A Study in Contrast

5 Oct

This was the first week of my Middle School placement, and I am struck by so many contrasting ideas and realities, I’m not really sure where my head is. Yes, I went from third grade to middle school; from 8-year-olds to 14-year-olds, but there is so much more to it than that. I went from a low-income school to a private school with tuition higher than mine. I went from a school where not all families have enough food, to one where each student has his or her own laptop.

The kind of teaching done at this private school is remarkable: teachers work together to create their curriculum, to suit the needs of the school and their students. Since private school are exempt from our state testing, the teachers are not teaching to a test, but instead teaching for content and understanding. Is this a better method of schooling? I am not sure yet, but I am forming opinions. The teachers not only have freedom from tests, they also have the resources available to do things like purchase several different class sets of textbooks, and draw their lessons from many different curricula.

Additionally, as I mentioned above, each student in their upper division (middle school) has their own laptop. I came from an elementary school with a set of 5-year old laptops per three classrooms. Students are mostly unfamiliar with technology beyond video games, and the idea of taking a computerized test is daunting for many of them. But, is it really better to have our children tied to technology? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time for school-aged children. Should that limit include “educational” programs and homework?

I’m currently reading two books – Independence Days by Sharon Astyk and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. They are both about the importance of living our lives closer to nature. Sharon Astyk focuses on our food sources, and specifically in Independence Days, about storing and preserving local food so we rely less on the global industrial food complex, which she argues is unsustainable and too reliant on fossil fuels. (Her blog is a great read if you’re interested.) Richard Louv is the inspiration for the “No Child Left Inside” movement, who argues that children today suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder,” meaning they are disconnected from nature, instead focused on television, video games, and computers. He argues that this rise in technological addiction is directly linked to the rise in childhood obesity, depression, and attention disorders.

Both of these authors have my mind whirring and wheeling. I am having an extremely difficult time finding a balance between my belief that we need to live closer to nature, and my belief that children need access to current technologies in order to succeed in today’s world. If you can’t type or operate a computer, you will not get a job today – and what will it be like 10 years from now? However, the more we focus on technology, the less we seem to focus on the world around us.

Two years ago, I listened to this short segment on my local NPR station about an Outdoor-Only Kindergarten on Vashon Island, WA. It still sticks with me. It rains on Vashon, a lot, and yet these students don’t spend any time indoors. They are experiencing the world instead of reading about it. They are learning to interact with natural occurrences such as rain, mud puddles, and giant banana slugs.

Is there a happy medium between our increasingly tech-hungry world and living close to nature?

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6 Responses to “A Study in Contrast”

  1. katelizsa October 7, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    I am experiencing something quite similar. I went from a 3rd grade classroom to a middle school placement. From a classroom with a set curriculum that acutally contains a script for the teacher, to a curriculum determined by the teachers. From two old Mac computers for an entire class, to individual laptops for every student. It has been quite the change, but I am finally getting the type of teaching examples that I had wanted in my other placement. The amazing thing is, this is not a private school and so these children still have to take the MSP, yet they have some of the highest scores in the state. I think the biggest contributing factors to this are: teachers get to choose and intergrate their curriculum in the ways that will benefit their students the most and the teachers facilitate discussions in which students are the main contributors. These classes have been facinating to watch and I am excited to see them continue over the course of my dyad.

  2. professorjvg October 8, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    It is excellent to be thinking about this huge cultural shift in technology that we’re experiencing.

    Something happened yesterday that makes me smile a bit at either/or nature/technology.

    I was hiking and came into a stand of deciduous trees among the firs. I was really curious about how that happened, and what the climax species would be in this forest, when it was logged, etc etc.
    So I pulled out my iphone where I have an app that enables me to photograph tree leaves and the app then identifies the tree and gives some background information on the species.

    I didn’t spend a lot of time on it — the day was too beautiful and I was loving the exercise, but there was no either/or about it — my technology enabled me to learn a great deal about the natural environment I was in and to enjoy it even more. On the spot, while I was standing there looking at the leaves that I couldn’t identify.

    We’re right at the beginning of figuring out what all of this means – to have these tools now, at a time when kids were already so used to just sitting around watching TV instead of being outside. It’s great to question where it’s all going.

    • teacherbecoming2013 October 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

      Thank you so much for your insight! I really enjoyed our conversation on Monday about using technology as a tool, not as a subject. I especially liked the reminder that we would never talk about paper as if it were a bad thing, because it is simply a tool for learning – as are computers, iPhones, etc. I love technology – I’m one of those people who always wants the newest tech toy – and I hope to be able to use technology in the classroom, I just need to find that balance.

      • janevangalen October 16, 2012 at 3:34 am #

        Yes! So many schools are far out of balance now, if kids aren’t getting any more than PPT practice. We’re just at the beginning of figuring all of this out. How cool is that?

  3. pedagogicalponderer October 15, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    I think that the happy medium you talked about is getting closer and closer to reality. Because information is at our fingertips, I think it has become increasingly important to teach students about proper ways to utilize the technology. I think that teachers should start being advocates of technology as a learning tool. The more teacher’s model effective ways to use the internet, the ipads, etc. the closer we can come to that harmonious medium. And when that time comes, I’m sure everyone will tweet about it!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. End of Quarter Reflection: Fall « Teacher, Becoming. - December 9, 2012

    […] for kids to spend all day sitting in front of a screen. The post was a follow-up to one about the contrast of technology used by my main placement school and my dyad, and my questioning about whether or not reliance on […]

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