Two cheerful and gifted girls sit in the back row of my morning technology class.
“Are you having fun at camp?” I asked.
“We love it!” they replied in unison, like best friends often do.
“What do you love most?” I questioned, secretly hoping for a few compliments.
“We love science class!” the bolder one remarked, while the quieter of the two smiled and nodded away at her friend’s proclamation. I must admit, my ego deflated slightly even though I felt elated to hear two sweet, smart and beautiful girls professing their love of science.
“We love the projects,” the quieter girl added.
“We like technology, too,” the more assertive one reassured me, “but we get to do computers all the time in school. We’re in the gifted class. But we hardly ever do science.”
They ‘did’ computers but not science in their gifted program? What did they do on the computers? I’ve been in several Chicago public schools where ‘doing’ computers often revolves around a separate agenda, vaguely connected to the curriculum. I’ve also witnessed (and been guilty of) using computer time as a reward for finishing class work. But working at El Valor has made me rethink these practices. At the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, we worked hard to create a challenging technology curriculum for El Valor that fosters and integrates the study of science and that demonstrates to students how to use computers as a tool to enhance understanding.
I relayed the girls’ love of the science projects to my science counterpart at the end of the day. She smiled and nodded. “The projects are a lot of fun,” she remarked. I believed her as I looked around at the colorful displays of scientific art on the walls and the mess of tissue paper and crushed flower petals that littered her room.
We began to fulminate against the lack of science in schools and against the typical technology curriculum, in schools lucky enough to have the budget, for often failing to make meaningful academic connections. Then we laughed wildly at the thought of doing labor-intensive projects with one teacher and thirty-plus students. It's difficult enough with one teacher, three tutors and 18 students.
The students at this camp are very involved in the projects in both science and technology class, excited to be working and talking, sharing their ideas while they are learning. Nevertheless, with student excitement and engagement comes a bit of chaos, as all teachers know. However, at El Valor, with an adult to child ratio of about 1:4, confusion and aggravation are minimized.
All of this left me thinking. Computers are being used in schools, but at the expense of science? What other academic fundamentals are being lost? What does our society really need, technically savvy people or critical thinkers? It doesn’t take long to become technically savvy. When I think of all the computers and other equipment that I’ve seen sitting unused in schools, or used in ways unconnected to the curriculum, I have to question if we are shortchanging students. The skills and characteristics children need to be successful in today’s world involve getting a good education, and being educated is a lot more than just knowing how to use a computer.