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Ed-Tech Lessons from 'The Simpsons'

By guest blogger Audrey Armitage

simpsons-Mathletes-Feat-1-1-blog.jpg

In yet another sign that ed tech has hit the mainstream, classic animated sitcom The Simpsons has skewered the digital-learning push sweeping schools. 

In the recently aired episode "Mathlete's Feat," Springfield Elementary receives a sizable donation from successful former students for a 1-to-1 tablet effort and school-wide upgrade to "the latest cloud-based technology."

The educational strategy behind the effort?

After being told, "Here's a check—take this check," Principal Skinner sets about digitizing the entire school, bringing in e-books, interactive white boards, 3-D printers, a digital flag, and even a robot vacuum to serve as janitor Willie's "supervisor."

Ouch.

Not surprisingly, the fictional school's ed-tech effort fails spectacularly and comedically. A massive power surge destroys the new devices and leaves Springfield's educators at a loss for effective instruction ideas.

One teacher rattles off random, disjointed words to her class: "Roman numerals...photosynthesis..."

Another resorts to using marshmallows to teach a typing class.

The show clearly exaggerates schools' unpreparedness for new technology—but perhaps not by as much as we'd like to believe.

Education Week's recent Technology Counts 2015 report, for example, dove deep into the reasons why a massive influx of technology into schools is not transforming teaching.

Tech obstacles identified in the piece include: "teachers' beliefs about what constitutes effective instruction, their lack of technology expertise, erratic training and support from administrators, and federal, state, and local policies that offer teachers neither the time nor the incentive to explore and experiment."

Despite Springfield Elementary's digital struggles, the episode ends with main characters Bart and Lisa Simpson finding a low-tech solution using Willie's gardening tools to lead the school's mathletes to victory.  

Raising the math trophy high in the air, Willie asks, "You know what we should really thank for our success? Lower standards!"

Photo: The Springfield Elementary mathletes team faces tough competition in the "Mathlete's Feat" episode of "The Simpsons," courtesy of Fox Broadcasting.


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