Today’s Classroom for Tomorrow’s Citizens

technology-classroom

by Madhavi Sunder

How should we prepare our children for the future? In this column, I want to focus on one particular way: enhancing their ability to understand and design technology.

Most kids in elementary school now will enter the work force in the 2030s. We can safely predict that life will involve computerization even more so than life today, affecting everything from politics, to social life, to work. Preparing children for the future requires educating them for a digital world.

As a candidate for school board I’ve been visiting our schools, meeting with principals, teachers, parents, and children, and touring computer labs. I’m learning what the school district currently offers in relation to technology, and what it needs in the future. Here are some principles I will follow and questions I will ask if I am fortunate enough to be elected to serve on the Davis school board.

  1. Technology should not replace the teacher. Technology by itself is not a substitute for engaging and inspiring teachers. Technology can, however, be a useful tool for teachers. Classroom excellence begins with hiring professionals who care deeply about students, and then training them continuously, including training on how to use technology effectively.
  1. Spending on technology must be both careful and accountable. Technology budgets can be substantial. As the New York Times writes, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers…” In 2013 the district indicated that it would need “$1.5 million to install wireless technology and upgrade data storage” (Davis Enterprise, May 17, 2013). Even after we purchase technology, maintenance will be costly, and technology becomes obsolete rapidly. We must never have blind faith in technology. The district must be accountable and responsive to questions about efficacy and efficiency. We must use the technology we already have effectively.
  2. Digital literacy operates on many levels. Digital literacy means not just identifying and locating digital sources, but developing the ability to think critically about them, evaluate and assess them, and even how to make your own content to share in our digital world. These tools are transforming the way that citizens engage with the world, as the Davis Vanguard’s forums themselves demonstrate. We must promote responsibility and respect in online engagement. Digital literacy must include efforts to avoid negative behaviors, such as online bullying and video game addiction.
  1. We must be ready technologically for new Common Core assessments. The new assessments to be conducted across state schools dispense with penciled-in bubbles in favor of tests taken on computers. The district has been spending money to upgrade the computer infrastructure, in part to prepare for the new standardized tests. In November, the School Board voted to spend $772,365 on technology readiness.
  1. Creating coders. According to Jessie Chabot, co-founder and director of the new Davis Code Camps (with Ray Valdez), 21st century jobs, from auto mechanics to small businesses will require the ability to make and control computer software. Can our schools teach kids not just how to use computers, but how to program them? A 2010 report on K-12 computer education by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) found that most schools focus only on teaching students how to use computers and run applications, rather than deeper concepts such as problem-solving and programming. To combat this problem, the California legislature is advancing bills right now that would expand the teaching of computer science in schools across the state. Davis High School (DHS) has introduced a course on Robotics and has two established courses, one on computer networking, and the other on computer programming (in C++ and Java). The Davis Code Camps, an afterschool program just begun in Davis, demonstrate that children as young as 7 can learn skills that go beyond playing video games to making simple games themselves.
  1. Gaining STEAM. We should promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, but also add an “A” for Arts because art and design promote not only marketable, technical skills, but the creativity that lies at the heart of innovation.
  1. Finding Resources. We will need to be creative in finding resources to support technology education. The computer networking class at Davis High School is sponsored by Cisco. Such public-private partnerships can be useful in expanding opportunities for our children, so long as they do not compromise the independence of the instruction itself. People will ask: how can I talk about expanding programs for our children in a time of limited resources? I will actively seek Technology Partners to bring more opportunities to all kids, and also encourage our district to utilize free services available to teach computing, such as MIT’s Scratch language.
  1. Opportunities for all. We should ensure that all students have the opportunities to learn computing, including girls and other underrepresented populations in the STEM workforce. The C-STEM Center at UC Davis is developing formal and informal K-14 computer education for all kids. We should tap into such programs.

I offer these ideas as a way to begin a conversation on technology in our schools. I am certain there are other important principles and questions, so I would love to hear from you.

Madhavi Sunder has been a professor of law at UC Davis since 1999 and is a candidate for a 4-year seat on the Davis School Board in November 2014. To learn more about her campaign please visit www.sunderforschools.org.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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54 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    I am really enjoying the articles from the school board candidates. My thanks to the candidates who have written so far. I am looking forward to more perspectives.

  2. Mr. Toad

    “…so long as they do not compromise the independence of the instruction itself. ”

    This is my problem with all the money being spent on technology to test the common core. Not that there is much the local schools can do about it but its interesting that the common core is becoming a profit center for tech companies.

    1. Davis Progressive

      of course one good approach could be private-public partnerships and grants to award schools with money for technology. it’s amazing to me we still teach classes like it’s the dark ages/

        1. Davis Progressive

          because most teachers are older and not technologically proficient and few administrators think outside the box and there are funding issues as well.

          1. Frankly

            That is a nuanced explanation that can be summed up with teacher unions and the Democrat Party… both fighting against education reform that would lead to any fewer union members.

            Teachers are older because the unions value seniority over performance in the classroom and student outcomes.

          2. Davis Progressive

            i’m not convinced that’s what’s happening here. what i am think is that people who lack comfort and familiarity are reluctant to accept changes and without funding, the administration is reluctant to force it on them.

          3. Davis Progressive

            take a different example – uc davis. faculty is not aligned into unions. ideology and partisanship not an obvious driver. why so little technological integration into the common classrooms?

          4. wdf1

            Frankly: performance in the classroom and student outcomes

            How do you measure those things? standardized test scores? class grades? anything else?

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          Unions?

          We still have a school calendar that revolves agriculture production, and a school day that is shorter than first-world countries that are ahead of us.

        1. Davis Progressive

          that’s certainly a failure of both parties. i would prefer we remove standardized testing as tools for assessing proficiency and other assessments and move to what works far better in other countries.

          1. Barack Palin

            I agree, but it strikes me how much Democrats complained about No Child Left Behind just to turn around and institute the same type of program.

          2. Frankly

            Right BP. Just shows that the Democrats are full of BS complaining about NCLB. It was/is their scapegoat for continued crappy education outcomes. Their shield to deflect personal responsibility for the crappy state of our education system. As is their common political tactic “it is George Bush’s fault!”

            So wdf1, so you support Common Core? And if so, let’s hear your nuanced explanation for why when you were so adamantly against NCLB and claimed that teaching to the test was the reason for such crappy education outcomes.

          3. Davis Progressive

            part of the problem is that democrats are not necessarily all on the same page here.

          4. Frankly

            Sure. Same goes for Republicans… but never stopped the negative branding. And the Democrat party is controlled by liberal Democrats that are most definitely in the teachers union pocket.

          5. Davis Progressive

            the democrats are controlled by center-left psuedo liberals like obama and hillary clinton. the republicans are controlled by the tea party. must we also go down this road? it’s tiresome. i’m a declined to state for the record.

          6. Frankly

            the democrats are controlled by center-left psuedo liberals like obama and hillary clinton. the republicans are controlled by the tea party. must we also go down this road? it’s tiresome. i’m a declined to state for the record.

            Ha! Sure, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama are center left… right. How might JFK have fit in to that center left model?

            The Republican Party is not controlled by the Tea Party. Is John Boehner a Tea Partier? How about Romney and Ryan?

            This talking point of the left that the Republicans have moved to the right is one of their biggest and most baldfaced lies told today in the politico arena.

            Liberals own the Democrat party and they are in deep with the teachers unions… and this is the primary reason our education system is stuck on stupid.

          7. Don Shor

            [moderator] Ok, this is going off topic. Please avoid taking all these threads to discussions of national politics.

          8. Matt Williams

            Where is Barack Palin’s daily National Politics article when we need it?

            Barack, the Vanguard Editorial Board is meeting tomorrow night to discuss your offer to write/submit articles on National politics and other key issues. I anticipate a unanimous “Yes.” When can we expect your first submission?

          9. Barack Palin

            Matt, I’ve been busy helping my son and daughter both with moves they’re making so any articles are on hold for now. Unanimous? I doubt it, I’ll get at least two no votes.

          10. Matt Williams

            Fair enough BP. Keep us informed.

            I fully expect the vote will be unanimous. I’m not sure who you think will be casting the “no” votes.

          11. wdf1

            Frankly: So wdf1, so you support Common Core? And if so, let’s hear your nuanced explanation for why when you were so adamantly against NCLB and claimed that teaching to the test was the reason for such crappy education outcomes.

            Citation? Where have I ever said I favored Common Core?

            Your usual shortcoming. You pigeon-hole commentors here and other people into prefabricated labels without bothering to research for yourself and to engage in dialog. Why can’t you simply ask, “wdf1, what are your thoughts about Common Core?”

            BP: I agree, but it strikes me how much Democrats complained about No Child Left Behind just to turn around and institute the same type of program.

            Every last one of them? I think both you and Frankly are mistaken to think that the issue of Common Core divides down the political spectrum the way you think it does.

            Same with NCLB. There are a number of Republicans who oppose NCLB for roughly the same reasons they oppose Common Core. Example: Utah education leaders debate return to No Child Left Behind

          12. Frankly

            Why can’t you simply ask, “wdf1, what are your thoughts about Common Core?”

            I was asking the question, but apparently my teacher led English classes were so crappy that I cannot correctly structure a sentence.

            So you don’t support Common Core?

          13. wdf1

            Who supports Common Core:
            Bill Gates, link to article entitled, “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution”
            David Coleman, president of the College Board.
            Michelle Rhee & her group, StudentsFirst
            Pearson Publishing and other large educational publishing companies.
            David Brooks
            Arne Duncan
            Jeb Bush
            Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
            Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Educaiton Association, as interpretted by breitbart.com
            But there are recent more oppositional statements from both that suggest that they are not liking how Common Core is implemented. For instance, Weingarten said, “You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.” (source)
            Who has spoken out against Common Core:
            Marco Rubio
            Chicago Teachers Union
            Oregon Education Association opposes at least the Common Core tests
            Louis C.K.
            Rand Paul
            Ted Cruz
            Mike Huckabee has apparently back-pedaled from one-time support of Common Core
            Rick Santorum
            Rick Perry

          14. wdf1

            Frankly: You still have not answered wdf1… do you support Common Core?

            I hoped to look up some links to include as citations, but I don’t have time.

            I was originally hopeful about NCLB to start with, but when I saw how it affected Montgomery Elementary here in Davis (as well as similar stories around the country), I changed my mind.

            1) It feels like a repackaged version of NCLB in that right now we’re again starting out with testing math and English Language Arts. What about the rest of the curriculum?

            2) A number of states had robust and superior standards to Common Core and jettisoned them for Common Core. Massachusetts comes to mind.

            3) I prefer education policy where there is more opportunity for more local input as opposed to pushing it to the next higher level of bureaucracy.

            4) As with NCLB, it appears that the testing is going to be used to decide how good the whole education system is. I think we’re far from being there yet. As much as standardized testing seems to be ideally objective and quantitative, there is a certain amount of arbitrariness and subjectivity. Such as setting the score level that denotes “proficient or above”. In NY where CC testing started a year earlier, the scores were set at a lower level than previous equivalent NCLB scores. The testers said this was because teachers weren’t fully ready to teach CC curriculum. Skeptics have argued that it was to established a justified need for CC testing — if you get anxious over the low scores, then you’ll come back for more testing to see if you can raise the scores. Who profits? The testing companies. The skepticism over testing, and the excessive amount of it has also led to discussions about whether we’re spending too much time and money on standardized tests as opposed to other aspects of education. I also side with those criticisms.

          15. wdf1

            In summary, I’m skeptical about Common Core. DJUSD doesn’t have much choice but to follow CC because state/federal funding depend on it at some level. I want some evidence that CC is an improvement. I hear of ways that it is supposed to be an improvement, but withhold judgement on those aspects for now.

        2. Frankly

          Allies in a cause but for different reasons. Sort of like the no-change liberals and the save my home value conservatives on the issue of peripheral development.

          Strange bedfellows can unite for a cause. Look at us talking to Iran about Iraq.

          But once the cause is over, the war comes back again.

          1. wdf1

            Frankly: …war comes back again.

            I think you are referring to political conflicts over economic policies. There a plenty of other dimensions to public policy that don’t easily fit into your economic view of the world — education, foreign policy (especially on whether to send American troops or not), immigration, and social issues polices (for instance, gay marriage, gun legislation).

            Interesting that you use the war metaphor for this…

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        My understanding was that NCLB had two main components: measuring (testing) students nationwide so that we could pinpoint where students were; and a focus on the basics – reading and math. As part of the measuring, if a school continually under-performed, it could be completely reorganized.

        In the beginning of NCLB, there was a solid increase in the capability of younger African American students. Just recently I also read that the dropout rate in LAUSD had dropped by a decent amount (decent being very unscientific). How much of this is due to improvements because of NCLB, and how much is due to relaxed standards, I don’t know.

        Common Core (some call it ObamaCore) dramatically changes how we teach children, all based on theory. CC wasn’t piloted for 5 years; they didn’t even have math curriculum ready. Common Core has less reading of literature like the Invisible Man; more reading of ‘technical’ documents, like “How to change the printer toner”. We no longer teach cursive writing, and I personally saw the amount of math assignments drop by over 80 percent.

  3. Ryan Kelly

    The Cisco networking class requires Algebra II as a prerequisite, so a student wishing to take the class as a senior would have to complete Algebra 1 by ninth grade. The robotics team is a club, but I think a class is being developed. The coding class has no prerequisite, but may only attract students already interested in careers in IT.

    Teacher training requires funding to pay teachers for their time. In my experience, teachers are unwilling to attend training for free. We can’t require teachers to be computer literate if this wasn’t required for the job at the time they were hired. Adding this requirement to future job descriptions and providing an IT help desk for district teachers could slowly make the transition.

    1. Tia Will

      Ryan Kelly

      “We can’t require teachers to be computer literate if this wasn’t required for the job at the time they were hired.”

      Why is the the case ? Why can’t teachers be given a fair amount of time to upgrade their skills by taking the classes necessary and then pass competency tests to enable them to perform adequately if computer literacy is desired ? We have done this a number of times in my field. As new procedures have been developed those felt essential to the functioning of a gynecologist have been instituted, time made for training, the expectation made clear and everyone trained. I would think computer proficiency should be required for the majority of academic subjects although I can certainly some exceptions such as a language teacher.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    Just like with health care, I’d much prefer we “pilot” 2 or 3 educational “theories” (because that is all they are now) – and measure the results.

    Common Core is less than half baked, and interestingly has supporters from both sides of the isle. Bill Gates is pushing it, and so is Jeb Bush. This is one reason I am cautious about Bush – he apparently is working for a publisher to push Common Core. Money!! What Gates or Bush can’t say is “We piloted this in New Jersey and Montana, and test scores and XYZ went up 15%, and the same data went up 25% for minority students”.

    If someone can tell me what the impetus for creating Common Core is, and who initiated it, I’m all ears. My guess is that the “I hate NCLB / George Bush / measuring students” was a primary factor.

    We all know that a lot of educators, publishers, school districts and such will have a lot of money flowing through their hands to implement this.

    My understanding was that the Obama Administration made a lot of dinero available in order to jump start this experiment.

  5. Mr. Toad

    Of course the use of what technology is appropriate depends on what is being taught. I think most teachers use technology that is appropriate if they have access to it. They use it for book keeping, grading, analyzing student standardized test scores and email. They use powerpoint for lessons. They use digital projectors instead of video. The young people are better with technology but a lot of older teachers have embraced it. Its been a few years since I’ve been in the classroom now so I’m sure there are more and more applications all the time.

      1. Mr. Toad

        I think its coming but there again its a new profit center for the textbook publishers. With textbooks you could buy them and use them until you needed new ones. With e-textbooks the textbook companies want to sell a school a license for each student each year. Its an expensive model. Plus the textbook companies also write the standardized tests. This means that districts that can afford the textbooks have a competitive advantage on the high stakes exams. This gets me back to my original point that common core is becoming a profit center for the textbook and tech industries from the top down. Districts have little discretion over whether or not to spend their precious budgets on this stuff.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          Teachers in LAUSD who were all supplied with free iPads, are using their iPads to surf TMZ, social media, and other non-school-related work.

          I know an LAUSD teahcer from an underperforming school, and all she uses her iPad for (she teaches a lower grade) is to read TMZ and other fluff.

          1. Mr. Toad

            LAUSD gave every kid an iPad spent a huge amount of money. The kids figured out how to get around the filters in just a few days and were watching whatever they wanted.

            All sorts of people do other stuff on the internet at work. This is not a productivity issue solely isolated to teaching.

          2. Davis Progressive

            there are several different problems related to giving kids an ipad.

            first, you need teachers able to utilize the technology

            second, you need to control access to them.

    1. Frankly

      Can software do the job of teaching for some students and for some topics? Absolutely… and it can do it better and cheaper.

      The other consideration here is information access. I don’t need to memorize everything because the answers are available 24×7 365 days per year. There are many subjects that we can cut out of the curriculum and replace it with one class to teach students how to search and find information on line.

      And don’t tell me that the information online is unreliable and biased. This is a bigger problem with human teachers. In fact, one of the primary benefits I see in moving to technology for instruction and information delivery is that it reduces, and even eliminates, the bias.

  6. Bill

    Yes, yes and yes! Thank you for raising this as an important issue for the future of our children. If we are going to equip our kids well, then technology is a MUST. I appreciate your careful thought on this topic and think it’s most certainly the direction we need to go. I think you might have just won yourself a vote with this article.

    For a future post, I’d love to hear your thoughts on on how the community (businesses, nonprofits, faith community, average citizen) can engage and support the education of our kids. They don’t have to be all your ideas mind you… replicating creative ideas from other locales is just as valuable. There’s certainly got to be ways (beyond $) the community can contribute? For example, with the discussion of an Innovation Center, is there a way a partnership could be nurtured? Or even with the already established Makers Space.

  7. Frankly

    And if you disagree that software will be replacing teachers in some subjects, then look here:

    http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/06/computer_programs_replace_fore.html

    Randolph will save about $90,000 a year with the program, said Superintendent Owen Snyder. Grade school students there had 30 minutes per week with a Spanish teacher; now, they will even be able to practice Spanish on computers at home.

    “If we have to eliminate something, this is a program we can eliminate and replace with a very well-regarded alternative,” Snyder said.

    Rosetta Stone officials said use in schools is growing. Senior education director Cathy Quenzel said it is not intended to replace teachers, but “sometimes, it is the last stop.”

    At Ridgewood’s Willard School, many kids called the new way of learning fun. “Our Spanish teacher was really nice, but once we tried it for a day, we really liked it,” said Tori Clay, 9, a fourth-grader.

    Tori’s class spent one recent period sitting side by side at monitors, wearing headsets and speaking quietly into microphones as they took a Spanish lesson.

    “It’s like your own private teacher,” explained Marina Geider, 10.

    Randolph school board president Amy Sachs said some parents were apprehensive about the change, but after Rosetta Stone was explained, “it didn’t seem to be that controversial.”

    “You never like to replace a human being with software,” she said. “But it was what we believed and hoped was our best option.”

    1. wdf1

      Frankly: Please consider putting your money where your mouth is and have your sons learn Spanish by using Rosetta Stone and then go take them to your usual vacation spot in Baja and set them loose to see how it goes.

      Don’t take my word for it, but I suspect is that it will fall short. Spanish is for communicating with other live human beings. Sometimes the best experience to prepare for that is to have a class and practice other live human beings, both students and teachers.

      There are also online college degrees being advertised heavily these days. Have your kids sign up for those and see what you think.

      1. Frankly

        My kids have taken college course online and generally liked them. But the quality of the delivery systems is getting better every day… and that is the point you are missing.

        My son failed his only college class recently. It was intro to Accounting taught by someone with very poor English skills and poor understanding of the subject matter and terrible at actually teaching. This is Chico State… and before you go off talking about how UCD is so much better, my UCD grad employees tell me that they experienced much of the same.

        My son would have been much better off talking an online class… and that is what he is doing this summer.

        And I am going after the college to refund us for that crappy teacher experience. If I could have done that for my kids’ Davis Jr High and Sr. High experience, I would have been refunded about 35-40% of their schooling.

        One major difference between you and me (we agree on many things related to education), you are more prone to make excuses for and tolerate a percentage of crappy teachers. I, on the other hand, have zero tolerance for anything but high performing teachers.

  8. wdf1

    IMO, this is a much more interesting and engaging article than what Sunder posted previously (campaign news). This begins to address issues that interest parents and community members. And plus points for referencing specific local programs and resources.

    The problem I have with STEM discussions is that there seems to be a focus on the Technology and Engineering part and almost nothing on the Science and Math. It makes me think that STEM is a gimmick for Technology and Engineering to gain equivalent level of core subject status as Science and Math. This article falls into that category. I’d like to know what thoughts and vision Sunder has for Science & Math programs in the district.

    Gaining STEAM. We should promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, but also add an “A” for Arts because art and design promote not only marketable, technical skills, but the creativity that lies at the heart of innovation.

    I’ve heard this bit about STEAM before, and I have a similar reaction. Seems like only sloganeering until you specify what you mean by arts and give some developed thoughts on how they could be integrated.

    Opportunities for all. We should ensure that all students have the opportunities to learn computing, including girls and other underrepresented populations in the STEM workforce. The C-STEM Center at UC Davis is developing formal and informal K-14 computer education for all kids. We should tap into such programs.

    This would be a good opportunity to expand a little on the “digital divide” that can exist across language, income level, and family educational background.

  9. Davis Progressive

    “this is a much more interesting and engaging article than what Sunder posted previously (campaign news). This begins to address issues that interest parents and community members. And plus points for referencing specific local programs and resources.”

    seems like she spent a few weeks introducing herself and now we get to see what she’s made of.

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