Why Our Kids Better Learn to Use Technology Productively

If last week’s release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, told us anything, it’s high time to shift our kids’ technology use away from shooting virtual aliens and making status updates to using technologies that will help them one day land a job.

The latest version of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (using 2011 test results) found that two-thirds of 8th grade students scored below “proficient” in the sciences. While minute gains were made since a similar assessment in 2009, Gerry Wheeler, interim head of the National Science Teachers Association said, “This is dreadful. We’ve got a situation where we haven’t done much different in the last decade and we keep expecting different results.”

The 2010 Harvard Study, “U.S. Math Performance in Global Perspective,” also revealed how much farther American kids must go if they are to compete in this global economy. American teens ranked a dismal 31st in math and 16th in science as compared to their international peers.

American kids are clearly struggling in the math and sciences they need to compete in this digital age. While it’s vital that we redouble our efforts to adequately fund schools, such efforts are unlikely to succeed unless we can refocus our kids’ use of technology so that it helps—not hurts—their academic performance.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, today’s children (ages 8 to 18) multitask between entertainment screen media—including video games, social networks, and online videos—for an unbelievable 7 ½ hours per day. Such fun-based technologies displace our kids’ focus on homework and the productive use of technology. In fact today’s kids spend a measly sixteen minutes per day using the computer at home to study for school.

Understandably, today’s parents want to put technology in the hands of their kids in order to prepare them for a digital future. However, as a society, we have done our kids a tremendous disservice by allowing them to believe that texting, gaming and social networking is equivalent to acquiring programming skills or other learning-based technologies. In fact, as they raised their own children, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda set strict limits on the use of entertainment technologies.

Research shows that teens who have a strong bond with their parents are more likely to use technology for learning purposes. We therefore need to maintain a close relationship with our kids and encourage them to use computers in common areas rather than let them live out their lives online in their bedrooms.

We also need to build our children’s self-control, as research shows this skill helps prevent obsessive use of the Internet and video games. Inspiring kids’ intrinsic motivation to learn is a key element to increasing their ability to focus amidst a cacophony of digital distractions. We will therefore serve our children well by taking them to science and technology museums, helping them on science projects, or enrolling them in science and math camps that will awaken their desire to learn and allow them to compete with the world’s best.

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