Technology, while fast and shiny, is not all-powerful in the classroom. How to sketch out a science concept on a keyboard? Kent schools are tackling this quandary by buying thousands of laptops that allow students to hand-write on screens.
Technology, while shiny, fast and attention-grabbing, is not all-powerful when it comes to learning. Research increasingly shows that when students type a teacher’s lecture onto their laptops or tablets they may get the phrasing down, but often do not retain the concepts underlying those words.
Simultaneously, when students learn math and science, they frequently must sketch out a design or equation to show how they arrived at an answer — impossible to do on a standard laptop.
These problems became clear to Patrick Regnart about four years ago when he was the principal at Kent’s Neely-O’Brien Elementary School. He’d seen younger students struggling with keyboards so much that they could barely articulate the thoughts they were trying to type.
“Technology allows us to do more in less time, but it does not always foster learning,” said Regnart, now the district’s director of technology integration. “If we want students to synthesize material, draw inferences, see new connections, evaluate evidence and apply concepts, we need fewer gigs — more brain power.”
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Regnart is no Luddite. He believes it’s important for kids to become quick on a keyboard. But as a principal he’d watched typing impede learning, rather than boost it.
“I could see the disconnect,” he said. “There was so much that didn’t make it from the students’ minds into their computers. They were trying to figure out how to use the tool, rather than getting their ideas out, and they were losing the ability to draw, to sketch — which is a key skill in our math and science standards.”
In 2015, Regnart began to think the answer might be new technology. So Kent is now introducing convertible laptops to students. With the devices, kids can draw shapes directly onto their screens with a stylus pen, or write a story, or make handwritten notes in the margins of documents they’ve typed.
(Added benefit: by using the tablets to practice handwriting, Regnart anticipates fewer lost sheets of paper getting mangled in backpacks.)
About 900 convertible tablets went to Kent elementary schools in November, and another 900 are expected over the course of this school year, as teachers and librarians get used to the new devices, Regnart said. He noted that each tablet costs $25 less than current elementary-school computers.
But money has been a touchy topic in Kent since teachers learned last spring that the district had frozen spending on everything from toilet paper to new hires to address a large budget deficit. When school started in September, Kent was nearly $7 million in the red.
In February, the district will ask voters to approve $73 million for technology over the next six years as part of a total combined levy of $146 million, which includes improvements to school buildings.