Sunday, April 20, 2008

Trying to Understand Digital Kids

As of late, I have been trying to sift through Ian Jukes' vast collection of handouts, and have found particular interest in Understanding Digital Kids: Teaching and Learning in the New Digital Landscape. I can easily agree with most of the article however, my thinking has been challenged on a few points that Ian presents.

For instance, he says:
The real problem is that they're just not interested, not listening and increasingly tuning us out. We hear teachers complain all the time that kids have short attention spans - that they just can't focus - that they can't even remember the names of the state or the capitals when asked.

Meanwhile that same student is thinking, "Why do I have to know this when I can Google the answer in 2 seconds?"
And the same kids who can't remember can instantly and enthusiastically remember the lyrics to 1000 songs or the characteristics of 100 video game characters. Their attention spans aren't short for games or music, or anything else that actually interests them. They just have short attention spans for old ways of teaching, learning, and assessment of that learning.

I firmly understand that the "Digital Natives" have brains wired differently than those of the "Digital Immigrants" but I am pretty sure kids in high school have always been somewhat disconnected and not very interested in school. Am I wrong here?

The message I give my own teenage son and the elementary students I am privileged to teach is that there are moments when learning is hard and takes time, patience, and persistence. Learning sometimes requires an intense focus that can be slow.

Despite the ability to have fingertip knowledge we still need to instill a strong work ethic, to be able to work through problems that we may not be very interested in, and completing it with high quality.

In my own home I hear from my teenage son, "Why do I need to know European History, I won't ever need this stuff?"

My response sounds something like this: Perhaps your are correct - you may never need to know European History but think about the project that you have had a month to work on. There was really much more to learn than just the boring content that you are "not interested" in. What about learning time management, meeting a deadline, planning around your schedule in order to complete that the task with a high level of quality, being accountable, responsible, and yes working through something that you didn't want to do in the first place.


These are life lessons that our digital landscape makes incredibly challenging to instill in our youth today.

Despite Abundance, Asia, and Automation it seems these attributes will be required for a successful and fruitful career. I wonder if I am thinking too much into this and should simply shrug it off and say, "Kids will be kids?" But that is just not how I am wired.

For me it has always been about balance as well as not doing the same things differently...how can I help prepare my students and my own children for an uncertain future and instill a strong work ethic? I also follow up my message to my teenage son with the idea that no matter what you end up doing in life hopefully you will be passionate about it and never give up. Passion and Persistence, now there is a tall order.

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