The Whole Story

Once again, Matt Richtel of the New York Times has penned a one-sided article about technology in schools. What is his problem?

This time, he’s accusing Apple execs of influencing school decision makers. It’s true – Apple does pay for trips for teachers, superintendents, tech folks. Not being in the education field I can’t comment on what textbooks publishers, furniture suppliers, etc., do. Is this right? Not if it unjustly influences the decision and causes them to buy an inferior product.

But, really, what else is there to buy right now besides Apple? In a few years, it’ll be something else, but why would you go with another product?

My biggest beef with this article, however, is that it focuses on the Little Falls district implying that the decision makers were “bought out” by Apple executives. There is no mention of any pedagogy, teaching, or any other rationale for the purchases except for the trips from Apple.

Last spring, I had the good fortune of spending a few days talking to the staff, teachers, superintendent, school board, and yes, students in the Little Falls district.  For one session, there were Apple reps there. But they said only a few words at the beginning. It was the teachers and the students who won me over.

One of the teachers pictured in the NYT article, Shawn Aholm, talked to us. He is a 5th grade teacher who piloted iPads in his classroom last year. Not once did he mention being wined and dined by Apple. Nope, he talked the students. He talked about what he and his students did during the year. He talked about engagement – excited students who were learning, sharing, collaborating. He talked about how much he learned from the students. He talked about how empowered the students were to take charge of their learning.

His students came in to talk to us. It was no big deal to them. They zipped around the iPads, showing us how they used Google Earth, how they wrote assignments and saved them to their folder (Google Docs, I believe). They showed us a tool they use for spelling, games they are allowed to play when they are done with their assignments, books they read on iBooks. They were so excited by looking up vocabulary words, taking notes in the margins, and sharing those notes.  They taught me quite a bit.

The entire district has made a paradigm shift. Curt Tryggestad, superintendent, talked about why they’ve made this shift. It had nothing to do with dinners and trips. It had everything to do with preparing students for the future and taking responsibility for teaching students to deal with this fast-changing world.

I told Mr. Tryggestad that I wished my kids could attend school in Little Falls. Take that, Mr. Richtel.