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Boredom + Laptop = Academic Improvement? May 7, 2007

Posted by edukfun in children, education, school, standardized testing, underachieve, video games.
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NOT!

According to the NY Times, schools are figuring out that if you give laptops to kids in schools, then….and you might want to be sure you’re sitting down for this….then the kids will FOOL AROUND WITH THEIR LAPTOPS INSTEAD OF LEARNING!

I know, I know. Who could have seen that coming?

Here are the problems with the laptops:

  1. Cost a lot of money and time to keep them working.
  2. Teachers aren’t up to snuff and don’t know how to use them effectively.
  3. Kids are always able to get around firewalls and internet blockers. They turn them into game-playing porn machines.
  4. They don’t magically make school interesting.
  5. They don’t improve academic performance!

Let’s be honest. The kids who are struggling are usually the ones who are not interested in school. If you hate Shakespeare (and who doesn’t?), then you aren’t going to magically like reading The Taming of the Shrew on your laptop instead of on a book in your lap.

If a kid is bored by school, for whatever reason, and you give him A HUGE TOY, he is going to PLAY WITH THE TOY!

Honor agreements and computer-use contracts are stupid, and the people who think that they work might be too. If the kids had enough self-control and impulse control to follow the agreement, then they would be paying attention, asking questions and doing their homework and wouldn’t be struggling in the first place!

What kills me about this is that the School District of Broward County, FL was going to spend $275 million–that’s $275,000,000–on laptops. They didn’t, but they would have. There are about 17,000 teachers in Broward. That amounts to over $16,000 per teacher. They could used that money to pay bonuses, give raises, higher more teachers or teaching assistants, but for some reason I doubt that they will!

Honor agreements and computer-use contracts are stupid, and the people who think that they work might be too.

For struggling kids to be successful, they need a few things.

  1. They need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If they don’t see how success is possible, they won’t try. That’s why we build on small successes at Sparks of Genius. Show the kid that he can do something right, and go from there.
  2. They need a structured work environment catered to their strengths and weaknesses. Usually that means a quiet, distraction-free room to work in. Often, it includes an adult to check in with them and redirect as needed.
  3. They need effective communication from a teacher or mentor who cares. Effective communication is a biggie, and I think is the reason why teachers at schools with high immigrant populations can get so frustrated. Literally, they don’t speak the same language or have the same background as these kids, and so they do not communicate effectively. One-on-one attention can help this problem.
  4. They need to be motivated. If the child does not see how this is helpful, then they are unlikely to put much effort into it. When I was in public school, a common complaint was that we’re never going to use this in real life, so why do we have to learn it? THAT IS A VALID QUESTION AND IT IS THE TEACHERS’ RESPONSIBILITY TO ANSWER IT ADEQUATELY.

Of course nothing is as simple as I make it out to be here. There are always exceptions and special cases. But without these four things, struggling kids won’t make progress.

Good luck!

Allen Dobkin

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