Raising ‘digital natives’

I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or fate that my educational life and my parenting life crashed into each other at an intersection this week, but it inspired me to write about it.

I’m finishing up a master’s degree in educational administration with a focus in distance learning and technology and as you know, have a son who started kindergarten this year. This past week, we received an email from his teacher about a new math program that the students would be using from home to complete their homework assignments. The program, ST Math, is actually available as an app on the iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android devices.

I wasn’t too aware of my son’s usage of the program already at school, but I mentioned to him that his teacher wanted us to download an app so that he could do his math homework with “Gigi” (the panda who serves as the guide), his eyes lit up and he was immediately VERY excited about being able to do his math homework on a tablet at home.

tabletI set up the app, and was told in the email that he would know the password to login. The password was 8 characters and a combination of pictures, letters, and numbers. I asked him if he knew his password and he assumed control of the tablet and quickly typed in his password. The app was neat. It used “games” for him to do very rudimentary math, progressing through levels, providing fun animation, and most of all, getting him to do his math homework without any sort of complaint. But I also know that’s not at all how I did math homework growing up, and any computer-based games were pretty relegated to Oregon Trail and Touch Typing for Beginners.

For my class, I was assigned a reading called “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” by Marc Prensky. The essence of the article is that there are two types of people that exist in the learning environment today: Digital Natives, or learners who have spent their entire lives surrounded by digital access and technology, and Digital Immigrants, who were not born into this world, but have adopted many of the technologies in our own lives. The fundamental difference being the language these two groups “speak”. Digital Natives know no other language, they don’t know “the old way”, the only know “the new way.” Digital Immigrants, on the other hand, while adapative to this new environment, always retain at least a foot in the past, or what Presnky calls their “accent.”

My son is 5 but knows no other language, and as I hear the debate on Common Core rage on, I’m starting to think that this is the fundamental issue: kids who are digital natives with parents that are digital immigants. Prensky says that Digital Immigrants “typically have very little appreciation for [parallel process, networked learning, instant gratification, etc] that the Natives have acquired and perfected through years of interaction and practice.” Immigrants turn to “My students just don’t ____ like they used to.” or “They have no appreciation for ____.” And the reason they don’t is because THAT language is foreign to them.

Digital Immigrants don’t think that students can learn while watching TV or listening to music because they can’t. Or that learning shouldn’t be fun, varied, or differentiated, because it wasn’t when they were learning.

I probably saddle the divide between Digital Native and Digital Immigrant, but as my son learns, I’m going to try to make a concerted effort not to assume that the way he is learning things is the wrong way, but rather the new way that is best modeled for him, not me.


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