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Technology in the Classroom: The Good and Bad

Amy Mikler

Chris Crowell, a kindergarten teacher in Flemington, NJ, is summoned to the classroom kitchen area by Ava, 6, who has something to show him.

“Mr. Crowell, we have a spider in the sink,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“Why don't we check out the spider under the microscope?” he replies, perking up the rest of the students, who are enjoying free play at various stations around the room.

Ava carries the removable tub from the sink to the “teacher table,” where Pedro, 5, launches the Zoomy digital microscope, a small, egg-shaped device that connects via USB cable to the classroom laptop.

After a few minutes of observing the spider's image magnified onto the classroom billboard, most of the students drift back to the areas where they had been playing prior to the sighting. Pedro moves to the puppet area and uses Crowell's iPhone to film three classmates performing a show. Another student, Lindsey, remarks that the spider looks like the tap-dancing arachnid in Toca Band, the musical app the students play with on one of the classroom's three iPads.

Crowell has been incorporating technology into his daily teaching since the floppy-disc era. “There's never been a better time to be a teacher,” he says, “or a curious kid.”

For a child, technology plays many roles: teacher, babysitter, playmate, and pacifier. As a result, our kids are drifting between the digital and analog worlds, and often find themselves tripped up by the border between the two. Cue the viral video of the 1-year-old girl trying to “swipe” her way through a copy of Marie Claire. (Title of the video: “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work.”)

That little girl is not alone: Nine out of ten parents with children under 2 years old report that their kids use some form of electronic media. Toddler/preschooler is the most popular age category in the education section of the iTunes app store, a venue with more than 550,000 downloadable brain testers, time killers, and layover fillers. (There are another 500,000 apps for Android devices.)

Are we replacing puzzles with pixels, wagons with Wi-Fi, blocks with bytes? Or are they simply merging? And the bigger question is: Is this such a bad thing?