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Sometimes You Have to Stop Relying on the Technology
Today I took my fifth grade students outside to go geocaching on our campus. It was mostly just a fun activity to kill time, since my grades for them were due last Friday and this was our final class meeting of the school year. At the end of the exercise, though, I did ask them to tell me what they had learned today. I heard a lot of comments about teamwork and cooperation, in addition to a stunning quote from one young man: “Sometimes you just have to stop relying on the technology.” He was referring to trusting your own senses and intelligence over blindly following what the GPS receiver might suggest you do, but the way he worded it really stuck with me.
I have heard people bemoan GPS technology as one “advancement” that is making us stupider. If you rely on satellites and gadgets to get you places, couldn’t you lose your innate sense of direction and your ability to navigate back to the familiar when you get lost? Whatever happened to just taking a wandering drive to see where a road leads you? Are we like wild animals who, when fed by humans, lose their ability to find their own food according to instinct? If you follow this line of reasoning, we as a species could weaken ourselves significantly by depending too much on computers and other devices to do our thinking for us. Do we let students use calculators or do we force them to work out some of the problems longhand? Do we give up teaching cursive writing and allow students to type every assignment?
My own personal opinion, as with many topics, is indecisively moderate. I see the benefit of both methods. And it really is pointless to let kids use calculators if they don’t understand the purposes behind the functions they’re punching in. So do we have them “earn” the privilege of using a calculator after they’ve proven their ability to work the problems out by hand? And then do we limit their use? What about those kids who never seem to get a handle on the long, written versions of math problems? The jury in my brain is still out on the cursive vs. keyboarding matter. My son is a male lefty in kindergarten who has never been strong on the fine motor skills. When he has the option, I will let him type whatever he wants. But I don’t excuse sloppy letter formation when I know he can do better. We have many nubby, worn-down eraser ends of pencils in our house. I don’t relish the advent of cursive in his life three years from now, and all the tears and drama that will surely follow.
You know, I am the technology teacher at my kid’s school. I could have bristled at the comment from my fifth grader this morning. But I can put it in perspective. I was so proud of the kids who shared their frustrations and epiphanies about working in teams to accomplish a task. We’ve worked in groups in the computer lab before. We’ve used wikis to facilitate the communication and to document the collaborative process. We’ve created content in Google Earth. In middle school, these students will do more of that, plus plan major presentations – in groups, in online collaborative spaces. And they’ll fight tooth and nail against each other – or just not do their fair share – and I will have complaints and drama and last-minute cramming, just like I do every year on these projects.
But after forty minutes outside with some GPS receivers, pencils, and camouflage-painted mint tins, my students can describe the lessons they never seem to fully learn with all the group projects confined to the indoors. I guess sometimes you do really have to stop relying on the technology.
(Both photographs shown are the property of the author.)