TFA Tales

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 05 2013

Technological Impediment

About two months ago I attended a district-wide assembly of teachers and staff. The assembly was to boost morale and get everyone pumped for the new year, as well as show off some of the “great things” happening in our district. One of these “greats” is a technology project that gives every student the opportunity to receive an iPad. Not just for school use (but ideally as an educational aid), students grades 2-12 receive their own iPad to take home and use as they please.

At first I fell for the clever propaganda. Sure, I could see students being distracted by iPads, but I could probably handle that in my classroom. But the possibilities! Students would all have access to books, documentaries, encyclopedias – so many great resources to help them with projects!

I’m not naive. Being part of the younger generation of teachers, I know students spend plenty of time on Facebook, Instagram, and a whole slew of apps those in the older generation don’t always understand. (To be fair, some of the newer apps I don’t even understand!) But it wasn’t until a couple weeks into the semester that I realized just how dangerous this technology is in my student’s hands.

I don’t mind taking away iPads during class. My students know that once the bell rings, they go away until I ask them to use the iPad for something class-related. They know that if they are playing games, or taking selfies (as they are oft to be caught doing), they will lose their iPad until the end of class or until the end of the day. However, I do mind having to take iPads away because my students don’t even realize they are on them. Without thinking, they turn on the screen and start snapping photos or messaging their friends. It takes repeating a name four or five times before they even realize they’re being called on! I asked one student to put away his iPad, and he even admitted he didn’t realize he had taken it out.

I see students clinging to their iPads. Even when they are off, my students need to have them in site in order to function. It worries me that they work better when allowed to have their iPad on their desks (off, of course). Throughout the lesson they’ll reach out to touch it, as if checking that it’s still there, still real. And that frightens me. More and more often, students have begun to lash out when I take away their iPad. Even though it’s only for the next 30 minutes, many of them lose all ability to function. Typically well-behaved students turn into snarling, cantankerous grumps for the rest of class.

And it is affecting their school work. They don’t finish work and miss important information while zoned playing games. But, more than that, they have trouble with thinking. This is not to say my students aren’t smart. But they lack the thinking processes necessary to succeed at this level of rigor. I refuse to lower my standards. My students need to develop these higher order thinking skills to succeed, not only in school but in life. They need to analyze and make inferences. They need to know how to write a coherent sentence and paragraph. It’s no coincidence to me that the students who are succeeding the most in my class are those without iPads. The internet is a great resource, but it cannot replace real thought. The ability to look up anything in a moment’s notice can be a great thing, but it cannot replace the skill of putting two and two together.

The only solution I can think of is using iPads as class sets. Instead of giving students iPads of their own, teachers would be given 30 or so as a class set. They would be used like textbooks, for certain assignments, not unlike the laptop carts my high school once had. The thinking behind iPads, I believe, is that students would be able to use them for school work at home. However, is the possibility of extra help at home worth the risk of student health and learning? Perhaps, but I personally don’t think so. Many of my students do not have internet at home, rendering their iPad useless for anything they can’t download ahead of time.

The potential for a great resource is there. iPads could open up a world of information for my students. But so far that has come at a steep price: their education. I grew up using the internet as a resource. But its use in class was carefully monitored, and we were taught specifically how to use it to aid our thinking (but never to replace it). Perhaps I am struggling more with the iPads because I myself don’t fully understand their capabilities. But, still I digress, I have only seen the technology as an impediment to student success in the classroom.

I would love to see if other teachers are having the same problem. I am finding myself at a loss for what to do in this situation. It’s a huge undertaking to get these students caught up to where they need to be. But if my co-workers and I don’t do everything in my power this year, they will fall even further behind as the years go on.

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Living, Loving, Learning

Rio Grande Valley
Middle School

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