May 4, 2007

Schools give students laptops and internet access and are surprised that they don't just do what they're told.

And now the report is that students aren't progressing. I don't know if laptops make students dumber, but they obviously make adminstrators dumber.
The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).

Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet instead of getting help from teachers.

So the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty — and worse.

Many of these districts had sought to prepare their students for a technology-driven world and close the so-called digital divide between students who had computers at home and those who did not.

“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”
Speaking of distractions, it sounds like you're trying to distract us from the fact that you gave them internet access but kept it inadequate, that you hate the idea that they're taking control of what they want to find out about (especially sex), and that you've been failing all along to educate students and you were foolishly hoping giving them laptops would magically fix that.

41 comments:

Galvanized said...

Make the distribution of those laptops contingent on making honor roll, and you'll see 1) that there are fewer to have to loan out and 2) grades soar. It should be an incentive for good grades and a privilege. It's not an educational benefit except, like you say, for the students to educate themselves on what they want to know. I mean, c'mon -- it's Internet access -- who's going to voluntarily do schoolwork on the Internet? Honestly, I'm a responsible adult and often get distracted by the Internet from my work on the computer, so why would the average adolescent be more disciplined than an adult?

Oligonicella said...

Ann, how would you provide access adequately without allowing cheating and porn 'research'?

This is high school kids we're talking about. Would you want them cruising and hooking up if you were their teacher? Taking control of what they want to learn about isn't a good idea in a math class, for instance.

It's as if I was right commenting on /. a couple of years ago that this was a bad idea.

Zach said...

Well, it could be worse. When I was going to school in the '80s, before the classroom computers could access the internet, the computers were barely touched.

Students using computers mainly to goof off is completely predictable.

Mike said...

I think you have to have grown up before computers to realize they are not some magic talisman.

TMink said...

Galvanized, you are completely correct. Of course it will never happen, because our culture is opposed to and phobic of rewarding success and hard work.

And imagine that children would act irresponsibly! Don't they know that they are born good and only trip and fall when punished or interfered with by less pure adults? They need to read the liberal memo that children do best when left to their own devices.

Trey

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

My one son is in an accelerated biology class that is entirely internet based. The computer in the classroom is unable to access any site but the one the program is on.

I also have a laptop from my emmployer and have the ability to access the company servers from offsite to be able to work while out of the office. There is a protocol I need to run that doesn't allow me to access any site but the company's for security purposes.

Proper computer technology exists to do the kind of one on one education the internet and computers can provide, but it wasn't properly implemented in this case. Why not?

Probably because the teachers thought they knew enough to do it on their own without bringing in professionals.

vet66 said...

The only useful role a computer should play in the classroom is to access research material and a replacement for the typewriter. In addition, typing should be mandatory in an age of word processors.

Of primary importance is a focus on reading, writing/typing, and arithmetic. As a society we have a long way to go as I gaze up and spell check the words on the High School billboard and businesses that advertise their ignorance by parading misspelled words for all to see.

How functioning illiterate teachers can get jobs in education is beyond my comprehension. I have no doubt Professor Althouse has a vast reservoir of writing examples that exemplify illiterate High School graduates.

High School For Dummies, indeed!

PatCA said...

Another Marxist solution, failed in actual practice.

Roger said...

Veet66 and redneck: You are on the right track with respect to computers: They have some extraordinary capabilities but like anything else are tools whose use must be monitored and restricted. One of the most interesting things I have discovered about them is their power when it comes to demonstrating mathematic principles--esp with calculus and higher math; also physics. There are lots of open source programs that do a wonderful job teaching math because the puter lets you add the visuals that you cant get by sketching or seeing a single picture in a math text.

This is good example of people not knowing what they were doing jeopardizing a very powerful learning tool, because they were idiots to start with.

BTW: if you have any interest in calculus or statistics, go on some of the websites, and relearn some old calculus!

Lee said...

"you've been failing all along to educate students and you were foolishly hoping giving them laptops would magically fix that"

On point.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Roger, I recently had 14 weeks of Calculus (over 56 hours of instruction), and was completely lost. One of the issues was we would spend 3 hours learning a formula and how it was generated, then spend 10 mintes learning how to do the same thing in Excel with a couple of key strokes.

While I agree we need people who are able to generate those formuli (?), we could have accomplished alot more by skipping the build up and just using the Excel sheets.

Brian said...

Redneck,

As a college math professor, I'd have to disagree with you. That is the same sort of thinking that says we don't need to teach kids basic arithmetic like how to add and multiply when we can just give them a calculator. The problem with this is that it doesn't allow the kids to get comfortable with adding and multiplying when they outsource it, and then they often never do get comfortable. It's the same thing with calculus. If you don't actually do the basic computations yourself, you'll never get comfortable with them, and then, for most people at least, you won't get your head completely around the concepts. Like I always tell my students, calculus is a lot like playing the piano. You can't learn to do it well just by watching someone else.

Anyway, the main problem I've seen students have with calculus is not that the calculus itself is all that hard (it's really not), but that they are just not comfortable with algebra.

rightwingprof said...

"Anyway, the main problem I've seen students have with calculus is not that the calculus itself is all that hard (it's really not), but that they are just not comfortable with algebra."

Algebra? How about basic arithmetic? Here's a common scenario:

"Why am I getting this error?"

"You're trying to divide by zero."

Deer in the headlights.

Elliott said...

A post by Althouse that I is something I care about AND I agree with her opinion. Wonders never cease. As soon as I read the line where the network freezes regularly at the same exact time every morning I concluded the problem was the administration rather than the students.

Roger said...

Brian--(and anyone else, of course): would be interested in your take on the on-line calculus resources: I find them really instructive--esp the ability to visualize functions and the concept of the derivative.

Jeff said...

All Abraham Lincoln needed was a shovel and a piece of coal!

John Burgess said...

I find an interesting parallel here between what these British schools are experiencing and what the Middle East is experiencing as it moves toward democratization.

The presence of a tool does not demand its wise use.

Wisdom in the proper use of a tool demands some experience in the use of tools. It requires a mindset that can grasp the consequences of use/misuse, not just the technical details in how to operate the tool.

This is why using elections as the measuring stick of democracy is wrong-headed. Instead, the measure should be on the civil society that will conduct elections.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Brian, I agree with you on basic math (Hell, I'm almost in favor of being required to do some math menatally, with out aid of paper and pencil, much less a calculator for a high school diploma), but higher math is more specialized. As i sometimes say- I can do arithmatic, but not math! ;?)

My need for the calculus was to use the information the results of the formula would give me; all I needed to know was what numbers to plug into the equation. To do all the back work was confusing and meaningless.

If I were a math major I would feel differently; then the formula is my life, not the results.

As I said, we need people who know the way to build those equations, but the end users of the information they provide don't need to. That is almost like requiring the end user of a computer to know how to construct one before being allowed to use one.

Roger said...

John--you are leaving us all hanging with your last paragraph--I fully understand the point about elections; viz: palistinians electing hamas; or, presumably shiites electing shiites-- but what measure(s) do you see for the underlying civil society? literacy rates? numbers of non-profits?

bearing said...

I say, if they want to level the playing field between students who can afford computers and students who can't, make it so that their education doesn't require the use of computers outside the school library or computing classes.

Let them turn in their essays in longhand (with accommodations for disabled students of course). Require researched papers to include a bibliography of actual books which the student actually paged through, if not read. Let them learn mathematical CONCEPTS, plotting their parabolas with penciled-in-dots on graph paper.

Does that make me an antiquated anti-tech zealot? Huh. I am a thirty-two-year old woman with a doctoral degree in chemical engineering.

bearing said...

Redneck, I appreciate what you're saying, but you're totally wrong. Concept's more important. Here's why.

Students fall into two categories.

(1)Students who aren't going to get past Algebra I in high school. These fall into the "Basic Math" category and shouldn't be allowed to get lazy and use computers or calculators, lest they wind up functionally mathematically illiterate.

(2) Students who ARE going to get past Algebra II in high school. These are probably going to have to take some college math, even if they are not going to major in a discipline that relies on a decent math background (not just "math majors" -- try engineering, business, any of the natural and physical sciences, economics, most pre-med students whatever their major...) Believe me, you are not doing ANY kid a favor if you let them enter college math without a good solid grasp on the mathematical concepts.

Brian said...

Roger,

I'd say that there are some very nice calculus aids out there now. They can definitely be very helpful in both visualization and practice. I would recommend, however, with some of the graphical aids, trying to draw the pictures you see yourself. I have found that a lot of students have better understanding and recall of the things they've seen graphically if they at least attempt to do the drawings themselves. Your drawings might not be very good at first (mine sure weren't, especially for the multidimensional stuff!), but they'll get better over time.

Rightwingprof,

Well, I've seen that, too, but I try not to dwell on it too much. I had a student once who got out her calculator to multiply 144 by 1. This was just more evidence (not that I needed any more at that point) of a total lack of willingness to put forth the slightest effort to *think* about what she was doing. She didn't notice that the answer was still 144, either. And she was far from the worst student I've had. At least she came and asked for help!

I am really starting to think that no student should be allowed to use a calculator until they get past algebra, at the least. Learning to add and multiply is about more than just getting the correct answer. There's an awful lot going on there that just gets passed over if calculators are introduced too early:
- They're usually the first real examples of an algorithm that students see. It actually is an important skill to be able to follow a precise set of rules completely through something.
- Doing addition and multiplication yourself leads to numerical facility, being comfortable with numbers, and beginning to notice connections between them.
- For whatever reason, the students who I've had who have relied the most on their calculators are often the ones who are the worst at using their calculators.
- Calculators seem to encourage "formula syndrome". This is where a student says something which essentially means "I don't want to understand this. Just give me the formula so I can ask my calculator for the answer."

Well, enough ranting.

Brian said...

Redneck,

The problem with looking at things the way you are is that that only works so long as everything is set up exactly in the same framework that you learned the formulas in. If there's any variation from that, if you have no understanding of where the formulas are coming from, you have no way to adapt them to the changed circumstances.
Now, I don't know what your major is, or what you intend to use calculus for, but I strongly suspect that in the long run, you'd be better off understanding what you're doing.

Student said...

I agree with Ann completely. I have to say that I find some of the comments disappointing. They remind me of similar silliness that was promulgated by all the oh so earnest folks worrying about calculators in school.

Did no one notice the 10th grader who took the opportunity to solve a problem by bypassing the attempted censorship? Isn't problem solving one of the things we should be trying to teach our kids? Or is a positive self image and freedom from offense more important?

Brian said...

One more thing, Redneck:

The purpose of a calculus class, as far as I'm concerned, is to teach the students calculus. One important thing about calculus is that it can be applied to an incredibly large and diverse set of applications. But in order to do that, you need to understand it. If all you need of calculus in your major is to know what to plug into a few formulas in an Excel spreadsheet, well, then, they should just teach you that. Bring it up with your department. But that's not calculus, and you shouldn't expect that that is all you'll get in a calculus class.

Roger said...

Brian: as long as I have you figuratively on the hood here, IIRC about 15 years ago there was an effort to figure out how to "reteach calculus." or something like that. it involved group learning, application and other things (again imperfect recall here)--are you familiar with it, and if so, how did it fare?

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Bearing I understand what you are sying, and I agree that in High School the concept is important; Roger, I also agree that the use of caculators kills th egrowth of logical thought. There is nothing like watching the face of a child realize the logical progression of basic math and begin to understand the concepts (I say that as a father, not an educator).

But by the same token I have to disagree with the requirement for all users to under stand the basic concepts.

If I need to generate equations to perform my job, yes by all means I need to know the basic concept, as I will need to draft my own, situation specific equations. But, if I only need a specific set of data as the product of those equations, and have a libray of equations to draw from, why do I need to know how to draft my own formula?

I am talking about higher math, in a business setting, not primary or secondary education, or as a practicioner of the art in some form. I do want my bridge engineer to know what he, or she, is doing.

Brian said...

Roger,

There seems to be such an effort every 30 years or so. The one you're probably referring to is so-called "Harvard calculus", which you can google for plenty of information. These things never seem to work out. There doesn't seem to be any alternative for most people to putting in effort and practice in order to learn something like calculus. In fact, basic calculus textbooks today are essentially the same as Augustine Louis Cauchy's Cours d'analyse from 1821. As Euclid told Ptolemy: "There is no royal road to geometry." There is no real alternative to some effort and practice.

Roger said...

Brian--thank you! I have taken math thru Differential Equations and Linear Algebra, plus one heck of a lot of statistics. It did seem to get easier the higher I went (although the abstract stuff like topology remains beyond me). But, I suspect what was going on was that my learning was occuring because I was starting to synthesize a lot of different concepts which, I think, makes Euclid right!

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Roger I agree that a calculus class is to teach calculus; my complaint is that was not an elective, but a required course for a business degree. I might also add this was adult education, not a traditional student setting.

You have mentioned you are a college math professor; doesn't that lend a modicum of bias to your position?

I agree the uses of calculus are wide ranging. The variety of them I ran into in various subjects was mindboggling. But I never felt the use of them required me to become intimite with their construction.

Roger said...

Red: Brian is the Math prof--I am an epidemiologist but was a public admin prof for 17 years--I made all the students in my program take calculus (they, of course, hated me, but you cant understand economics or public policy analysis without it).

Roger said...

Red--and as a practitioner and not a professor of math, I am more inclined to the application approach I think you are describing.

Brian said...

Redneck,

Well, if it's a required course for a business degree, and that's why you're taking it, complain to the business school. They're the ones who make it a required course for you. I admit to not knowing much about what a business degree entails. I assume that the business school has some reason for the requirements they have.

I make no apologies for being biased toward thinking understanding the mathematics that you use is a good thing. Contrary to what you may think, I actually have put a lot of thought into the role that mathematics plays in education and society. And are you really intimate with the construction of the concepts of calculus? You actually were taught the epsilon-delta definitions of limits? You saw rigorous definitions of exponential functions and logarithms, sines and cosines? You were shown the proof of L'Hopital's Rule? Seriously, forgive me if I am wrong, but I am just skeptical of how intimate you really were forced to become with the constructions of calculus.

bearing said...

Not to mention that any reasonable proponent of a liberal arts education that creates a well-rounded individual ought to include a decent grasp of mathematics as one of the things that makes you well-rounded.

Plug-n-chug, as we called it in engineering school (and I think maybe in high school physics too), doesn't make you well-rounded. It makes you a VB macro.

Besides, if it's so easy to learn to plug-n-chug numbers for whatever practical application you happen to need your math skills for, why the hell should we waste time teaching generic plug-n-chug techniques in high school? Who knows what kinds of practical math applications these kids are going to need for their jobs, lives, whatever? The thing about plug-n-chug is that it's highly situation specific. Better to give them concepts so they can derive their own plug and chug, as needed, for the rest of their lives.

Otherwise it's like having kids memorize the first 10 pages of a dictionary instead of teaching the alphabet.

Rajarshi said...

Give them laptops.. not Internet... everything will be fine.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Roger; my apoligies for the confusion.

Brian- Based on your questions we did not get very deeply into the subject.

My pique was because we spent several hours doing (what were to me and most of my classmates) incomprehensive ciphers, only to be told we could also just do a few mouse clicks in Excel and accomplish the same purpose.

This wasn't a traditional class (all were past thirty, some closer to fifty), we weren't preparing for our careers; we were getting papered. This was also at one of the more expensive and well respected private colleges in an area crowded with institutions of higher learning. All I'm saying is that more time spent on the use of the available formulas, as opposed to confusing us with the way they were generated, would have been more productive.

Again, were we in a field that was heavier into the creative use of these formulas than the creation of them, then the background would have been more important. I'm not tring to disparage anyone who does higher math for a living (based on my experience with it they have my upmost respect); I was more commenting on what I felt was the inappropriate use of the class's time.

Bearing- I have to ask you to define 'well-rounded', as your definition may not equal mine.

If I can discuss current events with you and NASCAR with someone else, does that make me well rounded? What about the abilty to repair a plumbing leak and fix breakfast? Read Faulkner and Rowling?

The lack of abilty to generate a calculus equation doesn't mean someone isn't well rounded.

Student said...

An Edjamikated Redneck: I also agree that the use of caculators kills th egrowth of logical thought.

Do you have any actual evidence for this? One hears this sort of thing all the time, but it strikes me as very dubious. Mathematics is about using numbers and symbols to model reality, not about becoming proficient with doing long division by hand. By freeing students from the drudgery of making calculations by hand, you allow them to think more deeply about about the actual problem they are working on and to understand the underlying mathematics.

Really, this harping on drilling students for several years on arithmetic so they can do it without a calculator is exactly like saying they should write in the stand with a stick in case they are caught without a pen some day.

All this holds even more with computers. Like it or not, the old days are over and either you are comfortable and facile with computers or you are hopelessly behind. How many reference books do you consult these days? I know that I, a rather staid bibliophile, don't bother anymore even with a dictionary. I do all my research on line.

Lifestyle Nerd said...

I work in a neighboring district to Liverpool CSD. I work on the instructional technology of that neighboring district. Some observations about Liverpool's program:

1. The laptop program was the baby of the previous superintendent's program (when he left L'pool and went to worked for another poorer district he spend $2,000,000 on laptops for kids, then fired the entire support team to save money, btw that district fired him!).

2. I agree they tried, in vain, to fix the barn door after the horse ran away. Most of the neighboring districts DID not following L'pools example and do not have student issued laptops. That is not to say neighboring districts do not have laptops students may use for a specific instructional purpose.

3. Liverpool spend alot of money on wireless access about 5 years ago. Most of the neighboring districts are only now adding wireless, but in limited locations, with a high level of security. The most common place is meeting/conference rooms.
The most common form of wireless students' in neighboring districts have access to would be a wireless laptop cart, which as I stated earlier are used only for a specific instructional purpose (such as writing an essay in an English class, or creating a presentation for history, science, etc). Due to space issues a wireless laptop cart give faculty some flexibility in scheduling around computer labs that are always booked.

4.In the district I work for, it is more likely students will find a open wireless access point from a nearby home, as all our building's wireless access point require a pass phrase.

5. When implementing any new educational program you should: Have measurable learning goals, staff training, and Acceptable Use Policies in place, otherwise you have disaster!

Brian said...

Student,

Do you have any actual evidence for this? One hears this sort of thing all the time, but it strikes me as very dubious. Mathematics is about using numbers and symbols to model reality, not about becoming proficient with doing long division by hand. By freeing students from the drudgery of making calculations by hand, you allow them to think more deeply about about the actual problem they are working on and to understand the underlying mathematics.

This all sounds very nice. It is the entire idea behind the so-called reform or Harvard calculus that was tried over the last decade or so. The whole problem with it is that, for most students, it just doesn't work. It's rather like a piano student saying, "I don't want to practice scales, I just want to play Mozart!" There are some people who can just play Mozart, but that's not most people. Mathematics is about a lot more than just "using numbers and symbols to model reality". That's not what mathematics is, that's just what it looks like. Mathematics is about thinking about things in a certain way, and learning to add and multiply by hand seems to help most people learn to do that.

Really, this harping on drilling students for several years on arithmetic so they can do it without a calculator is exactly like saying they should write in the stand with a stick in case they are caught without a pen some day.

That's not at all a good analogy. With either a pen or a stick, it's still you writing. That's not true with a calculator vs. doing some arithmetic for yourself.

All this holds even more with computers. Like it or not, the old days are over and either you are comfortable and facile with computers or you are hopelessly behind. How many reference books do you consult these days? I know that I, a rather staid bibliophile, don't bother anymore even with a dictionary. I do all my research on line.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the discussion of young students using calculators to add. Nobody ever said that calculators don't have their place. Of course they do. And trust me, I've known plenty of people who are quite comfortable using google or whatever and who rely on their calculators for all their arithmetic who constantly make mistakes with their calculator because they just don't understand what they're doing. Being facile with computers and being facile with calculators and arithmetic are pretty unrelated. Oh, and an online dictionary is still a dictionary.

Freeman Hunt said...

I have to agree with Brian. There's no substitute for working with numbers using only your mind. It brings an understanding of mathematics that you cannot get any other way.

And, apart from that, the skill is useful. I'm asked to do calculations in my head all the time, at work (when I worked) and at home. People often don't have calculators at hand, and, as Brian mentioned, even if they have calculators, they often don't know what to plug into them because they can't manipulate equations.

rightwingprof said...

"Well, I've seen that, too, but I try not to dwell on it too much. I had a student once who got out her calculator to multiply 144 by 1."

But it's even worse. I see things that make me wonder how they get through the day. Students who don't understand why you can't just add the tax rate to the item price to get the total sale. Students (no doubt all with pockets full of credit cards) who don't know that part of that payment they send in each month goes to paying off the interest, not the principal. It's downright depressing--I certainly understand why you don't dwell on it, though when you see it day in and day out, it's hard not to.