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Computers Not Working In Education 488

salimfadhley writes "BBC Radio 4's current affairs program 'Analysis' is reporting [realaudio] [txt transcript] on emerging evidence that computers have harmed, rather than helped educational progress. There is still much debate among even the most enthusiastic supporters of schools technology about how computers should best be used. Despite record investment in computers in the USA and UK, recent studies (not the ones funded by educational software companies) have shown a significant drop in core subjects (Math, English) in schools that place strong emphasis on Information Technology. Evidence also suggests that whilst information technology has great potential in the classroom, teachers have not yet found better use for computers than as a big library. Very few schools have been able to use the new technology for cultural exchange, or to build practical educational networks with other schools. Teachers do not know whether computers should be seen as an exciting but peripheral educational 'accessory', or if computers can actually be used to solve the most pressing problems of literacy and numeracy - the sorts of things that get kids through exams." The Economist had a similar article a month or two back, about Israeli schools that had similar results, along with an interesting comparison between how people see computers now, and how people in the early 20th century saw film strips in the classroom.
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Computers Not Working In Education

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  • Just look at the post...
    • by registered_user ( 463604 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:45AM (#4981543) Homepage Journal
      I hope that spellcheck is comming soon to slashdot. :)

      Seriously though, I think that in the 80s a huge importance was placed upon computer education. The common notion was that everyone will need to know how to operate a computer later in life.

      Well, they were partially right. Everyone should know how to operate a computer, but for practical purposes in High School education, that's a 2 hour class with perhaps a semester course in typing.

      A computer will do much of the work for you. It will do your math, check your grammar, and allow you to do research from your home. The problems here are obvious. There is little need to do things for yourself. I've found that most children do not have the discipline to willingly learn advanced math and grammar on their own. The problem is two-fold here though because many parents don't have the discipline to discipline their kids.

      As for research, I'll be quite blunt. The net is a poor tool for younger students. There is too much opinion and just plain bull shit on the web to be of great use. It takes a more seasoned approach and a level head to be able to filter out the crap, and I don't think the majority of high school kids benefit by using it to do their research work.

      It's not a one-size fits all situation however, and it's difficult to administer a solution. If I were in charge though, I'd have one guideline: If your kid has ADD or some other modern learning disability that requires he get special attention in school, his computer access should be limited. Afterall, the kid's problem is distraction, so a computer (with web access is even worse) is definitely going to be a greater distraction than a learning tool.
      • by HanzoSan ( 251665 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @12:05PM (#4981679) Homepage Journal

        I've never met a kid with "ADD" who cant pay attention to the television, or the video games, or books when they want to read them.

        ADD in school is just a petty excuse teachers make for students who rebel, they dont just want to admit that they suck as teachers, their classes are boring as hell and their students arent learning.

        In a class where a kid is not learning a damn thing or a class thats boring as h ell, suddenly the symptoms of ADD appear.

        I think if a kid really does have ADD the best way to deal with it is to let them use the computer, and let them learn in their own way.

        Also when a kid is on the computer, if they do have ADD even if they are distracted they still learn something, even if they go drift off into other websites as long as the school has things setup so the kid is always learning no matter where they go on the net, it can work.

        Dont allow any games, perhaps you shouldnt allow someone with ADD to go into a chatroom, but if they have a problem paying attention and the goal is for them to gather as much knowledge as possible perhaps the best way is to let them direct their own learning. Not everyone learns in a structured way, and the solution is not to blame the ADD, but to teach them in a way which they accept, even people with ADD know alot about certain things.
  • Don't let the teachers & principals see this, I might be out of a job! (Work for educational software company)

    Wish I could comment more on this, but not sure where company intellectual property on stratedgies start.
    • Re:Good lord (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Christianfreak ( 100697 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:31AM (#4981465) Homepage Journal
      I don't want to be offensive to you but I think that teachers and principals do need to see this. One of the things that is wrong with the current educational system (in the US anyway) is too many people are worried about keeping their jobs and not making sure that kids are properly educated. It becomes a huge political circus rather than a public service to better the next generation.

      Reports like this are a step in the right direction, showing teachers that Math, English and even fine arts are so much more needed skills than calculators, word processors, and MS Paint.

      *rant* Now if we could just get school boards across the nation to get their heads out of their collective ... well you know, and legislators to stop passing laws that give more money to districts where kids pass, thus encouraging teachers to pass kids regardless of grades. */rant*

      Back on topic ... don't get me wrong I do believe that educational software has its place. Personally I think its something that parents should have at home, or something that should be in libraries, even school libraries. Places where it can be used without taking away from the time to learn the real important stuff.

      My two cents.
      • Re:Good lord (Score:3, Interesting)

        by WPIDalamar ( 122110 )
        I was just kidding around when I had made that post. But seriously, when you read the transcript the story isn't as bad as the headline. A lot of questioning if software is good or not, with arguments both ways. The big problem that was mentioned is teachers not understanding how or where to use computers. There are places where they can be useful, and places where they are not. Teachers need the training to make that distinction. It really does come down to the teacher.
      • Re:Good lord (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Luyseyal ( 3154 )

        The most important educational software I ever used was:

        1. Logo (i.e., turtle graphics programming)
        2. Oregon Trail

        Logo taught me about controlling the computer and doing fun stuff with it that didn't come prepackaged. Oregon Trail taught me to enjoy working with the computer and in groups with other kids in solving basic problems (e.g., whether to float or ford the river, etc.).

        We didn't use these in the classroom, though, but in the computer lab. I don't see how they can be reasonably integrated into the classroom with class sizes as small as they are (small compared to college lectures, e.g., where a laptop with diagrams and whatnot the prof is looking at can be a helpful aid).


  • Not suprised (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tgv ( 254536 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:57AM (#4981263) Journal
    I'm not surpised. Schools tend to take away hours from maths and physics for teaching computer "science", so that would explain enough. Pity that MS Word is considered more important than algebra.
    • Re:Not suprised (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Theatetus ( 521747 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:29AM (#4981450) Journal
      Schools tend to take away hours from maths and physics for teaching computer "science", so that would explain enough. Pity that MS Word is considered more important than algebra.

      True dat. But only because they teach computer "science" (how to use particular applications, etc.) rather than computer science (creating and analyzing computable algorithms). When I was in 3rd grade (yes, 3rd grade), I was in a Montessori school that had a great computer lab (well, great for 1983). We had a class in computer programming for all the third graders as part of the math class. We programmed in Logo. The first week we got to play with the computers and learned to make squares and stuff (repeat 4: fd 50 rt 90). For the next 2 months we didn't touch the computers; we wrote out algorithms on paper. The next semester was the same way, but with Forth instead of Logo.

      The end result? I still design applicative programs, no matter what language I use. I still debug by proving the flaws in my algorithms rather than by examining memory. I still program with pencil and paper before I touch a keyboard. I like programming that way, though it doesn't always go over well with the "we need e-business solutions to leverage our key synergies" crowd.

      Who was it that said "Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes"? Computers can be good tools to supplement pencil-and-paper analysis of algorithms; I haven't seen a school since that used them that way, though. They mostly teach how to research on the Internet (a useful skill, I admit) and how to make pretty slideshows.

      • we wrote out algorithms on paper

        The most important step missed by many. I didn't learn this until I was 16. Having a great algorithm is so important, it saves, time, help debugging and troubleshooting. Well so do well placed comments, but algorithm design is still always passed up. This should be a fundamental step in any education.

    • Use computers as a tool or teaching device instead of treating computers as something seperate.

      Why should you teach computer science? Computers are so common now this is like having a class on the science of using pen and paper, or having a class teaching how to use a calculator or word processor, sure you may need to take one class in your lifetime on this but currently most schools only do this.

      Unless you go to a good school computers arent used properly. In college computers are used in a more proper fashion and it shows, look at how its done in college and do this in highschool.

      A student can learn to read and write better with a computer than with any other tool, the dictionary book is not as efficient as spell check, and the best way to learn math is with computers because it allows you to focus on what really matters, the concepts of math instead of just stupid stuff like memorizing your multiplication tables, or other pointless calculations which your calculator or computer will do or which you can do by simply knowing that multiplication is just addition.

      Math is currently taught wrong, its not that computers dont aid in teaching, they do, but only when teachers know how to use the computer as a tool to help them teach.

      Teachers however are often dumber than their students when it comes to technology, we need to educate teachers so they know how to teach with software. I took a cisco academy class in which the whole class was computer based, I learned just fine from this although I wish we had more labs, this was the cisco academy, learning form computers is actually easier than learning from any book due to the addition of multimedia examples explaining things in greater detail, however some aspects of learning still require a teacher, and for something like networking its the physical aspect that was missing.

      As for reading and math, theres no physical aspect to this, why dont some of you open source linux using programmer types make some math software? The reading software? Microsoft word, the internet, etc is just fine to teach people to read, hell buy them some old school RPGs like final fantasy, get them interested in reading for fun, parents have to do this, and a teacher simply has to give them assignments so they learn proper grammar, proper grammar is just knowing how to use Microsoft Word properly.

  • by mustangdavis ( 583344 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:57AM (#4981264) Homepage Journal
    I was encouraged in high school to use calculators since my H.S. was trying to go "high tech". In fact, we were REQUIRED to use them on tests .... if you didn't, you were going to fail due to a lack of time to complete the exam.

    Then I got to college ...

    Now keep in mind, I was a pretty good math student (scored perfect on the SATs in Math ... English was another issue ... and why I didn't get into a good school), so this is a good example in my opinion.

    I took my first college Calc II exam, and of course, used my calculator for it. In all fairness, it was a difficult exam, but a fair exam. I thought I would be "joe slick" and finish quickly by using the latest and greatest graphing calc. available ... and I finished WAY before the other students in the course. HOWEVER, when I got my exam back, I got a 54%!!! Every answer was correct, but in big, red letters at the top of the paper, the prof wrote "This is what you get for looking at your calculator so much!" ... then he wrote "I need to see a few more steps and where you got some of these answers".

    Needless to say, that was the last time I used that calculator for anything but to check answers (or to get answers and reverse engineer them) :)

    My prof was right though ... kids today need to learn to think for themselves BEFORE they begin to use technology as a crutch ....

    .... but at the same time, we live in a technology laced society ... so which is more evil ... to force kids to learn, but not teach them technology, or to teach then technology, but make them helpless without it ....

    It is an evil world we live in ....

    It looks like technology is like women ... can't live with it, can't live without it ...

    Just my 2 cents ...

    • My wife doesn't really understand why I'm getting worried about my daughter's math skills (or lack thereof). She's in first grade, and she has almost no math abilities. If you ask her to add numbers together without paper - even simple stuff - she resorts to her fingers. Her school uses something called "Saxon" math. The teachers read the math lesson off a piece of paper!

      When I was in first grade, my teacher used flash cards to teach us the simple stuff: adding and subtracting numbers under 20. We later learned how to extend those skills to include more complex operations; it seems once you learn the simple stuff, you can build on it and apply it to the complex math. So, I'm starting my daughter on flash cards at home. It's not high tech, but it's effective.
      • I wouldn't be so quick to blame the math curriculum. I used saxon through high school, and went on to get my BS in Mechanical Engineering. I would say I learned all the math in high school that I needed for college.

        I would encourage you to continue with the practice at home, though. When I was in second grade, I had a real hard time doing subtraction and wasn't very fast at addition. My parents got me a book with about 25 addition/subtraction problems on a page, and had me do one page a night.

        It took me a little longer to learn the multiplication tables as well, but by sixth grade, math was my favorite subject.

        It may sound strange for someone who made it through differential equations to say they had problems subtracting, but it's true.
        • Thanks for the suggestion. We'll try it.

        • Just because you are good at problem solving does not mean you are good at math.

          Just because you memorize the answers does not mean you learn the process.

          When you learn the formulas to math, you know that learning the multiplicaiton tables was an absolute complete waste of time, this is like using your brain as a number crunching calculator, when we have calculators which can do this, so why do the math in your head? Why waste years learning the multiplication tables when you can learn the formula for multiplication and then use addition to solve multiplication problems?

          Addition is multiplication, Addition is also Subtraction, its all the same thing! You only need to teach ONE formula and it would teach all of these things instantly.

          Or you can give people problems and tell them to solve them without giving them the formula, and waste years of their time while they memorize the answers

          Why memorize 2+2=4, and 4+4=8 when you can just memorize A+B=C?

          If A+B=C is addition, Multiplication is just A+A=B(2+2=2x2=4) repeated Addition.

          Why should you bother memorizing the answers to repeated addition problems? Why not just teach them that its repeated addition and let them use what they already know to solve multiplication problems on paper?

          If you want to memorize tables you can also memorize square roots, you can memorize the answers to fractions, you can memorize as many answers as you want but none of them will matter in the long run if you dont know the process, the formulas, the rules.
      • The teachers read the math lessons off a peice of paper?! You mean like in every other school?!

        Anyhow, Saxon math is the best series for learning to do math quickly and accurately. Saxon is all about repetition, they beat a topic into your head until you can't stand it any more.

        Saxon already uses the "flash card" method of brute forcing topics into your head.

        This method is good for lower level math, but once you get into high school, it's just a pain in the ass.

        Sure, you can do certain types of problems very quickly and probably get a very high score on the SATs if you do well with saxon but you will not be equipped to think for yourself.

        In college they will expect you to think it out yourself and they won't have a step-by-step example on how to do each type of problem.

        • You cant teach someone something by reptition if they never learn the concepts it becomes gibberish in the end.

          You can make someone do something a million times and i they never know why they are doing it they wont remember it.
      • Saxon Math is in some ways an epitome of the way we emphasize the wrong things in education. Our society has gone so gung-ho over high-stakes testing that we consider them the major measurement of learning. It follows then that we would assume that the program providing the highest scores on these tests is the best overall program. That program is usually Saxon Math. Your daughter may be safe academically until she starts having to apply her arithmetic skills to other maths (such as algebra). That's when there starts being real trouble.

      • Knowledge of math can be learned just like you can learn C, but to actually be able to do it in your head, without pen and paper, or do math without a calculator, this is talent.

        This is not something everyone can do, just like not everyone is good enough to write perfect C code in their head without looking into the refrence manual every now and then.

        Instead of trying to make your daughter into something shes not, teach her to do math in whatever way she is capable of doing it, if she has to use paper, fine, as long as she learns the concepts and formulas who cares if her problem solving/ number crunching skills suck? The higher level maths like calculus are not about your ability to crunch numbers in your head its about your ability to understand the concepts and your knowledge of the actual formula.

        You can memorize multiplication tables and waste your time practicing your number crunching for years, or you can accept that you arent good at this and learn the core concept of multiplication, by learning the underlying formula you learn its just addition and you can use the formula to do multiplication without memorizing all the tables.

        This can save you YEARS worth of time which could be wasted practicing multiplication tables and memorizing answers instead of the processes to getting them.

        Your teacher didnt teach you math right, you learned to crunch numbers, because you naturally had the ability to be good at crunching numbers you used pure calculation and number crunching to get you through math but dont you know all math is just concepts? Its not about the problem or the solution, its about the process.
      • First grade = six or seven years old... good grief!! Let her be a kid...

        When my daughter was in Kindergarten and 1st grade she used her fingers for simple addition and subtraction. Then when she was in second grade I noticed her using her fingers for multiplication. Don't ask me what she was doing, I never did figure it out, and it wasn't anything she was taught, but it worked for her. She never did learn the multiplication tables or any of the vast number of other things you're supposed to memorize, but she did get a 5 on AP Calculus AB as a Junior and 4 on Calculus BC as a senior. Also scored 800 Verbal and 780 Math on the SAT.

        She apparently had been doing something right with that little brain of hers! Remember learning isn't something that can be done to you, its something you have to do yourself.
    • "This is what you get for looking at your calculator so much!" ... then he wrote "I need to see a few more steps and where you got some of these answers".

      The problem is that most professors want to see your *work*. If you just gave a few steps and -voila- an answer, they usually don't appreciate it. This holds not only Math prof, but also virtually *all* prof. If you show your work and eventhough your answer is wrong, usually you get lots of partial credit (like 70-80% or so), but that depends on the prof's personality (and of course, the TA's).

      I myself usually use calculators only to check answers. That way, I can be 100% certain that my answer is correct.

      • by TheWanderingHermit ( 513872 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:36AM (#4981498)
        The problem is that most professors want to see your *work*. If you just gave a few steps and -voila- an answer, they usually don't appreciate it.

        I used to teach high school Math (Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, General Math). I made it clear to the students from the beginning how important it was to show their work. On a 5 point question, if the student gave me an answer without work, they'd get 1 point (maybe 2 if I was feeling generous). If they showed their work, and it was mostly right (maybe they missed a + or - or one small mistake), they'd get 4 out of 5. For high school students that is often hard to understand -- all they can think about is the answer. For Algebra I, for the first half of the year, they still can't understand why they can't just do it in their head.

        Each day I'd collect the homework and grade it on participation. If the work was there, they'd get a 2, if it was poorly done, or only 1/3 to 2/3 or so done, it'd get a 1. I'd add these up at the end of the year and get a percentage of how much of the homework each student did that term. That would count 20% of the semester grade. I even added a homework line -- a 2nd phone line w/ caller ID and an answering maching so students could call and get their assignment or leave a message for help on an assignment and I'd call back as soon as I could. (The administration HATED this and told me to disconnect it ASAP. -- I didn't -- could you see me telling the class, "The homework line has been stopped, per order of the administration." ??) There were several calls to check assignments, but in about 3/4 of a school year, only 1 call for help. It stopped the "I couldn't do it because I didn't understand it" or "I forgot what it was" excuses!

        As a teacher, I needed to know the process to get the answer. Especially in Algebra I, where they didn't want to show it. I needed to know they were learning the tools they would need in the 2nd half of the year or for Algebra II.

        True, there's graphing calcs and such, but if you don't understand HOW to get the answer, you're just listening to a machine. That's no better than the Borg. (Remember Isaac Asimov's story about someone who realizes 1+1=2 always -- and stuns the world that you don't need calculators to do math?)

        There's also the other side note. If you give me just an answer on a test, how do I know if you "did it in your head" or copied it off someone else?

        In Math, especially, a student needs to know the tools to get the answer. That's what they're learning in Algebra I & II and Geometry. If they don't show their work, you don't know if they're using those tools.
      • This thread reminds me of my college physics classes. I did nearly all of the problems on one line of paper, like: a = F/m = Fc^2/e = kxc^2/e = etc. with each step using one formula from my "cheat sheet" and doing the algebra in my head. On all of my homework, the grader wrote "please show your work." The only extra work I could think of was to replace the variables with the numerical values and units. The other students used a whole sheet of paper for each problem and did many unneccessary steps. I think the grader should have complained about that sloppy work instead!
      • The problem is that most professors want to see your *work*.

        Funny, the profs in the math department here are only concerned about answers. In fact, for most of the first- and second-year classes, the tests are now multiple choice computer-marked tests. If you don't do the correct work, you get a zero. If you do all the correct work, there's still the chance of a simple mistake, and you get a zero. Often, the 10 possible answers are whole numbers from 0 to 9, and once you have your answer, you have to run it through some sort of strange equation to get a whole number out of it. Slightly odd for a multivariable calculus course, but they claim students do better with the tests like that. Probably why the class average usually hovers around 40% with no curving of marks.

        Or the other option is that some profs requre you to show ALL your work. However, for the class that I took like that (Series/Diff. Eqns), ALL your work meant proving every series convergence theorem every time you wanted to use it. If you needed to use the integral test, you had to specify every condition to the test, then prove it for that particular example. . . .sometimes as many as 5 times on a 1-hour test. (including other questions)

        Oh, and no calculators allowed in any form anywhere near a math exam. The best you get is a 1-page table of integrals in second-year.
    • I see your point, but on the other hand, do you want to fly around in planes designed by engineers who passed classes by getting partial credit on their answers?
      • Actually yeah. Engineers don't usually work alone.

        There are other engineers to doublecheck answers. Architects design, another one officially approves in nyc, with a stamp aquired by certification.

        There's QA. If it was built wrong, it prolly won't work after some extensive testing.

        Lastly, I never was in a class where I took tests and passed by getting most of my answers on partial credit. If I did, the questions were lengthly and were multi-step.

        Yes, use tools.. use them all day long. But if I can't recnognize a right answer from a wrong one, then I'm useless. Really.

        I should be able to write something, as a programmer, and be able to guestimate in the back of my mind the correctness and possibly time to execute. If I'm off, and my requirements require me to be mostly right, then any tools that I use that didn't tell me I'm wrong, are wrong. And I should stop using them.

    • Pen and Paper is also a cruch, should the professor tell you to do the math in your head? If you did do it in your head he'd say the same thing "I need to see how you got these answers"

      You have to prove you know the steps is all, you can still use calculators and know math as long as you know all the formulas and steps to solving the problem it does not matter what tools you use to solve them, you can use pen and paper, you can use a calculator, a super computer, it doesnt matter.

      Kids need to learn to use the tools of today, calculators are fine but only if the class is designed for it. If the class was a mathclass where all the math was done on computers, and all of the steps you did were logged, if you use a calculator it doesnt matter how you do the number crunching as long as the steps you used equals the right answer.

      In computer programming its not about reinventing the wheel, its about embrace and extend, you can get more done if you share code and reuse code than if you write everything yourself. The only thing which matters is how much you can get done.

    • The problem with this kind of research is controlling for the other pressures on the school system. Say new teachers are leaving the profession forever at 70% after only three years on the job, if that has adverse effects on the general quality of education, would it be a good hypothesis to suggest it also has adverse effects on the way schools use computer resources?

      We want to be careful not to blame the technology: it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools for the quality of his work. If you had learned in High School, for example, how to program your own integral solver, then you might have been able to breeze through the same exam *with* all of the intermediate calculator "leaps" documented in adequate detail to score the grade your answers demanded.

      Computers *complicate* life, but trading for the additional burden of complexity gains insight which saves wasted effort in dead-end mistakes! If you feel the computer is simplifying your life, it is because you are not appreciating the insights properly: maybe someone else is? Are you dangerously and irresponsibly giving up control?

      There's the real issue. Stop bashing computers in the classroom, and get to the real curriculum and pedagogy issue!
  • Well, duh (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    That's the thing: Teachers do not know ... if computers can actually be used to solve the most pressing problems of literacy and numeracy - the sorts of things that get kids through exams." Computers cannot, on their own, solve any problems - they can perform complex calculations, sure, but you have to feed them the exact steps to follow. If kids do not understand the principles behind something as simple as multiplication or division, say, how do you expect a glorified calculator to help them? Sure they could use it to divide 22 by 7, but do they understand why they are doing that? Sure they can use spell check on grammar check, but is that any substitute for actually understanding sentence structure or knowing how words are properly spelled? That is how you solve literacy and mathematic deficiencies. You have to work at it - technology isn't the magical panacea everyone appears to think it is.

    You don't see architectecture schools talking about how power actuated fasteners are changing how they teach, do you? Of course not, they are just tools that save on labor. Computers are the exact same thing, and the quicker people realize that a computer is just another form of tool, the quicker everyone will realize that there is nothing mystical about them and their operators. Realizing this will help to devalue the artificially high prices of computer "engineers", cut down on overhead drastically, and provide just the shot in the arm our stock market needs to rebound.

    I don't mean to bash on our dedicated teachers - they are doing the best they can, given their abilities and environment, but hyping up computers as a replacement to study isn't a good idea. There's a reason we weren't allowed to use calculators until Calculus class when we were in school, and that is why we hand to hand write exams without a dictionary available. It is nice to have technology available, but it should always be as an assistant to aid the individual in his work- it should not direct his work
  • by Gyan ( 6853 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:58AM (#4981270)
    Computers should primarily be used as an information reservoir.

    You have to tread carefully when students start using them as active information _processors_ . Then you start to wonder what the net effect on education is.
  • Unless the poster is outside of the US/UK...

    Despite record investment in computers in the USA and UK, recent studies (not the ones funded by educational software companies) have shown a significant drop in core subjects (Math, English) in schools that plase strong emphasis on Information Technology
  • by Hoover,L Ron ( 610796 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:00AM (#4981283)
    See "Silicon Snake Oil" by Clifford Stoll in which he arrives at a similar conclusion. This came out about 4 or 5 years ago, don't know why anybody is surprised by this.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Computers *used* to work in education. I recall in primary school, the old BBC Microcomputers with software specifically designed to aid numeracy, literacy and logic skills. That actually worked, as it supplemented the classroom teachings rather than replacing them.

    These days, computers waste time more than anything. It is too tempting for them to be used for 'messing around' with Windows and the Internet than for teaching kids basic skills. The latest crop of PCs have no software that supplements classroom teaching. What's the use of learning to use a word processor if you can't read or write?
    • by BlueboyX ( 322884 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:43AM (#4981534)
      Nowdays it is too easy to goof off on computers rather than use them for educational purposes. In fact, it seems that current 'educational software' is mostly a bunch of cartoon chrud with a little bit of math etc. here and there.

      An elementary school math tutor for the kids who were behind asked me to make a math tutor computer program that wasn't cartoony etc. Getting exact details on what she wanted was like pulling teeth, but in the end we wound up with a piece of software that was kid-friendly (meaning easy for them to control, some kids have coordination issues when it comes to moving mice) and actually helped improve their math abilities.

      One thing that I am quite proud to have worked with is the AR Program (Accelerated Reader). The concept is to have point values and difficulty values for most of the books in the library. Kids check out whatever books they want (they are strongly encouraged to use books of an appropriate difficulty level) and can take computerized quizzes on them. The kids can trade in points they earn for candy and small, cheap toys. It actually works! I would have imagined that the kids would have gotten tired of it quickly, but the teachers take it seriously and the majority of the books in the school library have AR quizes available.

      I have volunteered in several elementary schools, but in the one where they emphasized this AR program I regularly saw kids leaving the library with books and actually eager to read them. That is a very big thing; getting kids modivated to learn/read is one of the biggest problems in educational. This computer software is not advanced; it could be made to work on an AppleIIGS, but the fact that it is actually getting kids to read (and to like it!) is profound.
  • by HealYourChurchWebSit ( 615198 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:00AM (#4981285) Homepage

    Part of the problem is that many schools are staffed with teachers fresh out of school themselves and put into situations that equate to nothing more than glorified babysitting.

    The real issue here, and this applies to whether or not we put computers in classrooms or force them to use old-school slide-rules, we've got to get back to teaching kids how to think, analyze and take some mental initiative.

    Unfortunately, this usually starts at home ... where we the parents are equally culpable for plunking our kid in front of the TV to keep them occupied while we make dinner.

  • From the article, David Reynolds says it better than I could:
    I think we have dropped the material onto schools, we haven't provided adequate training for teachers in how to use it, we've assumed it's a good thing that doesn't need justification. And like many other innovations, the danger is that all innovation and change requires a coalition of people in schools to support them.

    "Here you are, a nice shiny new computer. What do you do with it? Why, plug it in, of course". About the best learning software I've seen (and admittedly I haven't looked recently) was MathBlaster. Better tools and better training for the teachers is what is really necessary to make computers work in schools.
  • More information (Score:5, Informative)

    by Resseguie ( 602552 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:04AM (#4981306) Homepage
    Here is more information along the same lines. It's an interview with Cliff Stoll (author of Cuckoo's Egg [amazon.com] and Silicon Snake Oil [amazon.com].

    http://www.familyhaven.com/parenting/hightechheret ic.html [familyhaven.com]

    If you haven't read his book "High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian" [amazon.com] you really should. It's got some great reading and some things we should think about as we design software.

    What can we do as software developers to actually make computers useful in the classroom instead of so distracting? Any thoughts from educators out there?

    • Re:More information (Score:3, Informative)

      by DeadSea ( 69598 )
      My Aunt is a teacher and she is somewhat frustrated by the computers that her elementary students get to use. She thinks that there are some valuable things that can be taught on the computers: Typing, internet research, math drills, etc. The biggest problem to her is that by the time you get the kids hearded to the computer room, everybody logged in, and the correct program loaded, you only have 15 minutes of instruction out of an hour period left. She also feels that the computers would be too distracting on the students desk in the main classroom all the time.

      Having every kid have their own login is too much of a pain. Getting them set up, then having kids forget their passwords, took too much time. Her kids did not want use a computer logged in as somebody else because they wanted it personalized as "theirs".

      Another headache was software licenses. Some programs required a disk be brought around to each computer to activate the session. The school district was (understandably) reluctant to spring for the best rated (but expensive) instructive software. This is an area in which free software would be a boon.

      One can easily see how the headaches of computers easily distract from the learning process.

  • According to an article [techtv.com] on TechTv. A quote:

    Because they are both high tech professionals, Paul's parents say they know firsthand the addictive nature of computers and the Internet.

    "They are somewhat addicting, and for young children that don't have all of the faculties that we have as adults, I don't think they can determine how much of something is not good for them," Baldridge said.
  • by Gannoc ( 210256 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:06AM (#4981316)
    Just like during the internet boom, you had slick marketers climbing out of their gutters telling boards of education that their miraculous software will help students improve test scores, learn faster, be more interested in learning, make them better citizens, and let them melt objects with the power of their minds.

    Of course, many of the teachers (just like many of the engineers in the corporate world,) said "What? I don't think thats going to work." but the school boards wanted their schools to be considered hi-tech, and it was an easy way to get more money for education.

    Now that this stuff has actually been tested in the field, we're seeing it all backfire.

    And all jokes aside, while technology teachers tend to know what they're doing, many other teachers were given a manual and direct orders to "teach using these computers!". Obviously, thats going to have a negative effect.

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:06AM (#4981319)

    From what I've seen, computers are mostly used in the classroom as electronic babysitters. Small wonder they aren't improving education.

    Our society seems to be beset with a mentality that calls for computerizing things because we can, rather than because there's a need.

    ps - Get more replies when there's a reply button, eh Taco?

  • by acehole ( 174372 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:08AM (#4981332) Homepage
    Which wasnt all that long ago... well grade 3 (1987) up until grade 9 (you do the math, i dont have a calculator handy ;), calculators werent allowed in the classroom. You had to work out maths problems on paper.

    If my family was being held hostage by some mad mathematician who demanded that I solve some equation or my family dies, i'd skip right to the funeral arrangments. Thankfully there arent many homicidal mathematicians.

    • well grade 3 (1987) up until grade 9, calculators werent allowed in the classroom

      I'm trying to remember when I first used a calculator in class, and I think it was probably trig in 9th or 10th grade. Up until then what on earth do you need one for? It's all basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Once you hit trig, you need sin/cos/tan, logs, and so forth. And yeah, I guess you don't need one then (I distinctly remember the tables in the back of the book that gave values for all of the above, along with natural log, for certain numbers), but it makes it a helluva lot easier.

      I understand they allow calculators on the SAT now too, which is pretty damn sad. Of course, there's an essay section or something now too, to which I'd just like to say "ha ha".

      As far as computers in the classroom go -- what's wrong with them being used as quick-access libraries? As someone else said, they should be information stores, not information processors. Otherwise the kids will use them as processors and not learn how to do the processing on their own. It becomes a crutch, and when the crutch is no longer available the kids won't be able to stand on their own.
  • In other news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Iamthefallen ( 523816 ) <Gmail name: Iamthefallen> on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:08AM (#4981333) Homepage Journal

    Ballpoint pens have been found to have no advantage over pencils regarding spelling.

    Calculators found to not aid basic understanding and proficiency in mathematics. (Yesterday I saw someone enter 150000 * 1 into a calulator, then write down the answer so they wouldn't forget it)

    It's a tool, just because you have it it doesn't mean you know how to use it. Too much emphasis is placed on the hardware in schools, too much money is spent on a fast connection, teach kids (and teachers) how to actually use them for academic purposes and you may see an improvement in some topics.

    For subjects such as history and geography, the internet really can help a lot. To teach spelling or mathematical skills, maybe some software can be of assistance, but only if people know how to use it. The computer is not a replacement for a teacher.

  • True--they don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xTown ( 94562 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:09AM (#4981338)
    I used to work in a School District IT department. Computers were thrown at everything as if they were a cure-all, when the real problem was that the teachers were awful. It seemed that the ones who were yelling the loudest about needing computers in the classroom were the same ones who put up signs saying "Welcome Student's" and the same ones--English teachers, mind you!--who were saying, without a trace of irony, "Yeah, me and her are going across the street for lunch."

    We need to turn out smarter teachers and give them incentives to perform, like better pay, long before we think about having a computer for every student.
    • we need to abolish teachers' unions first. Unions are meant to protect workers that can be exploited - well, teachers cannot be exploited by definition because they work for the taxpayers. The teachers' union is the most corrupt, vile one in the country. Even if the Teamsters are buying senators and owned by the mob, all that does is cause some business owner somewhere to lose money. The teachers' unions destroy our future and make the kids into ignorant shells of what they could be.
      • amen to that... and my wife's a teacher.
        • I should qualify that I worked in IT for a while for a school system (the one I attended as a kid) and I have two first cousins that are teachers in that same system, so I'm not pulling what I say out of my ass.

          Teaching is a hard job, but tenure for public school teachers is an abomination. If all teachers worked at-will like the rest of us, our educational system would be much more effective.
    • Re:True--they don't (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Christianfreak ( 100697 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:51AM (#4981581) Homepage Journal
      The underlying problem is deeper than even that. The main reason we don't have good teachers is because the good ones get fired.

      I have a friend who used to be a middle school English teacher, one of the best teachers I've ever known, he employed a variety of methods to get kids to learn. He did lots of different "cool" things like after reading a story, having the kids go in the hall and draw the story on huge newsprint scrolls.

      He also didn't take any crap from his kids. They acted up, he disiplined them according to school policy (detention, office, etc). If a kid didn't participate or didn't do the homework, he failed them. If the kids at least tryed to learn he did his best to help them (and those kids passed).

      The result? He was fired. Why? Because he made the other teachers look bad, and too many of his kids were failing and being disiplined. Why would teachers pass kids that weren't even trying, or refuse to disipline kids that are troublemakers?

      Because at least in Texas laws have been passed that give more money to schools that have high rates of students passing and high attendence. If a kid gets disiplined and eventually suspended, the school gets less money. If the students don't make the grade its better to curve them up because then the school gets more money because they passed. Teachers are encouraged to ignore disipline problems and pass failing kids regardless of grades. Good teachers that refuse to follow the system get canned and we're left with people who only care about paycheck and will happily hand out passing grades.

      Students figure out this system too and don't make an effort to learn. They don't have to. The troublemakers bully other kids around without thought of consequences, all of which probably helps to foster the rampant school shooting problems as well.
  • that I grew up in a world not dominated by computers, I learned to read, write, research, spell (well most of the time anyway), & do basic math in my head.

    Now I find myself relying on spell checker to fix my spelling errors, a search engine to find information, and a calculator to do math. These are all great tools, but without the basic knowledge behind them, they become a crutch.

    and looking at school test scores, they aren't being used as tools.

  • by CashCarSTAR ( 548853 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:11AM (#4981346)
    Computers are changing EVERYTHING. Just because we do not know how to use them does not mean that they are not effective. In fact, the main problem is that computers are close to at odds with mainstream academic thought.

    What happens when within 5 minutes I can gain most any knowledge I desire? Well..it kinda breaks down the walls, that is what it does.

    The problem with such limitless resources, is not a problem with the resource itself, it's a cultural problem. Our modern education system sucks. Absolutly, positivly sucks. All it does is turn a majority of students completly off of knowledge. It does not encourage the kind of curiosity and logical thought that make for an intelligent person.

    Our education system should consist of the basic fundimentals..Math general scientific method, language and grammer, and logical thought are the most important things we can teach. Everything else stems from these base things, and should be taught as such.

    Love of knowledge is the most important thing that can be gained at such a young age. We should not throw this away just so we can have good little Christian worker bees.
    • by HisMother ( 413313 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:27AM (#4981444)
      > What happens when within 5 minutes I can gain most any knowledge I desire? Well..it kinda breaks down the walls, that is what it does.

      Uh, no. Within 5 minutes, you can google for any facts you desire. Knowledge takes work. Want to find a French dictionary? Easy. Want to speak French? Hard. There are many things beyond the basics that need to be taught rather than simply googled.

      But I agree with your basic thesis.

      • Well, I don't consider things like math and language to be knowledge..they are more in the skill catagory, something that takes practice and time to learn.
      • Good analogy! Computers in ed. will force us to change how we view knowledge.

        True learning in any field means you can speak the language. This is just as true for calculus, music, literature, art history, et al. as it is for French. It takes years of hard work to learn a field of knowledge in depth.

        This has always been true, but with WWW/Google(r) it has become much more obvious. Google(r) is a wonderful way to find / verify disparate facts.
  • Mentioned Economist.com article "Pass the chalk", found here: http://ron.unique.cc/economist/economist1.htm, names three possible reasons for negative relationship between computer use and test scores.

    "The authors offer three possible explanations of why this might be. First, the introduction of computers into classrooms might have gobbled up cash that would otherwise have paid for other aspects of education. But that is unlikely in this case since the money for the programme came from the national lottery, and the study found no significant change in teaching resources, methods or training in schools that acquired computers through the scheme.
    A second possibility is that the transition to using computers in instruction takes time to have an effect. Maybe, say the authors, but the schools surveyed had been using the scheme's computers for a full school year. That was enough for the new computers to have had a large (and apparently malign) influence on fourth-grade maths scores. The third explanation is the simplest: that the use of computers in teaching is no better (and perhaps worse) than other teaching methods."

    One might add a possible fourth reason which may explain negative math score: EASE. I think if the pupils use computers to learn and solve mathematical problems they might start relyiong too much on computers and in effect "unlearn" maths.

    Another skeptic voice when it comes to possible role of IT in development and education is found here:
    http://www.himalmag.com/2002/august/essay.h tm

    Yet another voice Prashant Sharma from School of Oriental and African Studies University of London
    http://www.dgroups.org/groups/OKN/docs/dis sertatio n.pdf

    And skepticism about IT in production is best represented by "'Solow paradox'-- widespread evidence of computer use, little evidence of (widespread) productivity growth --continues, at least in modified form." found here:
    http://abcnews.go.com/sections/tech/FredMoo dy/mood y990818.html

  • "In fact, Thomas Edison himself was a big proponent of the use of movies in schools"

    Yes, I remember being in school in the late 70's and 80's watching those woefully outdated propaganda films from the 1950's. They are the same movies that the Simpson's make fun of. My favorites were the movies that showed the use of the Civil Defense barrels stockpiled in the basement.

    Computers are meaningless if you cannot read well, or are at least proficient in Algebra (I had to seriously brush up on my own because the public schools I went to did not emphasize math). For all those that say Math is useless (I used to be one), or I'll never use this stuff - they are dead wrong. Higher paying jobs do involve a solid understanding of numbers. If you lose 50% you need a 100% gain to break even.

    I wonder how many schools that rely on computers even have programming classes. Plus, the computers may be sucking money away from budgets to get more updated text books.

  • Classroom teaching is not primarly about filling the brains of student with knowledge, as if they were bottles, but about shaping the minds in order to let the students learn.

    This, being a very human process, can only be donne by humans.

    Not machines.

  • ... have shown a significant drop in core subjects (Math, English) in schools that plase strong emphasis on Information Technology

    No shit, Sherlock?

    Seriously, as far as I can tell the problem is that IT and most teachers are completely immiscible. IT is treated as a separate subject and this is confused with computation - which in turn encourages the technically illiterate to imagine that there is no more to computer science than their experience with Word and Excel. It is pointless to teach someone to program who can't solve simple algebraic problems; to word process when they don't grasp the essence of prose - or to use mathematical tools when they can't do sums by hand.

  • by TheWickedKingJeremy ( 578077 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:19AM (#4981393) Homepage
    As long as the focus is simply on getting "computers in the classroom" these kinds of results do not surprise me. For all the talk of quantity, I rarely, if ever, hear discussion on how computers will be used once they are in the classroom. Computers no doubt can, and should, play a roll in a child's education, but people need to remember that they are a means, not a solution.

    If you really want a better education for our children we should return focus on the basics... Math - Science - Language/Writing/Reading. Computers can be used when applicable to help teach these lessons, but otherwise are not particularly necessary.
  • Computers are, and always have been... Tools. The ideas that a tool can/could teach children to think is great, but I think that the primary responsibility of teaching children to THINK, to reason, to make decisions is still primarily up to the parents, and in dual income familys alot of times it falls back on public education. The public education system is not up to the task for alot of reasons that I wont go into, so they try for computers, expecting the tools to do their jobs for them. No matter how great the tool is, if the child cant make the right decision to sit and learn from it, the tool is useless... Fire in the hands of the village idiot is no tool, but a weapon of mass destruction. "and on the 8th day, god said "let there be script kiddies" and the immature sprang forth from the earth".
  • not all bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:21AM (#4981404) Homepage
    I've tutored K-12 and college-level students for several years and have been in a lot of classrooms. One thing I've noticed, especially in education challenged South Florida, is that the school system is trying to use computers to make up for the lack of real teachers. The second problem is that most educational software isn't.

    For example, many of the reading comprehension titles are no better than the workbooks from before -- read a few paragraphs, answer a few questions. In fact, they're often worse because the workbooks allowed the student to respond with a sentence describing the paragraph rather than clicking a multiple choice option.

    I do think that computers are useful in post-lecture studies since it allows students to work at their own pace until they understand a topic. THis is especially useful for mathematics.

  • by sbaker ( 47485 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:22AM (#4981409) Homepage
    My kid's school (a 5th/6th grade intermediate school) has a beautiful, fully equipped computer classroom - and a teacher who teaches computing only. ...and that's the problem. The teacher knows *nothing* about computers. Practically all the kids know far more than she does.

    Because she knows nothing, she dumps 'edutainment' programs onto the machines and has the kids play them continually while she merely maintains classroom discipline.

    She spent three weeks (that's 40 minutes per lesson for 10 lessons) having the kids run some kind of 'typing tutor' program. Since all the kids learned to type in 3rd grade (at least as well as a typing tutor program *can* teach), they were all bored to tears with the repetitive exercises.

    Fortunately, my son discovered that this stoopid program doesn't disable cut and paste - so he was able to complete all the exercises insanely quickly. Since the teacher allows them to surf the web once they have finished the assignments, he was able to go off and have fun by himself the entire time.

    The crowning glory came at the end of the year when the teachers were handing out class prizes - my son was awarded the prize for best EVER score on the typing tutor by the dump computer science teacher - she proudly announced that he'd scored something like 3,000 words per minute with a 0% error rate. Some of the other teachers looked a bit strangely at her - clearly realising that something had gone amok, but perhaps assuming she'd just mis-spoken the results.

    This is just one of many gaffes this teacher made. She had the kids "List 10 parts of the Computer". My kid duly wrote stuff like 'CPU', 'ROM', 'Ethernet Ataptor', 'Motherboard' - and the teacher gave him zero on the "test" saying that the correct answer was 'Mouse', 'Keyboard', 'Television' (!), 'Mouse pad', etc. When my kid complained that his computer at home didn't have a mouse pad she told him that this was nonsense and that ALL computers have mouse pads - this dissuaded him from telling her that the monitor is not, in fact, a TV set.

    Similarly, she had the kids write down the 10 good things and 10 bad things about computers. My son complained that he couldn't think of 10 bad things. His teacher gave as an example: "They crash a lot" - well, since we only run Linux at home, my son knows that this isn't necessarily true and that it's not the COMPUTER that crashes - it's the SOFTWARE. Inevitably, when he complained he got in trouble.

    I've written several letters to the teacher in question (she doesn't appear to read her email - even though it's provided by the school) - with poor results. I wrote and even visited with the Principal to try to get something done - but of course she just says that qualified staff are hard to get - and the State doesn't require that teachers are trained in the subject they are teaching.

    So, can we conclude that teaching with computers is "A Bad Thing" ?


    Not unless we've carefully checked that the teachers and curriculum are sensibly chosen. Clearly, if my son's school had spent the money that went
    into that computer lab in some other way, they'd have gotten more value for money and the kid's grades would have been better...but that doesn't prove that teaching computers are bad - just that they are ineptly managed.

  • The reason computers arent working in education is because the money is being wasted on Microsoft Windows and other licenses instead of open source software, and due to the fact that buying computers designed for business work and not designed for education is a waste of time.

    An ordinary computer should not be used for education, computers specifically designed for education should be used for education. Smartboards, which are far more advanced than ordinary chalk boards are proven to be more efficient tools for teaching. E-Learning which seems to work well in college only works due to the fact that specific software on the college level is created to teach specific subjects.

    Honestly, when I learned from the software it was far more efficient than learning from a book. Usually teachers use books, but why not use software to teach kids? Software can be interactive and this allows students to learn Math and English better than from books. The reason its not working right now is because any new technology needs time to adapt to its enviornment. When computers were first invented we did not have the software to use the internet in the way we use it now, we didnt have the search engine, we didnt have peer to peer file sharing, half of the stuff we do now with the computer was not possible in the 80s, did they say in the 80s computers were useless? Hell no.

    With Websites like Wikipedia http://www.wikipedia.org/ [wikipedia.org]
  • The Economist (Score:5, Informative)

    by artemis67 ( 93453 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:22AM (#4981411)
    The link is wrong... if you click on it, you are taken to a cybersquatter's page with a butt-ugly picture of Alan Greenspan.

    The real link to The Economist is here [economist.com].
  • I think a distinction needs to be made here between learning and teaching. A student can learn things from a computer just as they can learn things from a TV/VCR or a book (remember those?). However, for the most part, a computer can not teach students. Computers should only be used as a learning tool by teachers. When we try to replace the teaching mechanisms with the learning mechanisms, neither the teachers nor the students will benefit.
  • Incorrect conclusion (Score:2, Informative)

    by ccady ( 569355 )

    Who came to the conclusion that "Computers Not Working In Education"?

    As far as I read, there is no conclusion:

    CAIRNCROSS So, having put it in place have there been any real attempts to try to measure how well it's working? Any success in doing that?
    WATSON Oh yes. There's a substantial ongoing programme to try and measure the results. So far, the results are not tremendously clear or, at least not tremendously impressive.


    CAIRNCROSS Now of course, it is notoriously difficult to prove conclusively that any teaching method has a good or bad impact. And lots of studies of computer-based learning have reached different conclusions from Professor Angrist's
  • by weave ( 48069 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:27AM (#4981440) Journal
    Hoo boy, have I got a lot to say. But first, let me throw out a disclaimer that I am an IT person in a hier-ed (college) institution and not a trained educator, therefore my opinion doesn't mean squat (some sarcasm, some truth). I'd like to throw out the following observations, points, and opinions on this topic...

    • Teachers from all subjects are being expected to integrate technology into their lesson plans. In many cases the students know more about the tech than the instructors. The place I work provides training opportunities for instructors, but many don't seek them out or resist.
    • I find limited utility in using computers in teaching some subjects such as English. For example, one shouldn't be teaching how to use a word processor in an English class. It takes away from the core reason for the class. I do realize that people need to type up papers on computers, but that activity should be done in general labs staffed with support people to help students who don't have these skills. However, see below about stressed support staffing problems.
    • Grants are usually given for new equipment purchases, not maintenance or infrastructure. In my employer's case, that has meant a large new base of installed systems, which increases the need for tech staff, but since there is no budget for that, tech support suffers. Infrastructure such as networking and back-end servers suffers. And most importantly, the issue of replacement cost is not considered. For example, we currently have 2,000 computers. If you use a 5-year replacement cycle, which I consider not enough, you're looking at having to set aside around a half-million dollars a year to replace equipment. Despite this, we continue to add new labs. Eventually we'll have hallways full of computer ghettos... It's hard to convince people that that fast p4 today will be a dog 5 years from now (or two whenever longhorn or whatever comes out and basically uses a back-end database running on each desktop to store data instead of a file system... ooo, that'll kill a currently fast machine I'm sure...)
    • I find teaching vendor-specific programs in a college unwise, for example, programming in Visual Studio or network design using literal examples for a Cisco environment. For example, I wonder about former students who were taught dbase III when that was hot. If they were taught the concepts and theory, they could then adapt, if they were taught just dbase iii, they are now in need of retraining. But that's just a personal opinion.
    • Many computer textbooks are horribly rigid and instructors are unable to adapt in some cases. For example, stupid personalized menus in Office apps. After getting way too many complaints like "The print menu disappeared" and trying to tell people to hit the chevron, we hear that the book doesn't say to do that, so we turned off personalized menus in a GPO. Then some instructors using a different book say "The book tells the student to go down to the chevron at the bottom of the menu to expand it, but our system doesn't do that. How can I teach when our system doesn't match the book?" Another example, a textbook that tells students to do create files and dirs on the C: drive, which we have locked down via ACLs. Some instructors actually expect us to toss out desktop security so they don't have to tell students to use Z: instead of where it says C: in the textbook. And speaking of textbooks, a curse to all textbooks that include a CD-ROM that requires software to be installed to use it.
    • Computers can be a big distraction in a classroom. For example, students IM'ing each other during a lecture. Some teachers are looking at IT for a solution, which I believe we should offer, but due to staffing shortages, right now everyone is putting out other fires...
    • A few years ago, there was a big push to wire every K12 school in the state to the Internet. I remember thinking "Ah, who is going to manage all of this stuff?" One school district in my area has *one* IT person who runs around to about 20 schools. Talk about a job from hell... The schools hardly ever see this IT person, so they often appoint the most computer-literal teacher to handle many of the issues, taking that person away from their main job of teaching.
    • One tech I really do like is a single desktop in a classroom with a "smart board [smarttech.com]", something that allows an instructor to not only manipulate the mouse by touching the board, but also to annotate what's displayed with markers and save the board notes and displays at will to pdf files for later review by students. No desktops at the desks to distract students, cheaper to spread tech to every classroom, and students can practice what they learn later in a lab exercise of some sorts. I have taught evening classes before and I can first-hand testify that a lesson plan that has students repeating what you do on their own desktops drags down the pace tremendously. There is always one or two that claim that their computer isn't doing what you demonstrate and you have to stop, go back to them, and help them catch up.
  • In Norway there has been a study that shows that children learn to read and write faster using personal computers. Pupils who learnt writing on computers exclusively until the 3rd grade developed both better writing skills and quality of content of their writings. Oddly enough the children who put off writing with pen and paper had better hand-writing as well. The hypothesis given to explain the results were that small children had not fully developed motor skills, and learning to write by hand for that reason could be both frustrating and more time-consuming.

    Check out this article from Aftenposten (in Norwegian) for more:

    http://www.aftenposten.no/utdannelse/article.jhtml ?articleID=395751

  • Some of the most important qualities that children need to learn from the social structure in school - respect for other people, respect for authority, the idea that consequences arise for one's actions, and obedience of the law - cannot be taught through the use of computers. These are also some of the qualities that are most seriously lacking in today's (at least, American) education.

    Besides, many kids will always find learning boring, at least until they grow up. The ones who enjoy learning don't need computers to help them learn, and the ones who don't enjoy learning are obviously not learning anything if they're having fun. Teach the value of computers as a research tool, but never center education around the computer (certain business-centric or computer science high school courses excepted, of course).
  • The main problem with Computers and school is they they are delt with on a near Panic level. The School Board goes "OH WE NEED TO HAVE COMPUTERS TO BE ON TOP OF TECHNOLOGY" So they spend an exorbenate amount of money to get all of the top notch computers and have them setup. Now that they are their the teacher dont know what to do with them. Other then looking up information. The classes that tech kids how to use computers even the CS 101 Intro to computers class is a compleat joke, They dont show how to use computers to solve problems and lookup information and explain in high level how they work, they just show them how to use the word processor and brows the internet.
    In my day in 5th grade I took computer classes, and we learned how to program in basic and use basic to solve problems. Useing the varables to help us understand concepts in algbra before we took algbra, using Apple II basic we were taught how to solve problems more logicaly and helped undersand in detail how things work.
    When I got into Highschool they started updating the computer to get on the "Information Super Highway" (I already have been using the internet for about 2 years already) They got a bunch of computers with Windows 95 (This was in 1995) and then they began a stong computer training to modernize the school. So all the students used these computers for Word Processing and some simple browsing. They never trused the Computer Programming Class with the new computers although we could use them a lot more efficiently so we were stuck to doing our work on TRS80s.
    After spending all this money on the PCs they are not really using them for what they are ment for and they are afraid to use them in more detail in fear of breaking them.
    That is why they are not helping they are afraid to use them for what computers are for.
  • The four ingredients to a good education are a pencils, paper, books, and a teacher. The technologies that developed minds like Einstein, Shakespear, or Thomas Jefferson are good enough for my kid. Great thinkers have one thing in common: they all have been trained and are practiced in giving extraordinary meaning to funny little squiggles on pieces of paper.

    Teaching people how to think isn't going to come through a CRT with pretty pictures or entertaining or "engaging" content. I think part of the weakness of filmstrips, computers and other such educational technologies is that they are TOO visual and they spoonfeed information to students. By trying to make learning "easy", we're actually bypassing the exercise needed to develop a mind.

    Learning takes a lot of struggle and hard work. There are no shortcuts, no matter how brilliant you are. Symbols and abstraction are the raw material of the human mind. The good news is that the technologies needed to deliver the goods are cheap and effective. If we got rid of all the computers tomorrow (and other non-essential technologies) and focused more attention on these 4 raw materials, we'd see a marked improvement in the educational system.

  • kids view computers as little more than video games and media playback devices, its going to be tough.

    If it were cool to be smart, and sufficiently good software were available, computers would be the best teaching tool found to date. Making it cool to be smart is probably harder than writing the software.

    A computer is essentially a full-time one-on-one teacher with infinite patience (granted not perfect, but with strengths in addition to weaknesses). The way I would use it would be to find those children that show aptitude and results from their computer exposure, and increase their percentage of computer learning. That lets the human teachers concentrate on those who need the help, and lets those who are more self-motivated to proceed at their own pace. However, in todays politically correct world, I doubt that is happening much.

    The final thing I'd like to say on this subject is that its hard to overestimate the impact of better displays and portable systems for education. Those have both improved considerably over the last couop

  • Whether your tools are books or computers, the subject matter itself must still be drilled. Some schools see computers as a replacement for the tedious drilling ("play with the subject material"), others see them as a replacement for teachers (teaching programs), and others still see them as a glorified library or calculator. I would expect the latter category, the schools that use the computers most conservatively, to see the least of a decline in the students' performance. Those that try and use computers for new ways of learning fumble for it mostly, using inadequate software and poorly trained teachers. The very worst performers are those schools that see computers as the long-awaited tool that allows then to let the students "play with the subject material". Let the students play endlessly with (for instance) simulations of an economy, instead of drilling and teaching the fundamentals of economics, and you end up with students who are excellent problem-solvers and socializers, and even have a little grasp of the cause and effect of certain economic measures, but they'll have nu understanding of why measure a causes effect x.

    I can't see computer software replacing drilling of the subject material, except perhaps aiding it. It's very cute to be able to plot a graph at the press of a button so the students can visualise it (and what an awful buzzword in education that word has become...), rather than do the tedious analysis of the function and draw it youself, but only by doing it the hard way will you come to a good understanding of functions. Software can help build understanding, but I foresee a very limited effect.

    Software can be a replacement for a teacher to some extend. I can imagine a piece of software that does what the teacher will do when he or she sets the students to work a set of problems: look at how the student attacks the problem, and suggest different approaches or give little hints when the student gets stuck. This is like having a private tutor, available 24/7, for each of the students. Unfortunately there isn't software that is very good at this except for the simplest of problems.
  • The Internet. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Cyno01 ( 573917 ) <Cyno01@hotmail.com> on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:34AM (#4981482) Homepage
    Very few schools have been able to use the new technology for cultural exchange,...
    Well duh. I'm a student in a public high-school, we dont use the computers for much, because we cant use the computers for much. The internet is horribly filtered and major legitimate sites are blocked(it took a month to get BBC unblocked). My mom works for the school system so i use her login to read slashdot in the morning at school. Not only is there a list of blocked sites, but it also has keywords blocked, rendering almost every search on google blocked. We're not alowed near anything like newsgroups or discusion boards(/., kuro5hin etc). All of the PCs have deepfreeze on them, which sucks for so many reasons. We're not allowed to use e-mail except for our school acounts, which have adresses as long as my arm, and its stressed to us over and over again that the e-mail accounts are not ours and that they (administration) have a right to go into them at whim. For the contract type thing we have to sign to get net access, click here [k12.wi.us].
  • I tutor maths, physics & chemistry up to first year university level. The computer and the internet are incredibly useful in my "classroom" - the real problem with computers in education is the complete lack of ability demonstrated by far too many so-called professional teachers.

    Apart from the advantages of having every syllabus for every exam board (and often sample exam papers) available to me, there are extremely good online resources for my subjects which I can use as appropriate to the needs of my students. The BBC should know better - it provides a good selection of educational materials (biased towards revision more than learning) at BBC Schools [bbc.co.uk].


  • I feel that schools are drifting too far away from the basics. Computers often lead to a cycle of chasing the latest technology instead of actually doing anything useful with it. Most school boards and schools are strapped for cash and resources; attempting keeping up with the lastest in IT will only leave them in an even worse financial position.

    Computers have their place in many areas, including education. However, teachers must resist falling into the trap of just teaching the nebulous subject of computing. Is teaching a student the ins and outs of Windows or Word really a worthy use of valuable teaching time? Even if you do teach them to use say, Word, who's to say that by the time they leave the education system that Word is still going to be the word processor of the day? Even teaching them the basic desktop and window style GUI we are so familiar with may not end up being useful in the "real world" eight years down the road.

    Now computers can be useful. A typing program can save on paper. A flash card program may just be able to give a student that extra bit of help, especially with classes often becoming over-crowded. Access to the Internet could, in some cases, supply additional resource materials in the presence of a picked-over library (but here one must be careful in teaching the student to "consider the source"). It's just that using too much classroom time and fiscal resources on finicky and ever-changing computers takes away from teaching the basics. A student leaving the education system with a solid grounding in language, mathematics, science, and critical thinking, will surely be able to react and learn whatever computer systems they come across in the future.
  • By the late 80s the business press was saying, "We've got all this investment in information technology, yet productivity is stagnant." Then we hit the 90s, where the business press (and the Fed) suddenly believed that IT efficiency was justifying the market valuations bubble ... but that may be another story. The point for now is that it took about 10 years of having word processors and spreadsheets before business people learned to use them more efficiently than the typewriters and calculators they were already proficient with.

    Computers in grade school only became a big thing in about 93-94, with the Net hype. It may just take a decade or so for new tools to supplant old. By comparison, under Elizabeth I her ministers declared that the musket would replace the crossbow. Never mind that the crossbow had won many wars for the English, shot more accurately, and reloaded much faster. Embracing what in principle is new, better technology is often in the short term a step back. Then the technology improves and, more importantly, the culture of use adapts to it.

    So expect a bubble in apparent educational results in about two years.
  • Very Unsurprised (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:50AM (#4981577)

    I am very unsurprised by this.

    Computers are useful if you are teaching subjects which necessarily require them.

    Computer Programming, wordprocessing, keyboarding, Drafting/CAD, video editing and photography are all subjects for which I have seen computers effectively used.

    What do these have in common?

    You don't teach them in elementary school!

    I really think that computers in elementary school classrooms has more to do with principals obsessed with whiz-bang technology rather than anything to do with a "need" to "teach" students something they couldn't learn without them, or couldn't learn as quickly or effectively.

    I hear arguments about basic computer literacy... but basic computer literacy is difficult to teach, I don't think it can be taught properly in the current classroom environment. That is, kids need lots of time alone with the computer. You can't develop that literacy a little bit at a time with multiple kids to a system interrupted constantly by a teacher who doesn't understand the technology.

    To me, the first step in teaching somebody computer literacy, is getting them to overcome the fear of breaking something. Most teachers I've met are still at the stage of "Just click the icons... and hope it doesn't crash."

    I can't wait until people realize that computers in elementary school classrooms are a stupid idea.

  • As far as I can tell, the schools that use computers to actually teach computing are few and far between. To my mind, programming should be regarded as a life skill like arithmetic, reading, writing. I really don't think programming in most languages is harder than arithmetic, let alone basic calculus (which is taught- and if taught early enough, many more people would grasp it.

    Current "computer" classes are often "how to use MS Word and MS Excel, maybe even MS IE and MS Outlook Express".

    If kids were introduced to proper computing (i.e. CompSci stuff and languages like Logo and Lisp) at an earlier age, they'd realise that computers can be extensions of your mind, and can do arbitrary virtual things (at least until Palladium/TCPA) - they're not just glorified TVs or typewriters, and the absurd effect we have now where companies like Microsoft take mathematical algorithms and sell them as products to the ignorant masses would perhaps be reduced.

    Sure, "Computer Programmer" might become less of an elite job description, but at the same time, we'd see much better code.

    While we're at it, we should bring back lessons in basic logical reasoning, skeptical thinking, though the marketing departments of corporations and religious organisations mightn't like that...
  • As someone currently in school, I think computers are both the best thing to happen to education, and the worst.

    The other day, I found myself pulling out a calculator for something ridiculously easy; I think it was adding two 2-digit numbers -- I could have done it in my head, and it certainly would have been quicker than finding the calculator and plugging the numbers in.

    That said, I think it's also worked miracles. The Internet, in my opinion, is a tremendous advancement in research: Given a couple minutes, I can find practically anything on Google. I can type up a research paper, and have multiple drafts, simply making minor revisions, instead of re-typing (or writing by hand again) the entire thing. I can even discuss whether or not computers are good with people all over the world on Slashdot. With my calculator, I can check my work, and be confident that my answer is right. Even more exciting is that, in theory, rather than go off to college next year, I could lie around the house and get my education online. I don't plan on it, but there's huge potential.

    I think that, for the most part, computers are a good thing for education. They enable us to do much more than was even considered possible before the advent of computers, and they let us do it in a microsecond. The problem comes when people grow overreliant on computers, to the point where they forget how to divide numbers, don't know what an encylopedia is, and go to a library only to use the computer there. But used in 'proper doses,'I think computers are great for education.

  • by b17bmbr ( 608864 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @12:14PM (#4981732)
    since i am a classroom teacher, seventh grade in fact, let me add some points that are important.
    • technology decisions are made by the people least able to make them. district administrators get there by seniority, whatever, not on tech. merits. plus, with such emphasis placed on tech, there is money to spend. so it's a desired job.
    • most teachers are not technolgoically proficient. they will only tecah what they know. thus, if say Word has helped them write a worksheet out better, they will have the kids use that.
    • most principals are not too tech savvy, and most, sadly, are concerned with appearnaces. thus, "kids using comptuers" sounds great. and it plays well in the press.
    • finding good technological people is hard. face it, schools don't pay as well. sure, there are lots of other benefits to schools, but money is not #1. and even though we are in a slow IT sector, most tech poeple hired in schools got their jobs during the boom, and are not likely to leave. plus, replacing people in a school district is VERY HARD (another "benefit")
    • education is awash with fads. cooperative learning, authentic assessment, whole language, you name it, it's there. technology is just another "fad" in education. "we're using technology", sound wonderful. eduaction is a place horrible for new "ideas" that sound great, and work for shit. nobody ever bothers to, nor actaully cares to, look for resutls.
    • relating to point one, companies will easily throw around freebies in return for purchases. i have seen district tech people brag about their getting tons of software (oh, i don't konw, xp pro, vs .net, office xp, etc). or, those damn software catalogs say buy 10, get three title free.
    • import staement.controversial.*;

      many teachers(remember i am a public school teacher), lets face it, have a very easy job. having them bang away on a computer for a few days, especially if there's a lab tech in there, makes it a piece of cake.

    • it's not that technolgoy should not be in schools. i am finishing a masters in instructional technology. it's just that beaurocratic problems and inertia make change damn near impossible. for instance, are district had spent lots of money on an netrworking infrastructure, moving towards, as our former, now retired, (and clueless) tech admin said "fewer, more powerful, servers". this at the time that that the indsutry was moving towards more, smaller, servers, disrtributed computing. so did we change. no, inertia. so, get to your school boards, they are elected you know, and demand accountability.
  • The REAL problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @12:32PM (#4981837) Homepage Journal
    A lot of you have said the same thing, but kindof beat all around the subject without getting to the real point, so I'll put it in plain language:

    Computers in the classroom do NOT teach the subject matter to the kids. They only teach the kids how to use a *particular set of desktop applications* (not necessarily even anything about the computer itself).

    Second, as only one person pointed out, and as has been largely forgotten by the educational system as it stands today -- after presenting the subject matter, it must be drilled, and the drilling must be done such that the learner has to interact with the drill, if only by writing it down with their own hand (NOT by typing/clicking it -- different neural pathway, so doesn't work to embed the information). Why? Because rote learning is how you make the subject matter STICK in kids' brains. And if it's boring at the time, tough -- do you want them to really remember it or not??

    Third, as only one other person touched on, the issue of discipline in the classroom has gone by the wayside, and given how easy it is for most kids to get more interested in bypassing what's allowed on their computers than in the subject matter, computers exacerbate this. Now the object is to keep kids "interested" -- and it's clearly not working. The old method of "you will sit still and learn this like it or not, end of discussion" may not have been "enjoyable" but it WORKED. Make up your minds -- do you want to keep kids entertained, or do you want them to grow up into competent adults? Because you can't have both.

    Want to fix the problems generated and exacerbated by computers in the classroom? Easy. Restrict computers and in-school computer use to one place: the classes that are specifically *about* computers.

    That won't do anything for the more-basic issues of bad teachers and bad school systems, but at least it will stop masking the problem.

    • I'm a little angry, so forgive me if I get haughty. I didn't respond well to "rote learning" as a kid.
      Second, as only one person pointed out, and as has been largely forgotten by the educational system as it stands today -- after presenting the subject matter, it must be drilled..

      "Rote-drills" only work for the small percentage of kids who are wired for that kind of learning. And many of those kids won't focus their attention enough to learn even then.
      As a result, bright, precocious, successful kids become more successful. Some truly brilliant kids who are developmentally delayed, who have ADD, who have different intelligences are relegated to "career tracks" where they will not blossom. So when the pathways develop that allow for higher math learning, for example, the kid's already in some vocational program learning to be an MCSE. What a waste!

      The old method of "you will sit still and learn this like it or not, end of discussion" may not have been "enjoyable" but it WORKED.

      It really didn't work that well. It worked for lots of kids who were in school, who were suited to it. Remember, lots of kids dropped out during the "glory days" of instructivist rote-drills. Lots of kids finished school at 8th grade, then went to work in factories or farms. These are the kids who were wasted on "rote drills." Sure, some of them were just unintelligent. But many of them weren't suited to the 19th century education you advocate. That worked well in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We had lots of laborer jobs. Now we have an information economy. We just don't have that many of those types of jobs anymore.
      We shouldn't just throw away kids who don't respond well to rote learning. It's a very narrow view of learning and very elitist.

      Want to fix the problems generated and exacerbated by computers in the classroom? Easy. Restrict computers and in-school computer use to one place: the classes that are specifically *about* computers.

      I guess that would be the easiest way to do it. It's probably the easiest and quickest way to be eclipsed by Europe and Asia. How about doing more research and figuring out how to make computer assisted learning work?

      Now, if you're truly interested in what real educators have learned about the educational process, you can do some googling on the following topics:

      Constructivism [google.com]
      Multiple Intelligences [google.com]
      Ed Tech theory [google.com]

      And here begins my rant about Slashdot, and parent poster, please forgive me if I offend. Lord knows I've said and written some incredibly stupid stuff - orders of magnitude worse than what I took offense at in your post.

      Why do we tend to write things like "Of COURSE, any IDIOT would know that XXXXX would solve YYYYY problem?" Do we think that the experts in the field are all sitting around with their thumbs up their fannies? We have a huge field of research in this area. It's fine to share your opinion. That's what Slashdot is about. But come on, don't be so arrogant about it - like the solutions are SO OBVIOUS, ANY IDIOT could figure them out. We are working on the solutions while so many others are just whining and griping.

      Inform yourself, do some digging, some reading. Problems are almost always more complex than they first appear. Solutions are almost always more difficult to achieve than it seems they should be.

      End rant.
  • Learning is intrinsically an action where the brain is excercised in order to be able to carry out the action on it's own. Very much like sport if you want to think of it that way. Computers do not change this in any way: Learning remains learning. A computer cannot make you learn any better, I would think. The techno-addict mentality of modern schools probably makes learning worse in that too much time is spent playing with technical toys (I don't mean modern job requisites like word processing, using mail etc, just mucking with the devices) instead of getting the children to use their own brains.
  • by panurge ( 573432 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @12:43PM (#4981893)
    And I have the impression that it isn't taught any more in the US and the UK. Rote learning, multiple choice exams have destroyed a lot of the challenge of teaching as well as being taught. And teaching doesn't pay enough to be a worthwhile career for most people.

    Expecting underqualified teachers to teach challenging subjects while requiring them to use unfamiliar hardware, someone else's idea of appropriate software, and an unstable environment (email, messaging) when no-one has really thought out the necessary changes to classroom behavior and trained teachers appropriately...well, I think it's a recipe for disaster and I'm extremely relieved that all my children are past school age. With luck the system will have changed by the time any grandchildren are old enough.

    A true story. A few years back I briefly considered going back into teaching. To be exact, I considered doing a course that would have qualified me to teach teachers to use IT in the classroom. There were two problems. First, the college turned out not really to know what the course content should be. The person in charge was a pre-IT trained educator, not a computer scientist or an educational psychologist. Oh, and second, he admitted that there was no guarantee that the Government would actually fund these training posts.

    In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is looking for the way out.

  • Good teachers.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cvd6262 ( 180823 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @01:14PM (#4982088)
    There is a saying in educational technology (yes, that is my field), that computers will never replace teachers, but teachers who know computers will replace teachers that don't.

    Well, a European associate turned that around: If you can be replaced by a computer, you should be.

    I started my undergrad in graphic design, and there is a rightly prevailing attitude in that field that the computer is no more than a tool, and knowing a few graphics program does not make you a designer. The same holds true in education.

    We have seen too many educational packages put together by business, marketing, and computer peopl,e and not enough with real instructional theory behind them. Most educators are not capableof that.

    Computers are just tools, and if they've failed, it is not the computer's fault, but the people who used them incorrectly.

    I for one am using computers to teach lesser-taught foreign languages (Arabic, Swahili, Korean, Chinese, etc.) to people I will never meet, and who do not have the time or resources to attend school. Computers have not failed here because: a) we are getting as good results as in-class equivalents, and b) these students would otherwise be left without this education.

  • by Baracus ( 628287 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @01:39PM (#4982273)

    Like practically all of you, this study comes as no suprise to me either. When I was in K-12 back in the mid 80's to late 90's the only thing I remember using a computer in class for was playing a game. I never wrote a single paper at school using a computer, nor did I ever use it to do research. Having a computer in the classroom meant one thing to students and one thing only... games. And the funny thing is none of the teachers I've ever had discouraged that attitude, or more accurately, encouraged the perception of the pc as a learning tool.

    I've always beleieved the pc (like tv) has had minimal impact in my acquisition of knowledge because a pc cannot teach you to think. It is the attitudes and actions of the teachers and parents of students that set the stage for their apporach and attitude towards education.

    That being said computers cannot be ignored as a tool for aiding students in becoming educated (internet, online encyclopedias, word processing, desktop publishing, blah, blah). For that reason I think school districts shouldn't spend money in purchasing and maintaining computer labs and should offer incentives to the parents of students by supplying them with vouchers to make purchasing a computer for their home more viable. That way the cost of maintaining/upgrading equipment is transferred from the school to the student who is the actual user of the equipment. After all, if a student has purchased a study guide to help him perform better in math or english and if it requires special software to be installed why shouldn't he be able to do so? Let the use and upkeep of computers be the responsibility of those who use them. A voucher system would also give students the opportunity to purchase a computer they are most comfortable with whether it's a Mac, pc (windows/linux), desktop, or laptop. Why should the student be forced to do his homework a certain way using a specific computer/application when he has a choice?

    In my mind, there are a vast number of reasons for schools not to have computers in the classroom and having a voucher system in its place. From my own experience, a voucher system for purchasing a computer would have greatly eased the buying process of my family's first pc and I am absolutely positive that is true for millions of other people out there.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.