Friday, December 14, 2012

Guest Post: Why Teach Computers in Elementary School?

A reader, MHK, is looking for a public elementary school for her child and reached out with the following guest post:

I'm wondering why there is such a heavy investment in computers and technology in our elementary schools.  I'd love to hear from parents what they want in a computer program within a public elementary school, specifically when computers should be introduced and how should they be used throughout the K-5 experience.

I'm asking this question because I work in technology and can see no reason - academically or socially - why a child would need access to a computer before 4th or 5th grade.  As computers and software become outdated and obsolete so quickly and also require maintenance and training, it seems a better investment would be in teacher's aides, more realized arts and garden programs and physical education.  Children have a lot of screen access time at home and other places so I feel that the focus in school (especially K-3) should be on socialization, fine and gross motor skills, critical thinking, language development, and hand-writing.  It seems like a waste of valuable class time to teach keyboarding to kindergarteners when they are not necessarily proficient readers or writers.  it also seems odd to me to teach children software programs like Excel which are bound to be outdated by the time children hit the job market.  Also, most software programs available to lay people and are not that complex and designed for use by the general population.

I know that my child will be living in a technologically driven world, but I feel that he needs strong math and critical thinking skills to succeed.  As a parent, I would much rather have the PTA spend extra funds on a math specialist or math training for teachers rather than a bunch of iPads.

While I do think there is a place for computers, it seems that it should be really thought out before school outlay a lot of financial resources for their purchase.

My question for touring and current parents:
A)  What elementary schools have well-thought out and integrated computer programs?
B)  What elementary schools wait until 3rd grade or older to introduce computers?
C)  When you are looking at elementary schools, what would you like to see in a computer/technology program?
D)  Would you prioritize a computer program over an additional math specialist at an elementary school and why or why not?

Thanks in advance for your input and ideas.


  1. I agree that a technology program needs to be well thought out. But I do see benefits in a few areas:
    - For practice drills by providing instant feedback and automatically increase or decrease difficulty as needed
    - To teach critical thinking skills - for example spreadsheets can allow comparisons across many dimensions for complex topics
    - For writing - allows ideas to be moved around easily without having to start over again on paper
    - To allow self-paced learning for kids who are ahead or who need reinforcement in an area

  2. I also think it shouldn't be a high priority. I haven't been all that impressed with the computer labs I've seen on tours. I've tended to prefer seeing technology well-integrated within a classroom as opposed to dedicated lab space. In some cases it just seemed like an excuse for the teacher to get a break while the students played on the computers.

    I was on the Alvarado tour this week and walked through their lab where a group of (3rd grade?) students was doing math drills on the computers. The part that bugged me most, however, was that whatever program they were all using included banner ads across the top of the screen. So each kid had a banner ad (Best Buy, etc) emblazoned across the top of their math drills. I thought that was a little odd.

  3. I think focusing on technology just for technology sake is not a high priority. For immersion classes, computer are use for reinforcing the lesson in the class and just having more exposure to the language that one might not get in the classroom. Some computer program helps develop skills like stroke order, pronunciation and situation usage of word conjunctions. Computer are so pervasive that kids might not think of them as computers but just another learning aid like flashcard or ruler.

  4. ASSUMPTION WARNING - "Children have a lot of screen access time at home"

    I can think of only a handful of kids that have access to a computer in my kids' classes. At least 50% of the kids here in San Francisco live in homes where the parents struggle to provide for the basic needs of food and shelter. New computers cost a few hundred dollars, which isn't much to a middle class family, but for families stuggling with poverty that is more than many families can afford. Internet access at home costs money too.

    By first grade, my daughter was using the computer to look up books for research projects (library skills are all on computer now), to get ideas for crafts and science projects (differentiation), to research maps (curriculum), and looking up pictures related to her various projects. In third grade, she's also using the computer for writing (so much easier than handwriting 5 page papers!) and additional research as well as for checking out current events.

    Furthermore, "beginning in 2014-15 students will use computers to take tests designed to measure their performance on the Common Core standards that California adopted two years ago. The new tests will involve watching videos, using cursors to draw or move items and writing reports after doing research online." (read more here: FYI - Testing starts in 2nd grade.

    Anyway - if you are vehemently opposed to computers at this age, there's always Waldorf schools!

    1. My interpretation of the prior post was that "screen time at home" incorporated television, as well. I don't think there's much dispute that children across the social spectrum generally have ample screen time at home in this country.

  5. i agree with 11:58, at our school i would estimate at least half of our K class (maybe more) does not have a computer/laptop/ipad at home. our school also just got a new computer lab and i am guessing it is to help the kids who do not have technology at home.
    if all kids had the same access, then i would agree that it is not very helpful. also in this context i inferred screen time means computer time.

  6. Hi, I'm the original poster. Just to clarify, when I said "screen time" I did mean any time in front of any screen - television, computer, smartphone, hand-held gaming device. I lump them together because what were formerly distinct mediums- books, television, radio, magazines, games - have all collapsed into a screen medium. I realize that access to computers is important. My main question is at what age and for what purpose. What are the best models that people have seen implemented and where?

  7. I have a K student & agree w / 8:19, 11:58, 3:52
    - we have an iPad & computers at home but not true for most classmates. We don't have enough edu games either at home, - & the self - pacing of the school computers is great for teachers (our school uses Starfall & ixl games/pretty standard from my limited understanding). I'm impressed w/thetotter poster's 1st grader who is already using the computer to research - clearly we're behind ;)
    All in all, I like the weekly computer-lab visit my son gets in K, & especially if the testing is moving online- so should the students be comfortable with that medium.

  8. When I toured schools, the publics all touted their wonderful computer labs, used from K on up. The privates all said that they held back on computer instruction till grades 3 or 4, because computers are not developmentally appropriate for the way children learn (not because kids may or may not have computers at home). Even keyboarding is not appropriate until a child can hand-write, because the muscle-memory for writing is part of how phonetics, spelling, and even grammar get "anchored" in the brain. That's why tracing letters in the air, or writing them in sand, works better than flashcards for teaching the ABC.

  9. Yes, most privates I toured held back on computers until 3rd grade, when children could read and write.

  10. YES the basics come first!!!!!!
    They need to know how to read,write,spell and count!!!!!!!
    Spellcheck and calculators come second