Last week, our ECI 830 class had the privilege of debating 2 more topics within the field of EdTech. This week’s first debate is one that is constantly discussed within my middle-school sphere: Should schools no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology?
I was quite impressed with the debaters on both sides, as I found myself understanding and agreeing with points that each group presented. As we’ve discussed a multitude of times throughout this class and EC&I 831, technology can be of great benefit both in our personal lives, and inside the classroom. While I’ve wrote previously about my appreciation for technology, I’ve found that using technology in the classroom comes down to two keywords: engagement and efficiency. If I can use technology or tech tools in a way that increases my student’s engagement with the material, or in a way that allows us to accomplish our goals with equal quality in a faster manner, it’s use seems like a ‘no-brainer’ to me.
However, where I become more reserved in accepting a ‘full technology’ approach to these traditional skills, revolves around the quality of results. One of the large points discussed during Alyssa, Kelly, and Durston’s portion of the debate was surround the teaching of spelling, and this is a perfect example of mixed quality results. I’ve found that even though students have full access to spell-check, online dictionaries, thesauruses, and numerous other spelling and grammar resources, does not mean they have the knowledge or ability to use these tools appropriately. The amount of assignments that I’ve had turned in online, that have numerous red squiggly lines present, is much higher than I’d be comfortable admitting.
During our debate, the debate group along with members of the class, debated the importance of spelling in the working world. As Steven C. Pan (2021,) found, “in the 21st century, spelling does still matter. In fact, in many respects—from the employment sector to perceptions of writers and their writing, and even in online settings— spelling matters at least as much as it has in prior centuries. Second, there is substantial evidence favoring the explicit teaching of spelling” (p. 1543.)
In fact, in many respects—from the employment sector to perceptions of writers and their writing, and even in online settings— spelling matters at least as much as it has in prior centuries.https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-021-09611-y
Similar ideals can be found through our and others’ discussion on basic multiplication facts and the use of calculators for what would traditionally be considered ‘mental math.’ My parent’s argument that ‘you won’t always have a calculator in your pocket,’ is no longer valid- but does that mean we shouldn’t teach mental math? As ‘mental math’ fades and students become more dependent on calculators, this debate gathers more steam. Paul Bennet discussed this and how it relates to PISA scores on the EduChatter blog. He explains that “Calculator dependence is now widespread in New Brunswick schools and its most telling impact is in the lagging Mathematics achievement of students. The use of calculators in North American math classrooms has been common since the 1980s, but top performing nations, such as Singapore, China and Korea, put far more emphasis on integrating mental computation with conceptual understanding before progressing to higher-level math and problem solving. That approach is also reflected in the most successful after-school math tutoring programs such as Kumon Math and the Toronto-based alternative, the Spirit of Math, widely used in Ontario independent schools.”
As I mentioned before, when I consider efficiency, I can see both sides of the argument. While I would argue that calculator use is required to remain efficient in higher level math classes, I would push to continue the teaching of core concepts such as multiplication tables. I’m of the opinion that these core skills are important in developing a deeper understanding of higher level math, but also that they can allow you to be more efficient when using basic skills. Knowing how to compute basic operations mentally will nearly always be quicker for me then grabbing my phone, opening the calculator app, and calculating the answer.
Growing up, I was taught cursive in elementary school, and used it regularly until 7th or 8th grade. Personally, I found my cursive writing to only be slightly quicker than my printing, while being significantly less neat. Arguments can definitely be made about the small amount of time spent practicing, yet I’ve found that outside of signing my name, handwriting is a skill I’ve rarely considered necessary. This feeling continued into university, where I was wildly faster at typing notes on the computer then I ever was writing them by hand. Additionally, I personally find a low difference in my understanding or recall when typing my notes versus taking them by hand.
One thing that we didn’t discuss in as much detail as we could have during the live debate, is the simple time constraints within a school year. With the wide breadth of topics and information that is available to share with our students, can we afford to teach skills that are easily carried out by technology, and may not be utilized at all when a student leaves the school system? Are skills such as cursive writing and multiplication tables worth spending time on over subjects like coding or robotics, or other topics that have exploded in the workforce within recent years? As Leah and Sushmeet stated, we need to prep our students for tomorrow, not for yesterday.
As is often the case, this debate will come down to personal preference, and the ideals one considers important. Personally, I find a middle ground to be the sweet spot in each of the major topics we discussed. Mental math is important to the understanding of higher-level math, and for that reason, I believe memorizing multiplication tables will only help students as they age. Basic grammar and spelling rules are important to learn, but almost equally as important is learning how to use the tools available to you. Finally, while some time may be dedicated to cursive writing, outside of signing your name, it is not necessary within the bulk of today’s society.
Technology isn’t going anywhere. It will continue to be one of (if not the) most constant factors in the lives of our students. It is our responsibility as educators to ensure they are supported in learning how to use it appropriately, particularly when it is more efficient and engaging then going without.