Machine vs. Man?

In March 2020, the world changed. Schools flipped from in-person schooling to virtual schooling, almost overnight. The federal government gave schools a mountain of money to bolster student learning and fill gaps. With high hopes, school districts spent the millions on technology and learning platforms.

Fast forward to fall 2021, Ed Week and other sources report that many students who learned in full-time virtual or in hybrid programs failed to make progress during the 2020-2021 school year, despite the funds spent on instructional technology. Schools can clearly see that technology solutions didn’t turn out to be actual solutions and they plan to use significantly less technology in instruction after the pandemic than they previously did. (The Clayton Christensen Institute’s Fall Fact Sheet, pg. 12.)

We have all witnessed the growth in toxic online culture. We know that effective digital communication between adults is extremely difficult. Add in the immaturity of children, and it stands to reason that it’s virtually impossible to build a positive classroom culture and create relationships when the primary means of communication is digital. In short, technology as teacher wasn’t, and isn’t, the cure-all for learning. And technology as an instructional strategy needs to be used strategically in order to be effective.    

To fill the gaps created by COVID and mitigate its social-emotional ramifications, schools must return to instruction that creates the opportunity for students to talk and learn with each other. Teachers need to have small group conversations with students. Because technology can’t sleuth out the misinformation behind a learning gap, teachers need to ask questions, watch students work, see what they write, and hear their explanations. They need to be able to answer their students questions and read their students’ faces during the explanation. Students need to speak and hear academic language. They need to remember how to work with each other, ask their table partners questions, formulate responses, and ask teachers for help. Students need to see their teachers’ smiles and hear their laughter.

The activities in TeachTransform’ K-8 instructional materials are about building classroom relationships and culture WHILE doing deep mathematics. They are specifically designed for students to learn alongside each other with the guidance of their teachers. According to a Texas 4th grader, the math stories make children “want to keep reading”. Another said, “It requires thinking, and we can do it!” Teachers don’t need to figure out how to make the activities interactive; they have built in engagement and authentic learning. Technology certainly has its place when use strategically. But it can never replace the interaction of classroom instruction.