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Debate #3- Do We Still Need to Teach Skills That Can Be Done at the Touch of a Button?

Remember when teachers used to say ” You need to memorize your 12×12 multiplication table because you won’t always have a calculator in your pocket!” If only they knew then what we know now. We carry a small device that can pretty much answer any question we have. Why should we spend time teaching writing, spelling, and math memorization when we have computers to type, spell checkers for writing, and calculators for basic math? Of course, technology comes in handy at school, in the workplace and in our daily life when it comes to these skills. However, there are many reasons why we still need to teach skills that could be done with technology.

Agree: We should not keep teaching skills that can easily be carried out by technology

The agree side had some interesting points that I never reflected on before! Here are some discussions that stood out to me during the debate.

1.Technology removes medial tasks so that there is more time to learn meaningful skills- Forbes has a great article on how the education system needs to reinvent the wheel and integrate important skills like critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, curiosity, and imagination. Why are we spending so much time making students memorize the multiplication table when we could be teaching them skills that are useful for them in the future? Tony Wagner says: “Today knowledge is ubiquitous, constantly changing, growing exponentially… Today knowledge is free. It’s like air, it’s like water. It’s become a commodity… There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.”

2.Technology creates inclusion for those with learning disabilities and decreases lack of motivation- Many students have difficulties with tasks like spelling, penmanship, and memorization. It can be difficult for them to feel comfortable learning in an environment where they feel excluded and below their peers. Having students use calculators, spell checkers or typing allows them to stay motivated and finish their work. The Edmonton Journal has an article on mathematics and how educators are saying that: “Drilling students on basic math facts and the memorization of assigned algorithms for the past several decades has overwhelmingly killed interest in mathematics”.

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3. Technology changes teacher time so there’s more room for meaningful feedback- The agree side spoke about how us as eductors use technology to get rid of those medial tasks just like our students would if we stopped teaching tasks that could be done with technology. For example, we could have tests that are easily corrected with technology, marks being inputted online that are averaged for us automatically, and even easier and quicker communication with families. This would allow for teachers to have time for more authentic feedback when it really matters.

4. Technology is already essential in society– Technology is an asset and it will always be around. It’s convenient and hassle-free ( most of the time). Why aren’t we using it more? Leah and Sushmeet linked an article by Mason et al. on how schools needs to start moving forward and shift their pedagogy with the digital age: ” As society evolves, the set or sets of knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and competencies that are expected to acquire by individuals will change as well. Educational institutions and educators, accordingly, need to make adaptions in terms of what should be taught and how it is going to be taught.”

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Disagree-We should keep teaching skills that can easily be carried out by technology

Sometimes it can be difficult for kids to understand why teachers make them learn grammar, learn their multiplication table, and practice their penmanship. We have to think about where our society sits with technology today and how these skills are still essential for computation, problem solving, and understanding. Here is what I took in from this side!

1. Technology isn’t always reliable– I really liked Dalton’s comment about self-driving cars. If we have cars that can drive themselves, do we still need to learn how to drive? Yes! What happens when technology fails? Last week, I had to write my sub plan with pen and paper because technology failed us. That was difficult! My penmanship was messy and it took me so long to write it out. The disagree team explained that we aren’t there yet with tech. We still need to learn how to write, spell and multiply without technology. ( Apparently they said the same thing when typewriters were new! Does anyone even use those anymore??)

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2. Some skills are still needed in society– Yes, we use debit cards, credit cards, and emails in society, but a lot is still done without tech. We sign papers, write out our personal information at the doctor’s office. and need to know how to spell to get a job. Imagine having to take your phone out at the grocery store to figure out the cost. Waste of time! Paul Bennett explains how there’s a widening gap in math if students don’t learn basic computation skills. “Students don’t have the skills at hand to engage in problem-solving and higher-level math”. Imagine being an adult and not knowing how to estimate your grocery bill?

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3. The Digital Divide– We have to keep in mind that not everyone has access to technology. If we are teaching students to only learn basic skills using technology, what happens when the gap widens because of this? What happens when these young kids who didn’t have the chance to spell, write, or learn basic addition, have to face the real world without technology? What happens when they bring homework home and cannot complete it without access to a device or even a calculator? It put those who are down even more far away from opportunities than before.

4. Learning these skills increases other areas we need to be successful– It’s important to note that learning how to multiply increases computation skills. Learning how to spell allows for a better understanding of the language we use to speak, write, and read daily. Memorizing and writing using penmanship gives us the ability to process information better. Edutopia explains that: “teaching handwriting improves students’ composition, reading comprehension, brain function, and motor skills,” and that students who take notes by hand instead of on a laptop process the information better”. Young children need to be writing to improve motor skills. There are reasons why we still teach these skills at school.

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Final Thoughts

At the beginning of this debate, I was on the disagree side and at the end of it, I still am on the same side. Alyssa pointed out the importance of using technology with a good balance. Yes, you can use technology to enhance learning, but you can;t forget about those essential skills. Especially with the past few weeks of having almost no access to technology or the internet, I’m thankful that my students and I were still able to teach and learn and with a few minor inconveniences. Of course, technology is helpful, convenient and great for those who really benefit from it. But we should still be teaching our students basic skills they need for their future.

Thanks for reading!

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4 thoughts on “Debate #3- Do We Still Need to Teach Skills That Can Be Done at the Touch of a Button?

  1. First of all, thanks so much for choosing the ‘read more’ theme or thanks to your theme if it automatically does it. It is so helpful on the main EC&I page to find the different blog posts.

    Anyways, you did a really good job summarizing the points. The Regina Public Schools situation was helpful for our debate this week, as it really drove home the fact that people still need to be able to work, learn, etc. in society without the reliance on technology (especially in an event such as the one we are experiencing now). But could you imagine if the kiddos didn’t have the basic skills, and the technology was down, how would we continue to teach, and how would the kiddos continue to learn?

    Again, you did such a great job with your summary as always!

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  2. I think your point from the Edmonton Journal regarding drill and pracitce is a particular sore spot for us math teachers. Most students do not see mathematics as a science with its own mysteries and unanswered questions. I have even heard teachers refer to it as a subject that has “right answers.” This perception has led to endless repetition of skills with little to no application. Students end up hating a subject that has so much bearing on their day to day lives. As noted in your summary we have endless access to information and yet we still teach math as drill and practice. It is unfortunate.

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  3. Great post, Megan. I appreciate your elaboration on point 3. How technology changes teacher time so there’s more room for meaningful feedback. I had a bit of a disconnect from this point when writing my own blog, but it is as you said: “We could have tests that are easily corrected with technology….This would allow for teachers to have time for more authentic feedback when it really matters.” Makes more sense to me now. I was team agree when we started, and shifted over to disagree by the end. Great points on both sides!

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  4. Thanks for your detailed post. While I did agree with points made on both sides, I too found myself on the disagree side of this. I do think that with new tech, our expectations can and should change, for example, I think the less time is required on memorizing facts and times tables up to 12×12. However, I just can’t agree that we should eliminate these tasks completely. I think that as long as we have a mix of physical and digital tools, then students need to learn the basics. I think the disagree side made an especially good point when they said that students need to understand the why, the process, and they need to work through learning with trial and error.
    We’ll see…maybe 50 years from now, people will use our opinions as statements that didn’t age well…but until then, I stand by it!

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