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Questions To Ask About Ed-Tech At Your Kids' School

When a 4-year-old comes home from pre-K proudly announcing that she spent her "choice time" playing on the computer, what's a parent to do?

Among public school classrooms, 97 percent have at least one computer — a stat that dates back to 2009, light-years ago in technology time. More recently, a national survey in 2014 found that nearly half of all K-12 schools allow students to bring their own smartphones to class, which they're using to do research, shoot video and, let's be honest, to text the occasional emoji note.

Globally, more than 100 million students have participated in Hour of Code, a well-funded initiative dedicated to pushing schools everywhere to offer computer science. And still other schools are pursuing an entirely "blended" approach with students using devices for much or all of the day.

But wait a second. Weren't we supposed to be worrying about the amount of screen time our kids get, not celebrating it? After all, children ages 8 to 18 already spend more time focused on their electronics than on their teachers: seven hours and 38 minutes in a typical day. That's seven days a week. All recreational media, by the way.

Manoush Zomorodi is host of the New Tech City podcast from WNYC and mother of the aforementioned 4-year-old. Recently I sat down with her and Adriene Hill, senior reporter for Marketplace's LearningCurve project on education and technology, to discuss ed-tech from parents' point of view.

We came up with a list of questions that parents should be asking when they hear about new gadgets and gizmos coming to their kids' classrooms. WNYC even made a PDF for parents and a handy glossary of common ed-tech terms like 1:1 and "personalized learning."

Here's an excerpt; you can read the rest at WNYC.org.


If your school says ...

"We're raising money so we can put a tablet in the hands of every kid."

Think about asking questions like ...

    • What training and development resources are you providing to teachers so they can use the devices effectively?
    • Where are you getting the curriculum?
    • What do we know about how successful this curriculum has been in the past?
    • Who's reading the privacy policies on the apps my kids will be using?
    • What percentage of the money you're raising will go toward evaluating the outcomes of the new systems?

"We're moving toward a blended learning model."

    • Walk me through what my kid's day will look like.
    • How will expectations of my child change?
    • How will expectations of me as a parent change?
    • How will I be able to know what's going on?
    • How will you use information collected outside of the classroom?

"We want to experiment with a flipped classroom."

    • How are you going to use in-class time if you use video lectures as homework?
    • What are you going to assign out of class?

"We think games are the way forward. We're going to be using lots of games."

    • What kind of games? What's the actual engagement for kids?
    • What concepts are the games trying to evoke?

"We're partnering with Google to get coding into our schools, so kids can make tech — not just use it."

    • Why is this right for my kid and this school?
    • What will coding classes do in terms of critical thinking skills that, say, a cooking class wouldn't?

Got more questions about classroom technology? Leave them in the comments. You can listen to the whole conversation below.

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