by Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor
Cool math games.
For years, when I asked my daughters what they did in their computer classes, I would get these three words. Didn’t sound revolutionary, but it sounded okay to me. Cool (a positive attitude), math (American’s academic Achilles heel), games (okay, better games than drills, especially when it comes to math).
It took me a while before I learned that I couldn’t hear some all-important element of her answer: the capitalization. It wasn’t cool math games, but Cool Math Games – a brilliantly titled web site that seems (according to my many conversations with other parents in my district) a favorite of local computer teachers. Cool Math Games sounds awesome. And to be fair, the free site does have math (as well as other academic topics) and it does have games, but many of the games are about as mathematical as ping pong.
What’s more, the kids at my children’s schools got to choose which games they played, and pursued them randomly with no rhyme or reason. According to my daughter, the “coolest,” i.e. most popular, games involved nary a number or problem to solve, but monsters, mazes, and other physical obstacle video games which can be cognitively challenging, but don’t teach your kid fractions.
Do you know what your child actually does in her computer lab? I recently surveyed a bunch of zealous and involved parents and not one of them were sure what was going on during that all-important elective that schools spend so much money funding and so much time extolling during tours for prospective parents.
Yesterday, I drilled my daughter again. What happens during computer class? "The younger kids play video games," she told me, "but we type." Her teacher gives the kids an assignment and they type it up. Now that Common Core is requiring elementary schoolers to learn to whip out pages of text at a single sitting and new computerized Common Core-aligned tests will expect kids to instantaneously craft essays on the computer, I can see why keyboard skills are a sudden and pressing priority.
But typing and only typing? Did we really need 20 brand new Apple computers to teach fourth and fifth graders to type on a word document and let the kindergarten to third graders play Feed Fribbit Colors?
At the heart of so much spending on technology is the promise of making education smarter about enriching kids’ education with more ideas, more facts, and more technical tools. But too often the reality falls short of the dream. What’s going on at your child’s school? How often does your child get a chance to work on a computer and what exactly do they learn? The answers might surprise you – for better or for worse. What’s guaranteed is that you don’t know simply by seeing those shiny computers all lined up so beautifully.Follow @Carol__Lloyd