January 9 2014

More Technical Innovation Please!

Carrie L. Lukas

Lenore Skenazy has a fun piece in the Wall Street Journal today describing how technology gives us access to a mind-boggling amount of real time information and entertainment. She argues that, rather than just distracting, all this information can be enriching.

With all the hand-wringing about how kids are being warped by gadgets and missing out on the best of childhood, it's an important perspective to keep in mind. Of course, technology can be overused and parents need to strike a balance and avoid plopping our toddlers in front of mindless video games or tv shows. But we should appreciate just how cool and helpful so many new tools are today when used properly.

I've recently experienced this first-hand. My third grader has a weekly spelling test, and—not surprisingly—she's not overly excited for me to drill her on the words by having me read her list out loud while she practices writing those words in her notebook. Then I was told about SpellingCity. Each week I load her list into the system. Then she can take practice tests and play some simple games—a version of hangman and find-the-missing letter—that help her memorize how to spell her words. Suddenly this isn't a weekly chore, but a pleasant activity that we do together. As a result, she quickly learns the words and has near perfect scores in spelling.

I paid a small annual fee for “premium” access to the site, but there is plenty there for free. I want more of these kind of fun, education programs (readers know of any similar programs that help teach grammar? Great ones for math? If so email me at clukas@iwf.org!)

As Sabrina and I wrote about in our book, technology is changing our lives for the better. It's so omnipresent that it's almost easy to overlook. Technology allows me to work from home, access educational materials for my kids, share pictures with friends around the work, have my parents see and interact with their grandchildren even when we are an ocean away. I take it for granted, but I really ought to be incredibly grateful for these options that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago.

Too much of American education remains frustratingly ossified, but change is coming. There is no reason why every American child shouldn't have access to the best information and teachers in the world through the use of online services and hybrid learning programs. We should be focused on facilitating that change so that this life-enhancing technological innovation continues.  

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