The multiplication tables have become a hot topic of discussion when it comes to technology in schools. Memorizing them sure makes it easier for kids to do math in their heads, but will children memorize their multiplication tables (or learn how to figure fractions or practice learning to read an analog clock) if it's easy for calculators and computers to do the heavy lifting for them?
The question is less about technology, which is actually just a set of tools, than it is about discovering ways to integrate technology into school curriculums in thoughtful and productive ways. A New York Times piece published in September of 2011 focused attention on these concerns by reporting on the stagnant test scores achieved by students in tech-intensive schools within Arizona's Kyrene school district. The article posed some interesting questions: Does the use of advanced technology really help students learn and retain information; and is making huge budget allocations for technology in schools a good idea, especially if it means larger class sizes and budget shortfalls in other areas like music and physical education?
One problem with making assumptions about the relationship between technology and learning is that research in these areas is ongoing, and one of the most effective ways to get solid evidence is to implement technology-rich programs and study the results.
There is something we do know. It's easier to tailor classroom instruction to fit the needs of individual students using technology as an aid. Self-directed tutorials, for instance, allow children to work at their own pace. That's a good thing. Disputes start to crop up when school districts make the choice to fund their technology budgets by cutting back on teachers or dropping other services. Technology is important, but small class sizes and plenty of teacher-student interaction is important, too, especially for younger children.
If you think the book, pencil and paper style of learning is underrated because that's the way you were taught, take a little test. Peruse a book about the Smithsonian Institution, for instance. Photos of the National Museum of Natural History may look good, but the only thing that beats the virtual tour is actually being there. This is one of the areas in which technology shines. It places interactive multimedia at a child's fingertips. Whether it's a tour of the Louvre Museum (Musée du Louvre), or a bee's eye view of life inside a hive, technology brings the world to the classroom. It has the potential to present difficult concepts in dynamic and engaging ways. When kids are engaged, they learn more and retain the information longer.