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Op-ed: Technology is engaging, but is it really teaching kids?

op ed thumb squareBy Anne Spigelmire Groth

As retired teachers, my husband and I have followed the current initiative in Baltimore County Public Schools to place a computer in each student’s hands, or STAT (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) with great interest.   We keep hearing the word “engaging.” As parents and former teachers we think: And so what?  Online gambling is engaging. So is pornography. The constant refrain of the phrase, “The children are so engaged” really does not tell us what or how they are learning.

Don’t get us wrong; we embrace technology. We love our iPhones and MacBooks. I love my FitBit and my husband enjoys the videos he has created using his drone. Social media and blogging have changed things for the better since we were in our twenties. I still remember the day when a teacher asked why I was still using a typewriter and taught me to use the Apple II E word processor. I was not the best typist, so I was thrilled. It was love at first sight with the delete key. I broke up with White-Out.

Research exists that clearly shows the kind of activities that are best for young minds. It is not spending hours of time in front of a screen. 

When it comes to children and technology however, things can get murky. Early-childhood experts are in agreement about how much screen time is appropriate and how too much can be detrimental to young developing minds. Research exists that clearly shows the kind of activities that are best for young minds. It is not spending hours of time in front of a screen.  It becomes abundantly clear that little people are not just sawed off big people. 

I was reminded of this during the Christmas holidays when my husband’s three-year-old grandson came to spend a few days with us. We let him use the iPad to listen to a story being read aloud and my husband let him use the remote control to drive the radio controlled Jeep Wrangler outside. We watched a movie together and talked about it. That being said, the rest of the time we read books together, visited the Maryland Science Center (which is a treasure of hands-on learning activities), played with all the toy cars left behind long ago by my sons, baked together, listened to music and more than anything we talked and answered the many questions a little boy of that age will have. How does that work? Why does it do that? We did not give him a tablet while riding in the car and instead played Raffi songs. The lyrics generated more conversation. What does tap mean? What is a tie?  What is a polka dot?

A talking book is fine, but can it stop to explain things or cuddle up while reading together?

These are golden years and young children need lots of time with adults who will talk to them, answer their questions and ask some of their own. A talking book is fine, but can it stop to explain things or cuddle up while reading together? These needs do not go away just because they enter go to school. 

All good teachers know that technology in the classroom has its place. Tablets with older students are indispensable tools that will prepare them for the world that awaits them upon graduation. There is little argument that older students should be learning a device’s uses and values. When I was a library media specialist, the older students found great benefit in using technology to guide their research projects and to share information. There are worthy software programs, but like any other tools, they are only effective under the watchful eyes of experienced teachers. 

And so my point is this: We are all at times taken in by the “engaging” nature of technology. After all, most of us still marvel that a little square or plastic in our pockets can unlock or start our cars. But let’s look at the research and put the hype aside, with a particular focus on how young children learn best. Almost any kindergarten teacher, if allowed to speak candidly, can tell you that human interaction usually works best. 

We are now at a crossroads and I believe we are all smart enough to get the big picture. Technology is great, but great for whom? Is it really great for our youngest and most vulnerable learners, as the current  “teaching and learning” gurus purport?  Or is technology use with our youngest students simply a path to well-lined pockets for those clever firms who have learned how to market it (translation: pick the pockets of the public education coffers)?

Is technology “simply a path to well-lined pockets for those clever firms who have learned how to market it”?

Taxpayers are concerned about the cost of STAT.  With the price tag of a new elementary school hanging in the $53 million range, STAT — at $272 million or more — would build five elementary schools and resolve the overcrowding in the district.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  Let the buyer beware.

Anne Spigelmire Groth  is a recently retired classroom teacher in BCPS, reading and library media specialist, National Board Certification. She blogs at

If you are interested in submitting an op-ed, contact me here

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3 Comments on "Op-ed: Technology is engaging, but is it really teaching kids?"

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Here is another moving essay from a young teacher who is not anti-tech, but who witnessed the results of handing tablets to her third graders.

From the Washington Post.–then-wished-i-could-take-them-back/2015/12/02/a1bc8272-818f-11e5-a7ca-6ab6ec20f839_story.html


Wonderfully written! So thoughtful on the whole issue. I wish a more balanced approach was being taken in our school system. Tech is just a tool. We should all press harder for screen time limits and other well- researched common sense guidelines. These are our children. And this program–at a perennial cost of $63 million a year, mostly just to LEASE throw-away laptops—will collapse under its own costly weight, if the crumbling schools like Landsdowne don’t fall in first.

BCPS parent

Great article! Thank you! 1st-3rd should not have much computer time, in my opinion… and certainly nobody needs their own in any elementary school.