Using Technology in Home Education

{Homeschooling and Technology}

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, October 10, 2012.

My husband told me I ought to listen to an episode of a podcast called Mac Power Users: Episode 93. This episode is an interview with Fraser Speirs, a mobile education consultant.  He works for the Cedar School of Excellence in Greenock, Scotland, and he’s also a writer and does public speaking about using mobile devices and technology in schools.  The Cedar School of Excellence was one of the first schools to give macs and then iPads to all of its students.

Obviously, it would be not be feasible for most schools, especially publics schools, to offer an iPad to every student.  The Cedar School of Excellence is a small, private K-12 school, but my husband knew I would find the ideas behind the use of technology useful in our homeschool.  I did, and I also think it could be useful for any parent who is involved I their child’s education and working with them at home.

Listening to Speirs talk reinforced my opinion that technology is not something we should shield children from. I know parents have different views on “screen time,” and I respect that. We need to set up boundaries for our children and use technology as a tool and not as a babysitter.  But our children are in a unique position to grow up with technology (something we never had), and someday they will be competing in a world with more advanced technology.  We parents need to assist them in acquiring useful skills.

I was impressed to hear that children as young as kindergarten age use iPads in the Cedar School of Excellence.  The device follows them throughout their education at the school, and the way they use it changes as they get older.

Speirs said they expected the younger grades to use the iPad more as a tool in which they would work through certain educational programs (called applications or “apps”) and that it wouldn’t be until grade Primary 5 that kids would use it more as a productivity tool.  However, they were wrong. Kids as young as Primary 2 – that’s 1st or 2nd grade here in the U.S. – used the iPad to create their own stuff.

Speirs observation of how young children can use an iPad does not surprise me. At two, my six-year-old was a master at my iPod Touch. Now I think he could use a device like the iPad or a computer for creativity, especially since there are so many educational apps for children available.

At one point Speir states,

“…we very much look at the iPad as a tool for expressing: for creativity and also expressing your understanding. So, if I’m teaching about some science topic, let’s say the planets, then one of the ways I can assess what the children have understood is that I can have them express their understanding through various creative tasks on the device.”

He goes on to explain that they also do assignments off the device.  They are not a paperless school.

I wish Speirs spent more time talking about exactly what young, primary-age children do on the iPad, but he did make it clear that teaching the children presentation skills at every level was a priority.  This is something I feel strongly about too, and his explanation was right on target.

When thinking about the office applications people use today, he and his staff look at word processing as something that is used solely for the purpose of printing on a piece off paper.  I don’t think this need will ever go away completely, but I do agree with him that it is becoming less necessary as our world becomes more and more digital.  I also agree when he states that learning today’s current word processing programs is not important.  Because twenty years from now when these kids are in the work force, who knows what kind of programs they will be using?

Speirs states,

“…we thought, well, in the end of the day, [word-processing is] a secretarial-level skill, whereas presentation, and persuasion, and communication is a CEO-level skill.”

This is the idea that captured me behind this interview.  I have been thinking a lot about the necessity of teaching our children entrepreneurial skills and other high level skills that they typically don’t learn in a traditional public school.  We shouldn’t be preparing them for the world as it is today – we have to prepare them for the world they are going to enter as young adults.

Speirs says,

“We spend a lot of time thinking about the future.You’ve got to realize how far ahead you have to think in education because quite often you end up, in education, where you’re sort of fighting the last battle, whereas you’ve got to be fighting a much longer game than that.”

I agree.  Right now, we have countless college graduates with higher degrees and school loans to pay off, but there are no jobs for them.  Some say this might be the next bubble to burst.  I don’t know exactly what the job market will look like when my boys graduate, but I know that letting them have some daily control over their education will go a long way in teaching them how to take charge of their lives as adults.

This is also what attracts me to project-based homeschooling, which I have written about before.  In project-based homeschooling, the child chooses what he or she wants to study, and they do their own research to complete the task.  Then they present their findings in a format of their choosing such as book, poster or other form. After listening to this podcast, I’m thinking in terms of what the Cedar School of Excellence might use – Keynote (PowerPoint) or mind-mapping (they use iThoughtsHD).  I could also throw in ideas such as photo slideshows or video.

As you can see, this interview with Fraser Speirs has got my wheels turning, and I’m thinking of different ways to incorporate technology in my son’s education.  At six years old, I can start by introducing him to different programs on our computer and showing them what they do.  My first endeavor to do this was to give him his own e-mail address.  We also gave him a point and shoot camera for his sixth birthday, and we’re using it as an educational tool too.  I’ll write about all of this and more in upcoming columns.

How do you use technology in your home education? What do you want to learn about technology so that you can pass this knowledge on to your kids?

7 Responses to “Using Technology in Home Education”

  1. What an interesting column. My son is four so he’s had minimal interaction with technology. (I haven’t made the leap to purchase an iPad yet since I love using my Mac notebook. Maybe my husband and I will buy an iPad for our son in a year or two.) I wanted my son to form a strong connection with books and reading as well as to learn to use his imagination before getting “plugged in” and thankfully, he has. Using technology is an integral part of daily life and I know my son will eventually need to learn to use it and learn how to manage its use. (He does have his “own” digital camera that he uses occasionally though I’ve been the one to transfer and print the photos for him.) The column makes me wonder if I should think of ways to do this sooner rather than later. I look forward to reading future columns from you on this topic.

    • Teri, Thanks for your comment! I certainly don’t think you have to rush your son into it, if you don’t want to. Just follow your instinct because every kid is different. I understand wanting the strong connection with books and reading. We do a lot of reading books/storytelling/fostering imagination around here, which I’ve written about in older posts. But since we have the technology available, I let him use it. He loved it when he was little, and mastered the iPod Touch at two. My current three-year-old is just now learning how to use the iPod Touch. Like toys, it loses it’s magic after awhile, and now my older son’s usage is very reasonable. So, what I’m saying is not to worry about kids and technology. I think they regulate themselves after awhile. I don’t think it hurts them. But of course we have to monitor it, and if it’s not in our budget to offer to them, I think they’ll catch up later too.

  2. I’ve always wanted to get my sons to leverage FOSS although we are not fundamentalist about it. In particular, we’ve settled on Blender as a software to learn and use.
    We’re currently aiming at making games using Blender and Unity targeting some future mobile device, or possibly Ouya, FirefoxOS, R-Pi or some other cool stack. In reality Scratch seems to get more attention from the boys.

    I’ve recently instituted an absolute ban on my sons having devices near their genitals, and have been anti- mobile phones pressed to heads for some time now.

    I’m slightly concerned that netbooks/phones have supplanted paper books too much in our household, especially as I can get so many good ones so cheaply.
    Something like half the days of he week, maybe more, I insist that the boys do some pencil and paper writing exercise.

    • I’m not familiar with all that you mention, but I can see your boys are going to be well ahead of the game in the tech world. I think it’s awesome you’re creating games.

      Having some limits is probably a good thing. My boys are still young, so it’s easier for me to direct their days, but I hope by capturing their attention with a variety of activities – off and on the computer/mobile devices – they’ll grow up with a good balance. Thank you for your comment!

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