Another guaranteed way to get kids excited about learning: "Bring technology into the classroom," says David Markus, editorial director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation and a member of Parenting's Mom Congress advisory board. Parents and teachers often see technology as a distraction and a threat to learning, he says, but it's time to embrace it. "It's something kids already love, so you've got instant engagement, and research shows that technology is highly effective in helping children retain information. Plus, using technology to do research and present ideas is a skill they're definitely going to need to be competitive in the workplace."
Markus isn't just talking about playing math games on the computer. Using technology as an educational tool can go -- and has gone -- way beyond that. In Miriam Longobardi's first-grade class at Roaring Brook School in Chappaqua, NY, students can hardly wait for their turn at an amazing piece of teaching technology called the SMART Board. An interactive four by three-foot computer screen activated by touch, the SMART Board is like a blackboard on steroids, and Longobardi finds it useful in teaching almost everything. "It combines traditional methods with elements of fun and play," she explains. "I'll put up letters on the board and the kids can use their fingers to drag them together and make a word. And when learning to count, they can 'clone' a penny as many times as they want to reach a certain total." What's great is that SMART Boards reach kids who need to be physical, kids who are visual learners, and even those who are auditory learners because it responds when they get the right answer, Longobardi says. "And kids just think it's cool so they pay more attention."
Across the country at Central Elementary in Escondido, CA, fourth-grade teacher Heather Peterson is part of iRead, a pilot program that uses the iPod Touch to improve reading skills. Students record themselves reading and then listen to their voices; the practice helps fluency, the ability to read sentences quickly while understanding the underlying meaning. And data shows it's working: These students gain three to six times the normal amount of fluency in just six weeks. Within six months, kids gain more than two years of growth in reading comprehension. "Deep learning occurs when there is the ability for the learner to reflect and receive immediate feedback," says Peterson. Her bottom line: "Not only have I seen an immense improvement in skills, but I also have way fewer behavioral problems. The kids want to be here, and they are excited to learn. In the end, that's what really counts."