Friday, October 01, 2010

Laptops and Learning

I confess to being somewhat skeptical of the educational value of a computer for a young child.  Entertainment, yes!  But as a real learning tool, I don’t know.
Personal computers hadn’t even been invented when I was growing up.  In fact, no school I attended through high school had a computer for my use or a computer curriculum.  We seemed to learn just fine, not even aware of what we might be missing.
Even my children, although they had access to computers in the early grades, never considered them to play an important role in their education.  Believe me, if the prevailing wisdom had been that computers were necessary for education, we would have had one early on because I live in a house where technology is on the cutting edge.  But instead our son used a computer to write starting in about the 4th grade and so it was just a glorified typewriter with a printer.
Which all leads me to ask why in the world Margalen needs a computer?  Her mother is so ecstatic with my Craigslist acquisition of the electronic piano that she has asked if my husband could help them purchase a computer for 4th grade Margalen to use.  I fear that she is a victim of the prevailing wisdom that computers make children smarter, just as taking a vitamin pill makes them healthier.
So, all you teachers out there -- Gary, Kellyann, Pauline, LR, there must be others -- tell me about the value of a home computer for a child’s education.  Tell me what software is worth purchasing.  I hate to see Angelina spend her hard-earned money (with probably matching funds from us) to buy something that provides amusement but not real education.
My husband was ready to bid on a refurbished Mac last night.  But I insist on knowing of its potential worth for a 9-year-old before we spend anybody’s money.  Besides I want Margalen to be practicing the piano in her spare time!


Blogger Barbara said...

I should add that I don't expect they will want to pay for internet service, so this would be a "local" computer only unless Margalen wants to hang out in Starbucks or a similar place that offers free Wi-fi.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Laura ( Huck ) said...

IMHO, as an IT specialist and married to a teacher, computers are useless in the home these daysw without internet access. I know that one of the school districts in your (our) area for grades 2-12 use blackbord for education where teachers can post assisgments and learning aids. Parents can use it to communicate with teachers.

A computer for a 4th grader is useful with a plan. She wont be writing term papers at that age but what of projects that require research like we used encyclopeadias in the old days. My 2nd grade nephew just used powerpoint for a school project! I would check with the school to see what type of technology they use and make sure that any is compatible. ( Most schools use PC's not Macs!) Or better yet - think a head and ask what they Junior High is using and make a plan for another year to purchase something!

11:29 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I really don't know. I am without kids, but my nieces and nephews seem to use theirs (in an educational sense) to do research and as glorified typewriters.

I think the prevalence of technology in our society, computers are more than just tools. Kids need to learn how to use them to distinguish between reputable sources and so much noise. I'm not sure how or when that starts.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an educator, I think a modern computer with Internet access could definitely be a helpful learning tool for a contemporary it ends up really getting used would of course depend on the kid, the family, the school...


1:13 PM  
Blogger Terry said...

I have been fascinated with Nicholas Negroponte's "One laptop per child" program.

The focus is on children in developing countries, but I think the principle applies to all children--to give them access to education, information and most of all, connection to the world. I think a computer for a child who does not have such amenities could be a means of giving her the kinds of advantages children of more affluent families take for granted. The internet, of course, is the heart of the OLPC program and I think would be for her too, but wifi is popping up everywhere these days.

7:04 PM  
Blogger e said...

I would see if you or David can ask Margalen's teacher how computers are used at her grade level and beyond...This might help in your decision and related planning.

8:08 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- Your niece and nephew use computers much as my children did. One difference is they have educated parents who can read to them and help them with their homework.

Terry -- I followed that link and immediately said, "This is exactly what I'm looking for." I even found some XO computers on eBay which I could probably afford. My husband did some more digging and concluded that it would probably be difficult to add additional software to the standard base that these computers come with. Of course, he's still lobbying for a Mac...

E -- I actually had a long phone discussion with Margalen's teacher this afternoon and learned a lot about what they use in her school and what she needs. I left my name and number with the teacher in case she ever feels Margalen could profit from some 1-on-1 tutoring. I also contacted a friend in Michigan who is a retired principal. She put me in touch with a "computer resource specialist" who may be able to give me some more guidance.

Laura -- Margalen's school uses Dell computers exclusively. Your suggestion prompted me to get in touch with the school.

Anon -- The whole internet thing remains a question. I'm not yet sure if the family could possibly afford the monthly payment. According to the teacher virtually none of her students has a computer at home. It is a very diverse neighborhood with people from all over the world.

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I hear your angst. But if you truly want her to practice the piano, a computer will not point her in that direction. Computers represent everything that has led us down the wrong path, and that is INSTANT GRATIFICATION. One cannot learn to play the piano as quickly as they can learn the joys...and wasting time... like a computer can.

It will boil down to the opposite of what you hope for: Time spent on the piano will be seen as time taken away from the computer.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

The computer can be a great tool for kids (access to internet research, software that reinforces school lessons, etc.) or it can be a complete time-waster. The elementary grades (1-6) in the school where I work have access to a computer lab with educational math, science, social studies and reading comprehension programs installed on the computers. Starting in second grade, the students also learn basic keyboarding skills (different than old-fashioned typing skills) with a program called Type-to-Learn.

From sixth grade up, the kids at our school are required to do extensive research papers so having a computer without internet is not as helpful for them. Those kids without home computers have access to a computer lab at school or at the local library.

My grandchildren (ages 10 and 7) are allowed supervised use of the computer at home but don't have their own. is website specializing in learning programs for the age you're asking about.

I'm with your husband on computer choice - if you're going to spend the money, MAC would be my first choice though all the schools in our district use PCs. There are ways to make them compatible and kids will pick up the differences in operation faster than adults do!

7:53 AM  
Blogger Gary said...

Technology standards are now part of the core curriculum standards (at least in NY) and quite a bit of research is being done on New Literacies so like it or not there is no going back.

But as Laura stated without internet access computers are a bit useless in the home. She can purchase computer games and such but that costs as well.

Students, starting in kindergarten, take a technology course to learn not only about computers but via computers. It is a motivating way for the students to learn. We have used powerpoint, slideshows and the Internet to research and document learning with the kids.

And a Mac is the way to go. Oh, and adding to what Pauline wrote, we use a program called TuxType to help students learn keyboarding skills. (It is fun for adults too. You should give it a try).

10:08 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline, Gary -- Thanks for the "educated" advice! After a discussion with Margalen's mom today, we are pursuing helping the family buy a (probably used) Mac. It is clear that they want Internet access and know they will have to pay for it. I would definitely like to make sure it has some sort of keyboarding software (probably one of the two you mentioned). I'm also interested in software to help reinforce math facts -- any ideas? My husband will be a great resource in getting this family up and running on something they have only heard about before.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Steve Reed said...

I'm glad they want Internet access -- that's definitely the key, I would think. A computer by itself would still be useful, just to help the kid get acquainted with all its functions and file systems, that sort of thing. But Internet really opens up the world. (Of course it has a host of associated dangers, too!)

6:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Following up one Steve's last sentence -- if there are any concerns about unintentional inappropriate viewing, there are screening programs out there, as well as programs that limit the amount of time online, etc.

How wonderful that you and David are helping this family in so many ways.


2:31 PM  

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