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Technology In our Schools?

Original post made by Concerned Parent, Fairmeadow School, on Aug 10, 2006

In the birthplace of Silicon Valley, what level of technology education do we expect in our public schools?

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Comments (10)

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Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 10, 2006 at 1:38 pm

Video equipment and editing software starting in first grade. Video presentations are in the process becoming a basic career skill.

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Posted by Siona
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 12, 2006 at 10:14 am

I am not a parent. I am not that far out of school myself. Still, I feel compelled to weigh in.

Our children do not need more technology. They need more freedom, and more love. While I think it's important that the younger generations learn to navigate new technologies, I think it's also obvious that from a practical standpoint, our children and teenagers are far more adept than their teachers at adopting and making use of new programs and electronic devices. Children are quick learners; they've caught on to the use of PDAs and online communities like MySpace with a speed we adults can only dream of.

So it's not by training in technology that we can help most, but by allowing them the freedom to be children, and by recognizing their own unique selves. The more testing and institutionally-imposed standards we implement in the school system, the less students are valued for their own personhood and the more they're seen as numbers, as interchangeable cogs performing to keep up to some score. Treating people in such a way is dehumanizing and demoralizing, and demoralized people will so much more readily engage in unethical behavior. The rise of plagiarism over recent years is testament to the fact that this is a very real problem.

I am not suggesting more guidelines for teaching ethical behavior; rather, I am suggesting only that we treat our children as children, and give them the love and freedom they deserve, so that they'll feel supported in exploring their own inherent interest in new tools and technologies. I know this doesn't address the issue specifically raised in the question, but I did want to urge parents to look at the cost of trading recognition, attention, time, and love for technology, computers, and *things.* This is what *I'm* concerned about.

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2006 at 12:36 am

Technology certainly has its place in education, but let's not go overboard in thinking that because our region is so tech-focused that our children's education also needs to be so "tech-centric." Children do not need to be exposed to all of the tools of business so early in life and education. It's far more important that they learn to use their imagination, think logically, reflectively, creatively and critically, learn to get along with others, learn to take risks and deal with failure, have fun, read books, (develop an attention span!), and connect their learning to people and places, not just computers and other gadgets.

I am no technophobe, and I'm not ignorant regarding the skills children may need eventually. But come on - these applications are not so complex and hard to learn, so I don't see the need to start so early. As an elementary school parent, I'd rather see my son encouraged to draw pictures and write and tell stories in school, with little if any need to create something with a computer. He says (for now - just wait a week!) that he wants to build planes and space ships some day, and I can't think of a better starting point than pen and paper, Tinkertoys, Kid K'nex and the like. In his school, I'd be totally comfortable if computers were used only to access and display information, or for interactive math/reading exercises on a limited basis. As a high school teacher, I have plenty of technologically sophisticated students, but when they do projects involving digital video, Flash animation, Power Point, etc., I need to caution them because they frequently spend more time and energy working on form than on content, style over substance. When I've required PowerPoint presentations, I've found that the best final products come from the best thinking. A plain, simple, uncluttered presentation of creative, original, detailed thinking is certainly preferrable to a slick, attractive display of muddled thinking and disjointed information. A student who has thought deeply about the content will figure out how to use the technology effectively, even at a basic level. Students who skimmed through the thinking and preparation are anxious to insert animation, a/v clips, backgrounds and sound effects, but then what? The strong reader and thinker can learn the bells and whistles of an application in a day or a week, but what will it take to get the tech wiz to back away from the keyboard and do some deep reading and thinking?

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 14, 2006 at 9:56 am

So what I'm hearing so far is that the level described above is probably overkill, and not necessary. So the fact that they are already going after the funding to provide this super enriched level of technology is probably a waste, and out of line.

But Secondly, the fact that they plan to provide this level to ONLY 50% of ONE SCHOOL, but severely lower level of technology to the rest of the elementary schools. Does that concern you? The average age of all the classroom computers in the district is older than 4 years old (and some quite a bit older, there hasn't been any district funding for computer refresh for over 5 years..) There is nothing of the sort in terms of Ipods, writing pads, etc., anywhere else. I'm surprised the INEQUITY of this plan isn't raising any questions. It doesn't seem right to me.

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2006 at 6:47 pm

Concerned Parent -
I was commenting on the overall issue. As for the details you provided above, it's not entirely clear what you were quoting, which school or program is involved, and who's funding the grant. However, it doesn't necessarily concern me when some specific programs land a grant to do something innovative. That's the nature of some grants. While I've already offered a general opinion about how essential technology is (or isn't), I hope my comments wouldn't be taken as criticism of any particular grant/program, since I don't know the details. The overall level of technology funding from the district, rather than from grants, would seem to be a separate (but certainly related) issue. I don't know your source for the claim that "there hasn't been any district funding for computer refresh for over 5 years," and I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "refresh." But I'm skeptical about that assertion.

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Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 15, 2006 at 9:34 am

There is a table available on PAUSD’s website under “Technology Plan 2001-2006”.

Web Link

Table on page 43, Appendix D:
Inventory of K-12 computer hardware, Actuals as of March 2002:
(Elementary Schools, in Total)
47% of Student Computers 6+ years old
35% of Student Computers 3-5 years old
18% of Student Computers 0-2 years old

The new Technology Plan will be published in the next several months, but the high level update is that 71% of the classroom computers in the district are 4 years old or older. There has been no district budget for computer replacement since 2000, the funding that has occured has been through PTA and/or PiE funds.

For rough comparison purposes of how well our schools are funding technology without district general funds, as an example, JLS PTA provide $8000 last year to JLS for Technology, and JLS used 5% of their PiE funds toward technology. (I got that through the JLS mailer package.) I don't know the JLS PiE total, but since the Total Secondary PiE funding was about 500K, Paly received $120, I'll take a guess and say JLS received around $100, so about $5-10K in technology funds from PiE - these two sources together provided somewhere around 13K-18K for JLS last year in technology. By comparison the grant proposal I described above is specifically targeting $55,000 PER YEAR for hardware (plus another ~15K or so in software and subscription services), for each of the three years of the grant, to benefit 2-4 new classrooms per year. This program will still have 8 more elementary classrooms to ramp in years 4-7, I have no information about how they will fund the technology budget for those eight classrooms in years 4-7.

It sounds significantly inequitable to me. I'd like to see the district put more emphasis on bringing the whole district up to some minimum standards before they go hog wild on one program. The program is Chinese.

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Posted by julie f.
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 20, 2006 at 10:46 am

where are you getting this information from, and who's doing the grant? Is this a PAUSD-supported grant? If it's planned for a select population, it sounds like a trial, to see how this works before larger implementation-- standard practice, and smarter than "going overboard"-- so I'm not sure what your complaint is.
It is NOT, from the description you provide, "robbing" the other kids-- they will still have the extensive tech training and resources that ALL PAUSD students already have. We're in Silicon Valley for crying out loud-- and the world is progressing faster in tech than anything else-- so it's imperative that students are provided w/tech literacy, just like learning the English language...
Of course students need "Love" and "freedom"-- but those aren't mandates for public schools-- get real! And it's not an either/or-- they CAN get tech training and still get "love"... sheesh!

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Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 21, 2006 at 11:51 am

The point is that our PAUSD students have no where NEAR this level of technology training or equipment. There hasn't been funding in the PAUSD budget to refresh computers for at least 5 years. This program perhaps isn't "robbing" them, but its also not setting equitable standards across the district nor is it accomplishing anything near equitable resource distribution across our schools.

This also is NOT a 'starter' or pilot program. This is the technology budget for a single program that will not spread out to benefit any other programs or students in the district at any point. It's the technology budget submitted BY PAUSD for the Mandarin Immersion grant. Why is our district considering this level of funding for one targeted program, which is so far and above the resource levels available to the rest of the district?

And in another sense, if district resources are being targeted on this program, on working out grant funding, on researching curriculum, technology training, technology installation & maintenance, etc, etc, etc. then these are district resources NOT being spent on solving our district's technology gap and other priority district business. So I'd say, the rest of our district IS being robbed of resources that should be spent on basics.

I couldn't agree more, I echo your comment: "We're in Silicon Valley for crying out loud-- and the world is progressing faster in tech than anything else-- so it's imperative that students are provided w/tech literacy, just like learning the English language..."

So why isn't our district stepping up the plate for all our students on the technology front? How can they justify enriching one small group to this extent before the 'basics' are met?

As an example of the level of technology training our kids are currently receiving (besides the statistic available showing the very old age of the classroom computers..)
Ask your students about what sort of computer/technology trainig they are receiving at school. Here's an actual conversation from a 2006 5th grader, high performer:
Have you ever used Excel? No
What is Powerpoint? Never heard of it.
What programs have you used in the classroom? Yahoo to look stuff up.
How much computer time did you get at school? About an hour a month, maybe not that much.
How many computers were in your classroom? I don't know, 4?
Did you ever print? No
(This 5th grader didn't know how to log on to email, how to write,send or delete email, how to save files, how to open files, how to copy and paste, etc.)

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Posted by Grace Mah
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 23, 2006 at 9:37 am

I don't appreciate your taking the Technology section out of context from the FLAP grant application. Let me quote directly the narrative and budgets

Here is the Technology section in its entirety:

“An important component of any language program, technology will be incorporated in all aspects of the program beginning in kindergarten Mandarin immersion. Besides the low tech audio/video (audio tapes, CDs, videotapes, DVDs), overhead projector activities, students will be introduced to computers, peripherals, and video production in both languages. In individual, paired, and small groups, students will learn the basic fundamentals of word processing for simple activities. They will then learn how to develop more sophisticated documents using graphics, charts, tables, and other visuals to enhance their work. Students in Grade 2 will begin to learn how to use PowerPoint to present information to the class and by Grade 5 students will learn the majority of the applications contained in the Microsoft Office Suite. In communication, students will learn to use email for sending and receiving information and use the Internet for research projects. The use of iPods, language-learning software and electronic writing tablets will also be examined for the program.

Students at the middle and high school levels will have a similar learning experience in technology and will also be trained to use technology in preparation for the AP Chinese Language and Culture tests that are now entirely on-line. This will require that students be equally adept at using computers in both Chinese and English.”

The budget presented in the grant application is the following:

Classroom Computers @ $2,000 x 5 x 2 classrooms
Electronic Notepads @ $400 x 20
Ipods for audio programs @ $300 x 40
Digital camera @ $6,000 (one per classroom)

Chinese Elementary Software Programs @ $300 x 10
Chinese MS and HS Software and on-line subscriptions
High School Textbooks @ $50 x 100 (Level I, II, III))
Middle School Textbooks @ $50 x 50 (Level I)
Elementary Chinese Curriculum Materials @ $40 x 40
DVD and audio materials @$4,000 (one per classroom)
Posters, charts, and other teaching aids (materials)

Also, the typical strategy in grant-writing is to ask for more than you expect to get. :)

From the PAUSD Student Competencies website (goals for student technology proficiency):

Web Link

PAUSD helps students develop the following technology skills:

At the end of Grade 3, students will

· Use basic computer tools and commands (e.g., the mouse and the print command)
· Use simple computer learning applications and CD-ROMs
· Use simple word processing programs (e.g., Writing Center)
· Use simple applications for self-expression (e.g., KidPix)
· Save files to specific locations and retrieve them
· Explore child-friendly sites on the Internet

At the end of Grade 5, students will

· Master basic keyboarding skills
· Write and revise using word processing
· Use production tools to create school assignments (e.g., HyperStudio, PowerPoint)
· Use more advanced simulation programs (e.g., Oregon Trail)
· Use an electric encyclopedia
· Use the electronic card catalog
· Use telecommunications for class projects to communicate with each other, their teachers, and others in and outside PAUSD
· Use child-oriented search engines to do research on the Internet (e.g., Yahooligans)
· Demonstrate responsible use of school technology resources

The level of Mandarin technology training and equipment requested in the grant is comparable to those available for English competency. Most Mandarin software runs on PCs and not Macs. The grant requests funding for Chinese word processors, Chinese version of Microsoft Office Suite, etc. This grant funding covers the additional costs of Mandarin language technology and supplies, while the school district will fund the same basic technology for an MI classroom like any other classroom (i.e. PAUSD already pays to equip a classroom with computers and software for the teacher and students; the grant would fund the extra cost of Mandarin materials)

I took a one-student survey of a graduated 5th grader from a Palo Alto public school and here were his answers to your questions:

Have you ever used Excel? In 6th grade

What is PowerPoint? Used it in 4th and 5th grade

What programs have you used in the classroom? Word in 3rd, Google in 3rd

How much computer time did you get at school? In 3rd, 1hr/wk; in 4th 5hrs/wk, in 5th 5hrs/wk.

How many computers were in your classroom? 3 in 4th, 4-5 in 5th

Did you ever print? In 4th grade


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Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 23, 2006 at 2:52 pm

Lets break this down and compare District Standard to MI:

Hardware Funding:
District: $0 hardware refresh budget (other than what they get from PTAs and PiE) in at least the last 5 years

MI: $55K per year for each of the first three years for hardware only (additional money requested for software, subscriptions, etc).

Basic fundamentals of word processing for simple activities.
district: yes
MI: yes

Learn how to develop more sophisticated documents using graphics, charts, tables, and other visuals to enhance their work.
District: No. Presentations by 5th grade in theory, but not happening in reality. (We disagree on this point)
MI: yes

Students in Grade 2 will begin to learn how to use PowerPoint to present information to the class
District: No. Certainly not by second grade.
MI: Yes

By Grade 5 students will learn the majority of the applications contained in the Microsoft Office Suite.
District: Nope. Word or another word processing app. only
MI: Yes

In communication, students will learn to use email for sending and receiving information and use the Internet for research projects.
District: email, no, internet, yes.
MI: Yes

The use of iPods, language-learning software and electronic writing tablets will also be examined for the program.
District: No
MI: Yes

As we both know, a two person test is not a conclusive sample, but I'd also think it would be hard to ask a kid to separate out what they've learned in school from what they've learned at home. I suspect that many of our kids are getting their technology training at home, not from our public school system... I think it might be interesting to have the teachers let us know what the kids are actually receiving in classroom. By the way, some classrooms have more/better than others depending on school because technology funding isn't standard across the district, its left up to the PTA/PiE funds, and musts be balanced by the site/principal against that schools other pressing needs. In short, no district standards, and certainly not funded to the level as outlined in the MI proposal by any stretch of the imagination.

By the way, the MI proposal as submitted by PACE did not suggest this level of technology would be part of the deal.

This type of technology implies a significant committment on the part of the district for service and support. Will that be another incremental cost also direct funded by the MI program?

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