.

However, there is no doubt that using technology in schools is the direction in which we are moving. Technology is, and will continue to be a big part of our lives and our future. More importantly, it is not just the technology that has a positive impact on learning, but the combination of well-suited teachers in the edition of technology that makes the real difference.  Let’s take a look at some of these newer technologies and how they work.

iPads

The first iPad was released in 2010, and is now catching on with many schools and school boards across the world. iPads have proved as a helpful tool to help kids understand difficult concepts. Understanding massive scale differences such as the difference in the size of an atom compared to the size of the universe are questions that are easily answered with access to the Internet on iPads. iPads allow users to draw on neurocognitive pathways that are not generally accessed during traditional education formats, and this allows for greater learning of difficult concepts.

Think about it, if you were trying to teach your kids about the solar system, how much easier it would be if you could have a scaled model of all the planets in front of them, instead of having to use unscaled confusing drawings or pictures. The 3D ability of iPads can make it easier to visualize these concepts and enhance learning of the material at hand. iPads in classrooms also allow for full-class involvement and interaction in the learning process. Shy students may feel more comfortable contributing via iPads, and can build up confidence to eventually speak their opinions aloud. Many children are already very familiar with tablets and iPads alike, so using them in an educational manner makes for a comfortable transition.

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Although tablets can be expensive, large corporations are providing funding to allow high-need, inner-city schools access to the technology. Telus Technology for Teachers Fund, for example, grants schools up to $5,000 in technology upgrades. This is an effective way for companies to enhance their reputation. I would imagine that these kinds of donations will only increase in the future. Helping kids get an equal learning experience despite different socioeconomic backgrounds makes for a strong community and sense of equity.  Overall, the iPad seems destined to be eventually made mandatory in most school boards, as the novel neurological pathways that are triggered with this type of learning has clearly been deemed to be advantageous to a students’ understanding of difficult concepts.

The SMART Board

For those who don’t know, a SMART Board is an interactive whiteboard, connected to the teacher’s personal computer or desktop. The touch screen technology allows them to click the board itself rather than having to stand behind their PCs or desktops. With the use of markers or pens as a computer mouse, navigating to different slides during presentations, or opening up Internet sites in the middle of a class is made easy. Teachers are able to draw, erase, or move items to different locations on the board, allowing for interactive learning in the classroom.

What makes this board such an advantageous learning tool?  Let’s hear it from the teachers themselves. In a survey of teachers using the SMART Board, all teachers agreed that the types of creative presentation using the board is as or more effective in meeting multiple learning styles than small group instruction. In my opinion, this survey data alone is enough to make SMART Boards mandatory in all schools. Every student has a unique learning style, myself included. I feel I learn best in small groups where I can be interactive and have more time to talk out the difficulties I may be having. The SMART Board can help to accommodate students who learn in unique ways, and for that reason I believe it should be accessible to all teachers. Students who learn best tactically can best make use of learning by touching and marking the board. Students who learn best in an audio-visual sense can learn from visual clips and pictures, as well as auditory clips and movies, which can expand the content range of a course. Due to its simplicity, it’s easy to get the whole class involved in games and activities, making learning more fun and interactive for the young students. Funds similarly exist for lower-income schools to obtain SMART Boards, and along with iPads, should become a mainstay in our schools.

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Specialized Learning Programs

The iPad and SMART Board are technologies that everyone in a classroom can benefit from. However, upgrades in technology have also improved the ability for children with learning disabilities to make the most of their learning.

Any program, system or device that can help a student deal with a learning disability fall under the category of Assistive Technology. The aim of Assistive Technology is to allow students to use their strengths to overcome their learning disabilities. Assistive Technology ranges from a device, to a full system that helps overcome or compensate a learning deficit. Students who are usually very dependent on their parents and teachers can become successful, independent learners in reading, writing, listening, organization and math. Let’s explore an example of educational software that is currently being used in Southern Ontario school boards.

Kurzweil, a software program, transforms virtually any text into speech, making reading an easier feat. At the individual level, this software helps students with dyslexia, ADD, dysgraphia or other reading related disabilities thrive in the classroom. It can also be used in a school setting, helping students with low literacy ability improve and catch up to their peers. Another advantage of this software in schools is that progress can be tracked, and academic decisions can be made based on the progress of each individual student. I know from personal experience that being behind your classmates in terms of reading or writing can be very embarrassing and a cause for ridicule. Any technology that can help a struggling child perform better and be on a more equal playing ground as their peers is worth investing in.

What does this all mean?

Whether or not you agree with this increase in technology in elementary schools, the benefits noted here cannot be under looked.  The trend is shifting, and more and more technology is being developed to enter the education market. iPads now have much competition, from brands such as Samsung, Dell and Google, who realize the potential for education in this technology. Technology today has become such a huge part of our lives in many facets: medicine, jobs, communication, exercise, nutrition and more. Doesn’t it only make sense that we prepare our youth for the next generation of technology? Just because we didn’t grow up with it doesn’t mean that they can’t or shouldn’t; being a child today is different than when we were kids. How can you disagree with technology that so strongly benefits students with disabilities? Allowing these children to have a positive outlook on their learning experience is worthwhile. Children are our future, let’s prepare them for success.

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Internet Addiction: A big joke or a real concern

Addicted to the Internet – no way!

Being addicted to the Internet seems like such a strange phenomenon. The word ‘addiction’ generally connotes negative feelings and stigma. It’s true that the Internet has some downfalls like fraud, piracy identify theft, etc. but it offers us so many amazing benefits. There are endless amounts resources available to us online. Staying in touch with friends and family has never been easier through social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram. Gone are the days of watching commercials and waiting until Monday night for your favourite show to start. Nearly every TV program is available to stream or download online at lightening fast speeds. The Internet even allows us to meet the love of our lives on countless dating sites. Just last year 30-40 million North Americans were using online dating sites and I can imagine the number will only grow in 2014.

Even our phones can keep us connected no matter where we are. It’s not uncommon to be able to connect to wifi while out at your favourite restaurant or even while shopping at the mall. It’s almost expected that places like these offer free wifi to best serve and satisfy their customers. A study even reported that cafes without wifi can expect 1 to 3 customers to leave per day, as well as discourage other customers from even wanting to visit.

With all these ways to keep us connected, it’s no wonder there’s been a drastic increase in time spent online per average adult. From 2010 to 2013, the average time spent online for an American adult increased from 3 hours and 11 minutes to 5 hours and 16 minutes, more than they spend watching television! Will this trend continue? With conveniences like online banking, schooling and shopping I can’t imagine time spent online to decrease anytime soon. Where do I stand in all of this Internet chaos? Probably right in the middle of it! I do my banking, use social media, take courses and of course – partake in fantasy sports teams, all online!

Long live the internet

It can’t be denied that the Internet has provided us with some life changing benefits. Let’s take a look at two compelling advancements. The Internet has an amazing ability to connect people. Specifically, world news is available to us with a click of a button. Before the ability to share information online, many issues from around the world would go unnoticed. Now, everything is different. You can be sure that the moment anything of significance, or otherwise, happens anywhere in the world, someone will write about it. Whether it be a Tweet, a blog post, a Facebook status or an article from a prestigious newspaper, the information is easily shared.

The Internet has also made way for online education. Not only are online courses available, entire degree programs are also offered online, like this one at Alberta’s Athabasca University. A benefit of the Internet for all these students is the accessibility of online databases that are full of research . Doing research online, opposed to the manual way in books, has enormous benefits to students. Not only does it save time, it’s not limiting in that you can search through hundreds of online journals at the same time.

In 1995, Canada made online education available to its students. From 1995-2003 there was continued increase in the number of Canadians enrolling in online courses and the number has been rising ever since. Currently, at least one million people per year in Canada take online courses, me included!

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My little sister is nine years old and last week she had arranged to have a play date with her friend. Unbelievably, she couldn’t bare to leave her online game and she cancelled her plans. Although the Internet is abundant with services that can make our day to day living much easier – it also has its downfalls.

To miss out on social interaction because of an online game seems ridiculous. However, the truth is many people are faced with this challenge everyday.

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The dark side of the Internet

Internet addiction is an emerging topic that I didn’t know much about. The studies conducted on this topic are primarily online self report surveys (how ironic!) that can be difficult to interpret. Still, South Korea and China have reported Internet addiction as a real concern for over a decade. In 2008 China was the first country to declare Internet addiction as a clinical disorder and a top health threat to young people. The country has opened 400 institutions to treat nearly 25 million “Internet addicted” individuals. In 2013 “Internet fasting” camps for school children became available to help curb Internet use in youths. In 2012, the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that Internet addiction can have similar effects on brain structure as alcohol and drug addictions.

There are also physical disabilities that could result from Internet addiction. I can imagine that being online for nearly 5.5 hours a day, as American adults are, could contribute to the obesity epidemic. Another potential hazard is developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in wrists from incessant typing after hours of being online. A more rare, but still possible condition that could develop from hours of uninterrupted computer use is Deep Vein Thrombosis. Being immobile for extended periods of time can result in stagnant blood in the legs and form a clot on a vein. What makes this dangerous is that this blood clot can break off from the vein and travel to the heart and could block blood flow, resulting in a heart attack.

My view?

I don’t particularly agree with the term “Internet addiction”. In my opinion, the Internet is an extremely powerful and overwhelming tool, which can push hobbies into an addiction. The Internet has such an unbelievable amount of content that it’s sometimes difficult for users to handle it appropriately.

This is why I believe it to be crucial that school children be limited to their use of online time. I feel that uncontrolled Internet use for youngsters could foster an inappropriate amount of time online.

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Texting and Driving: What’s it worth?

I must admit that often times I’m guilty of texting and driving or even scrambling to activate my GPS. I generally don’t think much of it since I’m an experienced driver and have never been in an accident. But when I see anyone else texting and driving, it worries me. I fear that their possible lack of ability to multitask on the road can result in a fatal accident. I realize now that this is a ridiculous notion, I have never believed that I am smarter or more capable than the average Joe, so why do 77%of young adults claim they are at least somewhat confident that they can safely drive while texting, despite all we know about the negative consequences? blahhh

With so many new devices on the market that help in hands-free communication, why are we still texting and driving? We’re told time and time again the dangers of using our phones while driving but for some reason we can’t let go. Our smartphones have become our lifeline and we use them for absolutely everything. From banking to photography, social media and emails, we now have access to all the things we could do online, on our phones. About 8 in 10 Canadian smartphone users say they won’t leave their house without their phone; and of these, about ¾ reported that they’ve become so connected to their smartphone that they’d give up TV before having to part with their phones. Well of course they would, most smartphones today allow you to watch TV shows anyway! But this just shows how connected and consumed people are with their smartphones.

Impacts of Texting and Driving: Let’s talk numbers

Texting while driving has some obvious downfalls. For one, the driver is not nearly as focused on the road, as their attention is divided between whatever it is they’re doing on their phone and all the aspects that it takes to drive safely. The National Safety Council reported in July 2013 that nearly a ¼ of all car crashes involved cell phones. That’s crazy! In addition, if you’re texting and driving you’re 23 times more likely to get into an accident, compared to just 1.3 times more likely when talking or listening to someone.  These are numbers that are directly related to texting and driving. What if a driver who is texting swerves into another lane, causing another driver to collide with someone else? Teens who text and drive spend around 10% of their driving time outside of their own lane and are a danger to everyone on the road.

These all seem like obvious ramifications of texting and driving, right? Then why are we still engaging in this high-risk behaviour? We all know that it’s wrong but we still do it! I know that I get extremely uncomfortable when I’m in a car and the driver is texting. The worst is the excuses that they make in order to justify the behaviour. They say, “I’m way behind the person in front of me”, or “I only text when I’m at a red light.” The thing is, we all have this false sense of security, especially if we have not been in an accident before. It only takes one accident to potentially end your life. WQtwSo even if you stay far away from the person in front of you, if a scenario occurs where you have to break quickly, texting and driving will slow your break reaction speed by 18% and that could be the difference between life and death. Our social lives seem to be taking priority over our own safety and wellbeing. As a student, I’m guilty of not being able to tuck my phone away while I’m studying, for fear that I’ll miss a call or an “important” notification. It seems that the same goes for driving, our phones are constantly in arm’s reach.

Why Can’t We Stop Reaching For Our Phones?

Dr. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry at ULCA says, “In a sense our brains are hardwired to text.” Hardwired to text, how can that be? Phones, and specifically smartphones, have only recently gained mass popularity in the past five years or so. Texting is certainly not an innate characteristic of human behaviour, so why can’t we let go of our phones? Dr. Small suggests that our need for human connection takes priority over what we know is the wrong thing to do. Dopamine circuits, the “feel good” area of our brain influences us to text, even while driving. Dr. Small adds that even though our frontal lobe is telling us not to do it, we come up with ways to ensure we don’t get caught; like holding our phones low in our laps, which actually makes it more dangerous. This statement could not be more true, I’m constantly witnessing people looking down to their laps while at a red light or even while driving. And I, myself, am also guilty of doing the same.

The Next Step

Now that we have some ideas about why we text and drive, what can be done about it? Even laws don’t seem to deter drivers from texting. In Ontario, texting and driving serves a $155 fine, that’s a lot of money, especially for a student like myself.   Technology exists where we can dial or receive calls through a Bluetooth headset, but these headsets can be expensive and still, many prefer to text to avoid potential confrontation on the phone.

There are many apps out there that can be downloaded such as DriveOFF or Drivemode, but these can easily be disabled. To a young adult, the urge to read a text from a friend may overpower the desire to drive without being distracted.

I believe there is only one way to ensure that texting and driving will decline and the solution already exists, it just needs to be enforced. In modern GPS car systems, you can only type in your desired location if the car is stopped. This same technology must be enforced in all phones if we truly want to reduce texting and driving use. Sure people will complain, even call it “unconstitutional”, but when you text and drive you don’t put just yourself at risk, you put everyone on the road at risk as well. We simply cannot have that. To me, texting and driving is comparable to smoking in a public building. If you want to smoke and put your health at risk, feel free, however it’s unacceptable to put other people’s lives at risk.

Origo

Origo is a Virginia based company that has developed what seems to be the best solution to preventing texting and driving. The company has designed a type of secondary ignition system that looks similar to an 8-track player. The way it works if fairly simply and actually quite ingenious. The phone must be inserted into the docking system before you’re able to turn on the car. If you decide to remove your phone from the dock while driving, an annoying buzzer will sound and the next time you try to start your vehicle, you’ll need an authorization code to do so.

This all seems great, especially for businesses that are responsible for their drivers on the road and for concerned parents. The downfall is the cost, the device itself as well as installation costs about $400.

This is an excellent start, but we can’t expect everyone to pay $400. Sure, for middle to upper class families this may seem worth it to protect their children, but I feel texting and driving can be stopped in a much simpler fashion. Origo may give teens the idea that their parents don’t trust their judgment, and business owners might not have the cash to install such technology in all their vehicles.

I believe the real solution lies somewhere in between car manufacturing and the current GPS systems in our smartphones. We have the technology, we simply need to get stricter laws and to draw more awareness to this growing concern.

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