As more and more computers and tablets are integrated into schools, some argue that the excessive use of technology can be harmful to students. Though there is validity to those concerns, I know from personal experience that the right balance and leveraging of technology enhances instruction. I’d go even further to argue that the use of these technological tools rather inherently teaches our students several important character traits.
At first, most students struggle to operate a computer. They have to learn to navigate a keyboard, know what icons to click, and figure out what all the words mean. As soon as something goes wrong and an error message pops up, they panic and demand for help. We’ve all been there, though, and we know that the learning curve can be steep. But as students earn more independence and gain more comfort with using technology over time, they actually begin to develop many soft skills that go beyond teaching them academic content or providing research information.
For example, allowing students to use a computer or tablet teaches them responsibility. There’s nothing like slapping a huge price tag on an item that will scare a kid into treating something with care. Students are used to being given kid-proof belongings, not getting the trust to handle more expensive items (mostly with good reason). But as soon as we trust them with an expensive tool, they feel the responsibility and trust, and know that they need to be careful.
Once students discover the immense bank of knowledge online, they soon figure out how to access it as well. Students become resourceful, knowing that they can find almost any fact through the world wide web. Whether they’re doing research for a school assignment or searching for a how-to for repairing a faucet, they soon develop the ability to access and apply the information that’s at their fingertips.
As with all forms of independent work, students develop accountability as they work on their individual programs. More so, with self-paced programs where content is dictated by the progress of the individual user, students aren’t forced to move on to new online lessons as they might be in a regular class lesson. Students get the choice to take their time and coast through lessons or work diligently to excel through. The learners have the ultimate control, and thus they develop self-awareness of their work and ownership of their learning.
Most of all, students learn how to problem solve while using technology. Though tablets and computers seem more and more advanced, they are still, at the fundamental level, unintelligent robots programmed to do fancy things. They only do what they’re told to do; and so, they don’t always have the capability to problem solve through random issues. Instead, they require users to identify a problem, find the root, and try different strategies to resolve the issue. This is where human intelligence and intuition come in – in particular, those of our students.
Inevitably, errors will appear and issues will arise. Whether it’s the software or the hardware, students need to learn how to navigate such issues. At first, students will immediately ask for help with repairing an issue; but as they observe issues get resolved more and more, they figure out how the systems work and develop the courage to try problem solving themselves. They figure out that they can try some tricks (refreshing a page or restarting the system, to name a couple) and see if their hypotheses work. And best of all, students can take advantage of something computers are can do that nothing else can replicate – undo. Nowhere else can someone decide take back a mistake and fix a problem with a quick click of Ctrl + Z.
In the end, the character building piece of using technology is not the main goal we’re definitely more focused on the academic and instructional advantages these tools can offer. However, the secondary benefits of developing the skills of accountability and problem solving – both 21st century skills – with our students is worth acknowledging.
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Stephen is a fifth grade STEM teacher at Sí Se Puede Academy and a STEM Integration Associate for Rocketship’s network Achievement Team. Stephen is also a part of the BetterLesson Blended Learning Master Teacher Project. He grew up in Southern California and attended the University of California, Los Angeles where he studied biophysics. After graduating, Stephen joined Teach for America and has been teaching at Rocketship ever since, now going into his third year. In his practice, Stephen leverages a blended learning approach to teach math and science, getting students to apply their mathematical reasoning in a variety of ways. Stephen lives in San Francisco and enjoys spending time outdoors with friends.