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Friday, September 28, 2012

Success in School: There is No App for That

Article first published as Success in School: There is No App for That on Blogcritics.

I hear it all the time; there's an app (application software) for that. People want that nearly impossible to find parking space in New York City: there's an app for that. There is an app to know what kind of neighborhood you live in, where to get the best Mexican food, and the hottest cup of joe. There is seemingly an app for everything. I know kids and some adults think this to be the case but, while apps have their undeniable place in popular culture, they are no panacea, especially for accomplishing things that matter most.
There is no app for love, for happiness, for contentment, or for world peace, and there is most definitely no app for success in school. Yes, there are apps you can use in school, and even those that may enhance your understanding of the world, but nothing can be used to make you decipher the complexities of the causes of the Civil War like reading about it, seeing old documents, and learning about it in a classroom.

Let's think about math. Fractions, mixed numbers, and decimals have tortured many students over the years. How about long division? Algebra? Trigonometry? Those words can make your skin crawl long after your high school years are over. There are so-called math apps out there, things that you can put on your phone that will take you part of the way there, but when it comes to sitting down and taking the test, there is no app for that, at least not yet.

Can you imagine having Socrates as a teacher? Many times in my life I have wondered what it would have been like. We educators talk about the Socratic method or Socratic questioning as if it is an ideal world; and in our times with the reality of state assessments, teacher evaluations linked to them, and the pressure to increase test scores, the laissez faire atmosphere of a Socratic classroom seems almost an impossibility.

What should concern all of us now is the app mentality that is so pervasive that it is subsuming the traditional path to acquiring knowledge. Kids do not feel that they need to do research anymore, let alone ever crack open an encyclopedia, dictionary, or thesaurus. They are more concerned with the ready availability of sources than caring about their reliability. This problem is found across the board from elementary school to college. The lure of the cut and paste answer is so powerful that plagiarism plagues all educators because the kids (and many times their parents) think there is nothing wrong with it.

I understand the powerful ways technology can enhance instruction, and I am not saying that we should go back to the dark ages of pigtails dipped in the ink well, but there should be a way to make clear to students that even though there seems to be an app for everything, there is no substitute for learning something on your own. Sure calculators make long division much easier, but if you cannot divide without electronic help then you don't really know how to do it, even if your answers are always right.

I love SMART Boards, iPods, and Netflix just as much as the next guy, but there is something to be said for writing on a blackboard, listening to vinyl records, and seeing a movie in a theater. Kids used to the hush of the marker on whiteboard should also know the wonderful sound of chalk against slate. They should remove their ear buds and get acquainted with the needle getting into the groove, and nothing beats the smell of popcorn and the sacred dark of a theater to see a film. These are great experiences and there is no app that will get you there.

With many states adopting the new Common Core Standards, I am hoping that we are going to truly enhance the classroom experience with the expected rigor and relevance associated with them. If this gets kids to more deeply understand things, makes them think critically, and provides them with skills to discern reliable sources from the galaxy of electronic options at their fingertips, then we will be moving in the right direction.

As an educator and a parent I do not want my kids taking the easy way out. The app mentality is to get a degree as quickly as possible, but that has nothing to do with learning. I want my children to get through school and earn the right to step up each year. This way when they get to the top they will truly belong there.

Sometimes my daughter forgets to copy down her homework, and it's great that we can look online because her teacher posts daily assignments on her class page. There is nothing wrong with this, but when my kids sit down and do their homework, it is without any electronic help. If my daughter has to research something, I let her know there is more than one way to look things up. If we do use online sources, we talk about reliability and citing sources. And, when it is all over, and she asks me to check her homework, happily there is no app for that, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Photo Credit: technmarketing.com

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