Town Square

Teaching technology in PA schools

Original post made by Carol on Aug 30, 2006

Now that school is back in and we can talk to our teachers, let's find out exactly who is teaching our children what. I have 4 children, one just graduated Paly, one entering Paly, one entering JLS and one in 3rd grade. Over the past few years I have been told by elementary teachers that they don't teach computer skills because middle school does it so well, and middle school teachers tell me that basic skills should be taught in elementary school and if my kids don't know how to type or present their homework in a technological manner, then I should buy a program and teach it myself. Firstly, I am not that computer literate myself to know how to do it and secondly, it is not my job to prepare them for doing things the way the school expects. Also, knowing my kids, if I tell them to do something that isn't homework or told to do by the teacher, then they just aren't going to do what they think of as school work for me.

PAUSD must get a technology curriculum and decide what each grade level should know and who is expected to teach what. At present, some elementary schools are doing a reasonably good job and improving, while others are still in cloud cuckoo land about the whole thing. When I see stuff written in PAUSD literature, it tells me about funding and equipment. I don't get much of that stuff. What I understand is what is my child going to learn this year, what is he/she expected to know already, and how can I help them.

Yes, this is silicon valley and as parents most of us are aware of what technology is and how it can help in today's world. But, our children still need to be taught IT skills and a standard should be agreed on. True, I do not want my third grader to have full access to the internet and to type before he can write cursive, but I do want my 6th grader to be at the same level as his new classmates from different schools and not to feel left out if he is unable to type his homework and do presentations. My daughter managed to teach herself a lot of this stuff and she is now in college, but as for my present 9th grader, what he knows is still a mystery to me and probably to him. I do not want my younger children to be in the same boat.

So wake up PAUSD and get an IT curriculum, schedule, and tell us what it is.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Aug 30, 2006 at 5:04 pm

how many kids 5 years old or over are gamers? almost 100%!

Do you REALLY think that your kids need to be 'taught' to use a computer? This is silly, and naive. In fairness, maybe it's because you aren't a technology user.

I once asked a college class of mine how many of them had been taught to use a computer. Answer: none, they all taught themselves.

I suggest you let the teachers teach, and marvel at the excellence of teaching in Palo Alto, one of the top districts in the entire nation. Beleive me, your kids will get more technology exposure than you can imagine. Start with their cell phones, which are essentially mobile computers.

Posted by Leslie, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 30, 2006 at 5:15 pm

I too have kids in the PAUSD (JLS and Gunn). It would not occur to me that it was the school's responsiblity to teach them the very basic computer skills needed in elementary classes. I want the teachers to teach the core subjects. JLS offers a keyboarding class that can be taken as an elective and is wholly adequate. The keyboarding skills that are required in elementary school, are well, elementary. I would be appalled if an elementary school teacher was taking valuable class time teaching the very rudimentary computer skills that are needed at this level. I have had three kids at Palo Verde, Fairmeadow and Ohlone so I do have some experience in this.

It sounds to me like you need to step up and spend the time to give your kids some basic skills. Yes, this may require that you learn new skills as well. The world is changing, the skils that your parents needed to help you are different from the ones that you need to help your kids.

Posted by Carol, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 31, 2006 at 9:03 am

I think this is just parents assumptions. Have you actually asked a 6th grader what he/she thinks. JLS principal at the time, was asked by elementary site council what computer requirements at the end of the 05 school year for IT skills for 6th grade requirements were. His answer after speaking with 6th grade core teachers was that keyboard skills and the ability to use power point for a simple in class presentation. This certainly was not taught in 5th grade and I am not sure how many kids can pick this up on their own. I know that most of the kids can play games, use the internet to find sports scores, movie times and get their own MySpace page, but how many of them know power point? Yes they do have their own mobile phones, but they do not teach them what a teacher can. Yes, we do need to have a standard throughout our schools. The transition to middle school is hard enough without an inbalance in technology skills. When one child makes a video presentation for a book report and the next child has a fabulous power point presentation (which usually has to be done with school equipment as most of us do not have powerpoint at home), then a child who is unable to do so and too shy to ask for help (I know because I have a 9th grader who is one), how are they actually going to learn. I am not talking about wheel, and I am not talking about keyboarding classes as an elective (they are often too little,too late), I am talking about equal advantages for all.

Asking college kids, or even high school seniors, how they learnt is not the point. We should be moving forward the way technology is moving forward. What happened 5 years ago should not be the standard for what is happening today in this fast moving world.

Posted by Leslie, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 31, 2006 at 11:43 am

Step up and take responsiblity.

Get the training that you need to help your kids. I do not want my child's education watered down because you do not have the skills to help your kids.

Posted by J.L, a resident of Ventura
on Aug 31, 2006 at 1:30 pm

There are EXCELLENT keyboarding software packages, some available for free. If your kid has access to a computer, buy the software (it's cheap)

Incidentally, there is good evidence to show that technology can seriously HINDER pedagogy in the classroom. Teachers here are expert and professional in what they do. Trust that.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Aug 31, 2006 at 1:58 pm

If there is a basic level of requirement, all students should be afforded that basic training - it doesn't need to 'take time away' from anything. It can be integrated into the science, english social studies, curriculum.

Learning to make a presentation in powerpoint, and practical use of spreadsheets and graphing, are specific skills that needs to be taught if you expect to grow that skill by the 5th grade.. I think its arrogant of these responders to assume that every parent has the same level of resources and background to get their kids to the basic level (whatever that basic level is). The district should have a STRATEGY for defining the basic level, and a clear definition of what will be taught in school vs what is expected at home. The district needs to define the strategy.

In the meantime "every man for himself, survivial of the fittest? (or should we say "Survivial of the Richest"?) Business as usual in PAUSD.

And by the way, if you are on the side of school district shouldn't be spending classroom time and district resources on technology training, then you'll be against the extremely rich $55,000 per year they are requesting for hardware (plus another $13,000 per year for software) for the Mandarin Immersion program ~only~. That's money that will only show up in the elementary classrooms of 240 kids in the program. And will continue every year until all those classrooms are fully outfitted (and then seven years later, I guess they'll have to start over again to refresh obsolete hardware, etc..)

So talk about disparity of access to learning, you'll have two classrooms of SECOND graders learning to do powerpoint presentations and graphs on spreadsheet, and the other two classrooms of second graders IN THE SAME SCHOOL with none.

Last time I checked, we are still a public school district, maybe I missed school the day they decided to sell off big chunks of the district to the highest bidder.

Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Aug 31, 2006 at 6:03 pm

Technology IS integrated into the curriculum. Go ask. It may not be the technology you want,but that's the way it goes. Just like when you go to the hospital and they don't have the latest X-ray machine, As long as it does the job, right?

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 31, 2006 at 9:16 pm

I don't have to ask, I've seen it first hand for 6 years running, live and in person.

Its more like when you go to the hospital, and find they have no xray machines but they have a stethiscope and a big silver circle on their head. So out of date, its worthless.

If you happen to have a kid in a classroom with decent computers, you're lucky because its completely random. Entirely funded by PTA efforts and PiE allocations, IF the principal at the school figures he can do with instructional aids that year.

They need a strategy that informs us all on the what exactly the basic minimum standards will be. If they have minimum standards, then they need to fund it, and distribute it equally. If its ZERO minimum standards, then they certainly can't expect kids to show up in JLS with powerpoint experience.

Its not that hard, they just need to look at top school districts around the country and see what the minimum standards are. I'm guessing its more than zip.

Posted by Step up, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2006 at 12:20 am

Dear Concerned,

If you are really so concerned, have you brought this up with the Fairmeadow principal? Ranting on this forum is much more productive if you've tried to do something.

If you have done something, what were the results? Should the principal be put on notice? Did you escalate to the school board or the district staff?

You're good at stirring up emotional arguments, but where's the action?

Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Sep 1, 2006 at 1:22 am

Concerned, you "don't have to ask"? Why not? I'm with Step Up here. You're making claims about something that you appear to have many unfounded assumptions about. Also, I think you need to do some homework on what overhyping and selling of technology in the classroom can do to HINDER early education. There's a balance to be struck; I have yet to hear an otucry about how PAUSD is behind in technology education.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 1, 2006 at 7:59 am

Perhaps you're misunderstanding exactly what I'm asking for.

I'm asking for a policy statement - not a specific level of technology.

I'm asking for consistency. If they say zero, (or whatever, I don't even really care what they come back in the policy), then fine. Same for everyone.

I expect equitable funding to reach that consistent standard level. I certainly don't expect them to fund some classrooms wildly while others are eating scraps.

Posted by Step up, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2006 at 8:10 am

Look at the other posting in Palo Alto Schools and Kids. There is a policy statement. If your problem is that Fairmeadow doesn't meet these goals, talk to the principal (or teachers first) about the school's adherence to these goals. Then, you could ask the principal about the consistency with other schools, or ask the district.

Do something instead of complain.

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

Too bad your energy is not being constructively directed.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 1, 2006 at 8:16 am

I don't have to ask because I already have...
I've read the PAUSD Technology policy statement online
I've talked to the PAUSD Technology director
I attend the board meetings
I have 2 children in Palo Alto schools
I have read the Mandarin Immersion Flap Grant
I have read the Supertintendents State of the District message
I have talked many parents and teachers who are passionate on the district issues

Posted by concerned outsider, a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2006 at 8:16 am

In response to JL "marvel at the excellence of teaching in Palo Alto, one of the top districts in the entire nation." As someone who is very familiar with PA as well as the Sequoia school districts and have since moved out of state, I would be looking a lot closer at the PA's curriculum especially being one of the "top" schools in Silicon Valley. My son's public school offers an Engineering track starting in the 9th grade. He will take Intro to Engineering Design, Digital Electronics, Principles of Engineering, Computer Integrated Manufacturing Systems, and Engineering Design Development by the time he finishes high school. This is in conjunction with over 25 AP offerings and a health science track for those interested in bio/medical field. They offer five languages with Manderin offered three years ago. Now wouldn't you think this would be offered in the prestiges Silicon Valley.

Every child in the district receives computer skills at the elementary and middle school level, so they are well prepared for high school.

Oh by the way, I moved to a state in the south. Are your schools really competitive and preparing your children? Or are you having to supplement the school system after paying high taxes on a very expensive home.

Posted by Carol, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 1, 2006 at 8:59 am

Now I think we are really talking and discussing this issue.

As a Palo Verde parent, I felt I was getting nowhere by talking to teachers or principals. Instead I got the whole subject raised at a site council meeting and that seemed to get things moving. The site council contacted JLS requesting their requirements and it was discovered that Palo Verde's standards were too low. As a result, the difference in how 5th graders are prepared is amazing. This is not taking time away from teaching core subjects as it goes along hand in glove with what is already being taught. Yes, most of us have the ability to teach our children how to present their homework in a printed or high tech format, but why should we? We can volunteer in the classrooms and help the whole class or grade level, that would be much more helpful to the class as a whole. What needs to be decided on is where this stuff should be taught and make sure that each student is getting the same level of knowledge as his peers in a different elementary school. This means that when a child from Fairmeadeow and a child from Palo Verde sit side by side in JLS, or wherever, they are at the same starting point.

My 6th grade son has already presented homework in a video presentation and a power point presentation in 5th grade. The first he did by himself (with a little help from his high school sister, and the second as a solo class project with help from his teacher in the classroom after school). This can only be to his advantage as he starts in middle school. Unfortunately, I am also worried about those who sit in his class now and have never even seen this happen in their elementary school classrooms.

This is why we need district wide standards. It is a policy decision and not a school by school decision. We in California (or Silicon Valley), should be in the forefront of this change in education media not lagging behind as at present. I know many districts over the country in less affluent regions who look on technology as investing in the future of their population and put priority funding into this investment. At present what we are doing is tame in comparison.

Posted by Step up, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2006 at 9:56 am

So, I ask again:

Have you brought this up with the Fairmeadow principal?

If you have done something, what were the results?

Should the principal be put on notice?

Did you escalate to the school board or the district staff?

What was the response when you talked to the PAUSD Technology director?

Posted by Step up, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2006 at 10:02 am

Thank you, Carol, for taking initiative, getting something done, and sharing your best practice with everyone here.

Concerned, are you going to follow up with the Fairmeadow site council?

Posted by John D., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 1, 2006 at 6:37 pm

Web Link

Here's some good advice that somewhat resonates. Keep in mind that teachers cannot just plop things into the curriculum, AND that along with any technology program plan that teachers need to receive SUFFICIENT traning, and SUFFICIENT support - including support from parents.

Also, there are just so many hours in a classroom day. What trade-offs are parents willing to make inorder to have a student trained to create Powerpoints? You'd better think about this, because it's a classroom reality.

Are you willing to keep digital technology CURRENT? If so, where does the money for that come from?

PAUSD is already doing a marvelous job in educating its students (some would say it's too pressure-laden; I somewhat agree), but a comparison of PAUSD students with almost ANY other schools district in America will almost ALWAYS result in preference for the PAUSD student. If you don't believe me, just go ask admission counselors at the top 15 schools in our country (I have).

Last, there is too much trpidation based on ignorance as regards technology in general, and its application to education, in particular.

I can quote chapter and verse on people I've hired who can whiz around an Excell spreadsheet, or whip up a dynamic Powerpoint in 10 minutes. But can they THINK? can they discriminate nuance in a subtle argument? if they're graphic artists can they draw freehand? (most can't, a major failing in most high schopols and colleges that are "leading edge" in digital technology for artists) can they spell? do they present themselves well? are they curious? do they have a sense of perspective about life (even thoughg a young perspective)? can they laugh at themselves? have they had a LOT of collaborative experience? do they solve problems well in a group? do they have good research skills OUTSIDE of google? do they comprehend dispatate ideas, and kow how to compare and process them in parallel? do they learn from their own mistakes? are their indiction and deductive skills intact? do they moderate personal judgement of others through appropriate filtering (for cognitive distortion)? do they comport themselves well, physically? do they have passable table manners?
etc. etc. etc.

Last, I want someone to show me even a group of students, 8 years or older, who with even MINOR motivation, wants to learn how to make a powerpoint presentation, keyboard, make a Quicktime movie, take and upload a digital photograph, or any one of two dozen more things that have to do with computers who CAN'T learn how do do so on her own in less than ONE DAY. I want someone to show me that, here, in Palo Alto. or forthat matter almost ANYWHERE.

If your kid is using a cell phone, she already has one of the more difficult digital devices to use, and figure out. The negative hype about "too little technology in the classroom" has only a tiny germ of truth in it, and is exploded into an issue of significance (liek on this thread) only by those who have little confidence in their own knowledge of technology, or an inaccurate view about how FAR more important the other cognitive skilss listed above play in the success of one's existance in the workplace.

Posted by Laura, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 3, 2006 at 12:34 pm

Here, here, John D. I couldn't have said it better myself. It makes no sense to train kids to create PowerPoint presentations--instead teach them to read, write, and THINK! When I hire people, that's what I'm looking for. I've watched my own kids make beautiful Ppt. presentations for teachers who've spoon-fed them the info they want to see presented. No thought involved. It's maddening.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 3, 2006 at 8:07 pm

I'm against a school by school approach. Because then each principal is left making tradeoffs between technology funding and funding other high priority needs (such as a science teacher at Fairmeadow, which I understand not all elementary's have.) So you might be at a school that has plenty of technology but getting shortchanged on Science... I guess its all about a roll of the dice? I reiterate that I believe its the responsibility of the board and district to set standaridized curriculum (science, technology, math, etc) and then fund it equitably for all students. Make the tradeoffs at the policy level. Because otherwise some schools through private donations get all the bells and whistles, and some schools can only afford a slice. Its inequitable, and its wrong. (Especially when I hear that JLS requires a certain level of proficiency, how can they expect that at the middle school level? I honestly don't understand, whith the disparity of resourcing technology in the elementary schools. Its like the twighlight zone around here.

Posted by Step up, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2006 at 10:35 pm

So, Concerned, are you going to ask the board and district these things? Or just rant on-line? Are you willing to trade Fairmeadow's science teacher for more technology? Going to talk to the principal or site council? What is your action plan?

Posted by John D., a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 3, 2006 at 11:40 pm

Concerned, you're making assumptions based on a personal fantasy (said with respect). School districts are not lock step in the deployment of perfectly equal exposure of specific curriculum components from school to school. Technology aside, almost every school in Palo Alto is known for quantitative and qualitative excellence in MOST disciplines, as well as having distinctive, intangible and intangible, differences that are held as a good thing. Diversity among excellent institutions within an overall excellent system is a good thing.

You're making a mountain out of a molehill, and suggesting policy that would iron out POSITIVE diversity of curriculum in education within the district - not a good thing. I'm afraid you are not seeing the whole picture, whcih is often the case with parents who have a "pet project" of pet criticism" of the school system.

If you're so sure of yuor position, and it's so obviously a problem, thebn you should be able to sally support for it.

Might I suggest you take Step Up's advice, and step up. Otherwise, go learn something about computing and take some personal responsibility for having skills and an attitude that youur kids can model.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Sep 5, 2006 at 10:16 pm

Yes,I have been attending all the board meetings for quite some time, and speak my concerns. I am glad to report that at the 9/27 working session Mandy Lowell (finally) asked that the feasibility study report on parity of the proposed program relative to the rest of the district programs, and particularly mentioned technology as an example. I am satisfied that this is a reasonble question and has gotten in the ear of reasonable school board members. Thanks for your advice though. Step up. Very well put.