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?