Are Classroom Gadgets Really Helping Kids Learn?
Peg Tyre - TakePart
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February 5, 2013

More teachers are bringing iPads into their classrooms, but do the tools really help kids succeed? (MCT/Getty Images)

For the last six years, the buzz about educational technology has grown deafening.

Schools across the nation are scrambling to figure out just how a new generation of technology - software and devices both in the marketplace and still to be developed - might better educate kids.

The experiments are far-reaching. Currently, there are roughly 275,000 K-12 students from 31 states who are taking classes online. School administrators all over the nation are handing out iPads and asking teachers and students to come up with new ways to learn with them. Some schools are experimenting with flipped classrooms, in which kids read or watch videos of a lecture for homework and work through problems or questions with an instructor during class time.

Other schools, including a rapidly expanding chain of charter schools that serve low-income children, are employing what they call a “blended learning” model. It works like this: The classroom is broken down into small groups. Some kids work with a qualified, credentialed teacher, while others are shepherded to a computer room, where, under the watchful eye of a paid-by-the-hour supervisor, zoom ahead or redo a lesson using interactive, adaptive software.

At another chain of charter high schools, kids sit in what resembles a call center, receive videotaped lectures and interactive lessons on a monitor, and get pulled into smaller, teacher-led groups to get a particular lesson refreshed or reinforced.

The purpose of at least some of this new technology is to make education - a sprawling, complicated enterprise - more streamlined, targeted and efficient. Rather than offer AP courses or a technical track, online classes can serve children at a small rural high school who want more enrichment, or students who find traditional academic learning not a good fit for them.

Founders of the rapidly expanding chain of Rocketship schools say when their low-income K-5th graders are fed a steady diet of computer-delivered lessons, technology “help(s) to make a child’s time in the classroom more productive because he or she will have fewer gaps preventing understanding, and Rocketship teachers will have more time to focus on extending children’s critical thinking skills.”

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