Letter to County Council Regarding S.T.A.T.

Dear County Council Members,

I am writing on behalf of concerned BCPS parents regarding the newest rounds of BCPS policy involving STAT (especially the leasing of 1:1 devices, the amount of assessment and instructional time spent on devices, and data privacy).

Today, I was listening to a radio broadcast of the hearing involving Governor Rick Snyder from MI and the Flint MI water crisis. One thing is very clear: politicians chose to ignore the warnings of the community who knew something was wrong with their water, and these politicians put money over human health and well-being. While there was data proving problems with the new water source existed, the data were ignored. Meanwhile, decisions to switch water sources were made with NO data proving that switching the water sources was a good thing.

The flood of technology-driven policies being launched in Baltimore County Schools are like lead-based water. BCPS is switching our water from one source to another (water being the parallel for learning). Certain parallels should be made clear to you:

  • We, the community, know there is something fundamentally wrong with the increased push toward technology-based instruction and assessments in lieu of human and collaborative interactions. Yet, our voices are being ignored.
  • There is no data to suggest that moving away from existing models of instruction and assessment and toward (so-called) “personalized” device driven instruction is any better for children.
  • There is ample evidence suggesting that the switch toward more online providers for teaching and learning are driven by economics (saving money for the district and profits for the companies who lobbied for the policies) thus outing money over human health and well-being. The people directly involved with education technology industry and policy are quick to tell you that every child “needs” 21st century skills, that they “need” to be educated more and more via online methods. Yet, they have NO evidence to show this is in fact “necessary.” So ask….WHY? It’s on YOU, the BCPS policy makers to pause and ask yourselves this question.

Because here’s what we DO know. Online device-driven instruction leads to:

  • Increased risks of obesity-increased seat time
  • Reduction of opportunities to engage with multiple learning styles: kinesthetic, social, verbal, environmental…all reduced to visual screen time.
  • Loss of socialization and development of social cuing.

“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” said Yalda Uhls, a senior researcher with UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center, in a news release. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.”

http://www.ctvnews.ca/mobile/health/excessive-screen-time-may-hurt-a-child-s-ability-to-understand-emotions-study-1.1972211

Kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens, and it may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions, according to new research out of the University of California, Los Angeles.

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/28/343735856/kids-and-screen-time-what-does-the-research-say

  • Damage to eyes, hands/wrists, and neck.

“Children can develop pain in their fingers and wrists, narrowed blood vessels in their eyes (the long-term consequences of which are unknown), and neck and back pain from being slumped over their phones, tablets and computers.” http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/well/2015/07/06/screen-addiction-is-taking-a-toll-on-children/?referer=

  • Loss of data privacy = online platforms delivered to third-party organizations who track every response and behavior your child makes in their learning process. Every bit tracked and monitored and managed. My child is not an unwilling consumer forced to share private information simply because a private company (like Pearson or KIPP) has been made an LEA.
  • Increases ADHD-like symptoms. “Children who are heavy users of electronics may become adept at multitasking, but they can lose the ability to focus on what is most important, a trait critical to the deep thought and problem solving needed for many jobs and other endeavors later in life.” http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/well/2015/07/06/screen-addiction-is-taking-a-toll-on-children/?referer=
  • An adrenaline-driven mentality to learning (like addiction). As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome.These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention…excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain

So please, as you decide to vote to spend more monies on technology (simply because it seems like the “in” thing or “cool” thing to do because well, “everybody’s doing it”) consider this: Years from now, after learning has been destroyed for a generation of our children because of the lack of thought you put into the decisions you are making for them today, you may find yourselves taking the stand, like Rick Snyder. We, the community will be demanding from you an account for your ignorance and negligence in the face of facts, concerns, and plain common sense which we are presenting to you today. If we learn from anything from history its how not to repeat the same mistakes. Don’t destroy a generation of our children for the sake of politics and profits. Be better than that. Hit the pause button and learn the facts before making decisions that will lead to irreparable harm for our children and our public schools.

Morna McDermott McNulty

BCPS parent and Professor of Education, Towson University

Baltimore County Parent Attends Pearson Conference

When the average minivan mom attends a Pearson Conference, strange and wild things have the potential of happening.  Armed with several notebooks, piles of sticky notes and a box of pens, the $100 spent on the virtual ticket, turned out to be some of the best money that I’ve ever spent.

Admittedly, it signals strange times when the average parent finds it necessary to attend the very conferences that her own school administrators attend.  Conferences where those administrators are presenters and, sometimes, keynote speakers due to their status as industry leaders, despite the harsh reality in their school system being something much less flattering — one filled with angst, frustration, suspicion and mistrust.

When parents are buying tickets to the events for which our school administrators fly cross-country to attend, where the top executives stay in posh hotels and sit elbow-to-elbow with our school system’s salivating vendors, it’s a clear sign that there might be trust issues among the parents.  When we find ourselves anxious to learn what exactly our school system executives are up to and what they are planning to do to our children, it might be a sign that things have reached desperate levels.  And at Baltimore County Public Schools, they most certainly have.

After months of even school board members asking the question “how much screen time are the students in the pilot schools getting?” or “Show us the quantitative data that suggests students are thriving academically in the pilot schools.” and not receiving an answer, I was hopeful to be able to find some of these answers in Florida, albeit virtually.

Besides hearing the future of my children’s education being compared to a frozen yogurt bar or trip to Starbucks, due to the personalized and customizable options adults have (and students, they said, lack), I did not learn the answers to my questions.  But a great deal was learned at this event, and the 15 webcasts that I chose to view proved to be quite useful in beginning to wrap my mind around all of these educational buzzwords that I keep hearing.

Attending this conference was like being on a wild rollercoaster of emotions.  From realizing that my school system is but a speck on the back of this fast-moving digital conversion Trojan Horse –when all along I had thought that Baltimore County Public Schools was the visionary that came up with all of these concepts like blended, personalized and customized learning — to learning from another presentation that the “gamification of education” was necessary in order to gain the attention of students of these times, it was truly an enlightening, yet extremely frustrating, learning experience.

The realization, too,  was that Baltimore County Public Schools is in grave trouble due to a combination of issues which has, essentially, created the perfect storm.  For one, most parents are completely unaware of what is happening with our STAT program and we are in a school system that takes advantage of that ignorance.

At this Pearson conference, there was one parent, in particular, who was admonished for not being so ignorant, however.  In fact, she was spotlighted as an example of “what went wrong” for almost the entirety of one of the presentations at this Pearson conference.  She was a parent who took issue with the quality of her child’s education, the amount of screen time and the farce of this “blended learning” movement.  She had been courageous enough to speak up at a board meeting and had delivered a very well-informed and powerful speech.  In fact, the speech was so powerful that it began the derailment of the size of that particular blended learning plan, but mostly because she had a school board who was receptive to hearing her pleas and in seeing the truth about screen time and the lack of quality of the educational software the school system had employed.

The “blended learning” consultant for that school system, also the COO of iNACOL (the International Association for K-12 Online Learning), used this woman as an example of what happens when a school system fails to gain stakeholder buy-in from parents.  In fact, he stated at the beginning of his presentation, as he was putting her picture up on the big screen, that the entire impetus for the presentation was “due to this woman” and that she was “the star” of that day’s presentation.

Watching this particular presentation, which was almost completely devoted to this one woman and her son, angered me the most and is, perhaps, most representative of the smugness with which some in this industry go about doing “business in education”. The things that this woman had to say were evidently so profound, in fact, that over a year later, Bruce Friend, that COO of iNACOL, a leading force in the virtual, online and blended learning model which is sweeping the nation, was still pained about it and he found it necessary to use her, her picture, her school system and even the exact date of the BOE meeting at which she spoke, as an example of what happens when, in his view, school systems fail to educate parents and get their “buy-in”.   

I was so offended by this presentation and the blatant disrespect of this woman and her son that we found her, due solely to the level of detail given about her in the presentation. Although living a couple hundred miles away, she was found within three minutes flat and was alerted to this presentation, a short time later.  What Mr. Friend did not know about this woman, who he alluded to as being confused, while referring to her son in an equally derogatory manner, was that she is an active and very vocal advocate and is in no way confused, whatsoever.  In fact, she is well aware and well informed about what he, and others like him, are peddling.  That Pearson presentation video has since been pulled from Pearson’s webcast archives.

It does not take long to come to the realization of what this blended, personalized and virtual-learning movement is actually peddling.  But it will require parent engagement and interest in order to save our school system.  Just like this woman, parents in Baltimore County need to be informed and then must act upon the information, in the ways that their talents are best used.

While people like Bruce Friend may never have anticipated the level of interest, courage and awareness of those “confused” moms (and dads) across the country, he should hopefully know by now, that while some of us might be late to discovering, many of us, like that woman, are engaged and we are resourceful.  Perhaps the biggest upside to being one of the country’s biggest digital initiative guinea pig experiments here in Baltimore County, is that it has awakened the parents.

My time and money at the Pearson conference were well spent.  We have, indeed, reached a level at which we have to pay attention and do desperate things like follow our school administration around, virtually and otherwise. Parents must become engaged and stay engaged.  We must do our own research and share our resources and not follow rumor and hysteria, but actively inform ourselves on information that already exists and is available. We just have to be willing to be awake and to become informed; and we must push past the feeling that this is just too big, but keep moving forward, no matter what.  Our school system depends on it and our 112,000 students deserve it.

Security and Privacy Challenges Relating to School Provided Electronic Devices

This essay is written by a Baltimore County parent and computer engineer.

Security and Privacy Challenges Relating to School Provided Electronic Devices

Introduction

Today’s digitalization of the school environment seems to be evolving at a rapid pace. As is the case with sweeping change in any environment, rapid adoption of digital learning has not taken into consideration many of consequences related to its implementation. In addition to the lack of consideration relating to the effects of digital learning, there also appears to be a lack of genuine communication to those potentially exposed to the risks introduced in a digital learning environment. The information presented here is intended to reveal some of the very important risks associated with a continued migration towards a purely digital learning environment. The information presented will largely focus on how the introduction of technology can create substantial security and privacy risks for the public at large.

School System Provided Technology

School provided digital technology intended to be used at home, seemingly harmless on the surface,   introduces a host of security and privacy issues once introduced in the home. Consider for a moment why organizations implement security policies that disallow ALL outside devices from connecting to a network. A similar approach must be considered on the home family network.  The challenge, however, is that a typical family does not possess the technology skills of a sophisticated IT staff which is tasked to protect organizational networks and intellectual property. This is not intended to imply that schools are deliberately causing harm. Digital devices in and of themselves are not the primary concern as it relates to security and privacy. The primary exposure to students and families comes from the software loaded on these devices and the websites accessed by devices which cannot be properly vetted to ensure total and absolute protection of students and families. Additionally, the people and organizations responsible for making decisions on the types of applications and application content gathering characteristics of devices must be contemplated.

It is important to stress that it is not possible to fully vet any device provided by a school. Even if it were possible, that possibility is a fleeting moment in time that is lost the moment an application is updated or those in charge decide to modify the behavior of a device.

Potential Points of Exposure

One must carefully consider what is at risk once an untrusted device is connected to a home network and students access school system mandated online resources. The following partial list of items aims to make the public aware of the type of information and network access that is readily available to a device connected to a home network.

  • Device names of all connected devices on a home network
  • Manufacturers of all connected devices on a home network
  • Local network addressing scheme of home network
  • Access to home photos and videos stored on a shared device
  • Access to music and movies stored on a shared device
  • Eavesdropping – listening through microphone, watching though device camera
  • Network share access can be used to plant malicious software
  • Names of various networks in your home
  • Time when certain devices are used within your home (example, a user turns on a computer, a user arrives home and mobile phone connects to a network)
  • Geolocate (approximate the geographical location)  the device at any time.

Additionally, students may be forced to use certain web based learning applications which adds an additional layer of privacy concern for the student. Some of the privacy issues relating to third party content providers are:

  • Student identity is transmitted to third parties
  • Data relating to student performance is gathered and stored by third parties
  • Third parties track patterns of student online behavior while in the home

Based on this partial list of security and privacy risks, a rogue school district, software developer, supplier or administrator can extrapolate the following: (these are just a few examples, the risks are considerably higher than what is presented here).

  • Track a user’s geographical location each time the device connects to the internet
  • Track when people (parents, friends, siblings, etc) leave the home and return home
  • Listen to and watch activity within the home (for those who find this hard to conceive there are well documented cases of school districts watching students through the camera of school provided devices while in their home)
  • Monitor and track student activity within school provided applications. This type of data, when collected, can be used by school districts and third party content providers to build and store profiles of usage patterns and performance metrics down to the student level. This is to say, students’ identities are directly tied to a trove of information gathered over the course of their digital education. School systems can (and have) used this type of information to harm individuals it sees as problematic.

Legal Implications

School systems are generally aware of the legal implications stemming from the sharing of personally identifiable information. Often times, a school district may mandate that its contracted third party application providers sign legal agreements which outline certain standards that must be met when handling student personally identifiable information. These agreements may be presented to stakeholders as evidence of the efforts put forth to protect students. While this is a step in the right direction, it does little to actually protect student information from getting into the wrong hands. One just needs to look at the countless data breaches that have occurred already (most of which were protected by similar legal agreements).

If school administrators believed that sensitive data could be protected, they would not be compelled to purchases insurance to protect against data breaches. This seems to indicate that they do believe that breaches are inevitable.

Recommendations and Possible Solutions

From a purely technical point of view, school provided digital devices must at all times be treated as an untrusted device given the impossibility of that device ever being fully vetted and trusted. Educational applications stored on the device are compiled computer programs (not human readable) which make it virtually impossible to know what the application is actually collecting and doing.  Furthermore, web based learning applications continue to store vast amounts of information relating to students. When coupled, locally resident computer programs can work with web based applications to transmit information to third parties. This presents a very real and serious danger that goes far beyond what most would find acceptable.

A significant reduction in student and family privacy risk can be achieved by approaching the digital learning concept from a point of view that puts the protection of students and families first while achieving the same results digital learning aims for.

  • School systems should avoid deploying digital devices intended to be used at home since the school system itself cannot guarantee the protection of student and family privacy once a device has entered the home. The legal implications alone can devastate a school system and waste considerable time and resources defending privacy concerns.
  • School systems should not, ever, share the identities of any student with third party application and content providers. Unfortunately this is rarely the case. School systems should be solely responsible for storing student data. Schools should not be in the business of endorsing third party applications which collect and store student data.
  • School systems should be tasked (mandated) to architect systems that buffer students from third party content providers. This prevents third parties from gathering information such as student identity, performance and individual patterns.
  • School districts shall not impose on students and families nor pressure them into connecting school provided devices to a home network. School districts that insist on such a device should also provide connectivity options other than relying on the family home network. The only currently viable option is to provide devices with cellular data connections through a mobile network operator. This would add a monthly cost of roughly $20 per device to the school system which is not a good use of funds intended for education.

Summary

In closing, it is imperative that students and their families are made aware of the technical implications of bringing school provided devices home and the use of educational applications. There are already well documented cases of overreaching school districts and administrators breaching the privacy of citizens. The concepts presented here are intended to prevent such violations while continuing to give school districts access to digital technology. The added benefit is that the concepts presented in this document can save school systems across the country billions of dollars in hardware and maintenance expenses by simply moving applications outside of the home and allowing students to access applications from devices they already own and trust.  These applications, however, should be protected such that students are not directly accessing third party resources as part of a curriculum, especially when application developers have a vested interest in collecting and storing student data. School systems have a moral and civic obligation to protect the privacy of its students. Unfortunately, given the seeming rush to implement digital environments by school systems across the country, important issues such as the privacy are largely overlooked.

Parents and stakeholders should take it upon themselves to ensure that schools are adequately addressing privacy and security issues.  Parents should get familiar with the legal implications of adopting digital learning. Specifically, parents should get familiar with:

  • Any agreements relating to the use of technology in learning and the rights students and parents may be sacrificing without their direct knowledge
  • Software license agreements students and parents are directly accepting or indirectly accepting through a blanket agreement with a school

Lastly, the framework and concepts  presented in this document are not intended to imply any wrongdoing by a school district but rather to be used as a framework that achieves the mutually beneficial goals of protecting students (and their families) while allowing school districts to make use of technology in a responsible way.

 

State-Wide Bill to Mandate a Computer for Every Child in Every Maryland Classroom

A Maryland state bill is being considered now.  There is a Senate hearing Wednesday, 3/16 at 1:00 pm.

12841430_1781036482120130_1451618443300285575_o.jpg

Among other things, the wireless school infrastructure needed for a 1:1 (one laptop per student) program is VERY expensive — Baltimore County spent nearly $13 million for infrastructure in support of the STAT digital initiative, which is costing nearly $300 million total in the first several years. Better tech options and wireless are needed in schools, but the pricetag of such an extensive, unproven use of tech would cripple many school systems, let alone the millions in annual leasing costs. This would be set up by 12/16.

STAT is the Baltimore County Public Schools’ acronym for “Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow”

STAT really is going STATewide. The “Digital Equity for All Act” currently being considered by the State Senate requires the Maryland State Department of Education to:

*develop and adopt infrastructure standards that support the use of digital devices at a 1:1 ratio by 12/1/16
*require each system to meet infrastructure standards and implement a policy that provides for the use of a digital device for every student or allows devices to be brought from home by 12/1/19
*administer a Digital Equity Grant program to fund infrastructure, devices and development of innovative uses of technology to enhance classroom instruction and learning opportunities for students
See Bill text and sponsors (including District 6 Senator)

Contact Info for Sponsor and Cosponsors of Senate Bill 1041: Let’s let them know what we think about this bill. (Those in bold are Baltimore County and Baltimore City representatives).
Primary Sponsor:
Sen James Rosapepe [D] 21, # PG & AA 410-841-3141, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3141
jim.rosapepe@senate.state.md.us
Cosponsors:
Sen Gail Bates [R] 9, Carroll & Howard # 410-841-3671
gail.bates@senate.state.md.us
Sen Joan Conway [D] 43, Baltimore City, # Chair 410-841-3145, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3145
joan.carter.conway@senate.state.md.us
Sen Ulysses Currie [D] 25, PG, $ 410-841-3127, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3127
ulysses.currie@senate.state.md.us
Sen Brian Feldman [D] 15, Mont, %
410-841-3169, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3169
brian.feldman@senate.state.md.us
Sen William Ferguson [D] 46, Baltimore City, $ 410-841-3600, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3600
bill.ferguson@senate.state.md.us
Sen Guy Guzzone [D] 13, Howard $
410-841-3572
guy.guzzone@senate.state.md.us
Sen Cheryl Kagan [D] 17, Mont. #
410-841-3134, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3134
cheryl.kagan@senate.state.md.us
Sen Delores Kelley [D] 10, Baltimore Co 410-841-3606, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3606
delores.kelley@senate.state.md.us
Sen Nancy King [D] 39, Mont. $
410-841-3686, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3686
nancy.king@senate.state.md.us
Sen Susan Lee [D] 16, Mont, %
410-841-3124, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3124
susan.lee@senate.state.md.us
Sen Richard Madaleno [D] 18, Mont. # Vice-Chair 410-841-3137, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3137 richard.madaleno@senate.state.md.us
Sen Nathaniel McFadden [D] 45, Balto City, $ 410-841-3165, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3165
nathaniel.mcfadden@senate.state.md.us
Sen Douglas Peters [D] 23, PG #
410-841-3631, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3631
douglas.peters@senate.state.md.us
Sen Victor Ramirez [D] 47, PG,
410-841-3745,1-800-492-7122, ext. 3745
victor.ramirez@senate.state.md.us
Sen Johnny Salling [R] 6, Baltimore County 410-841-3587, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3587
johnnyray.salling@senate.state.md.us
Sen Bryan Simonaire [R] 31, AA, #
410-841-3658, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3658
bryan.simonaire@senate.state.md.us
Sen Craig Zucker [D] 14, Mont, #
(410) 841-3625
craig.zucker@senate.state.md.us
#=Member of Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee
$=Budget & Taxation Committee
%=Finance Committee
Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Staff: Sara C. Fidler; Theodore E. King, Jr.; Ryane M. Necessary. (410) 841-3661, (301) 858-3661
Senator Joan Carter Conway, Chair
Senator Paul G. Pinsky, Vice Chair

Two Occupational Therapists Speak Out

A Baltimore County occupational therapist writes about the 1:1 tablet initiative in Baltimore County Public Schools and the health implications for the national push for more computer time in school.

March 13, 2016

There remains mounting concern over the initiative for children to have increased access to technological devices throughout a typical school day.  Between parents, pediatricians, occupational therapists and other developmental specialists, our voices should be heard and acknowledged.

Research continues to evolve that analyzes the developmental effect the increased use of tablets and other screen devices have on children and their growing brains.  While many may argue that students are more engaged, appear to pay more attention, and learn academic skills at a quicker rate, they are fast to ignore the decrease in social engagement, play skills, fine motor skill use and muscle strengthening.

As a pediatric occupational therapist working with children with various mild to severe diagnoses or delays, it is evident that there is a rise in children presenting with motor delays, which at times can be linked to overuse of tablets, cell phones and other technological devices. Overexposure to the vast pieces of technological equipment can be linked to impaired learning, increased impulsivity, executive functioning delays, decreased ability to self-regulate and tantrums. 

What about eye strain? Or posture maintenance as a child’s neck is constantly looking down at a tablet and they begin to hunch over in their chair? Finger strength diminishes as they no longer need to maintain a grasp pattern on a pencil or crayon and apply or assert pressure to write and color.  Can a child become addicted to technology? Some studies seem to think so.  Even more alarming is the thought of radiation emission from wireless devices flooding the classroom. It has even warranted the American Academy of Pediatrics to request review of EMF radiation emissions from technology devices in 2013.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement titled “Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years” in 1999 with the purpose to provide parental education about the negative effects of media exposure to this age group.  As the years have passed and further research has been conducted, a more recent policy statement was released by the AAP and published in November 2011 in their Pediatric journal.  This article states that media use has been associated with obesity, sleep issues, aggressive behaviors and attention issues.  The AAP continues to stand by its statement that there are no known positive effects, but yet potentially negative effects for children younger than two years when exposed to media use.

In an article written by Perri Klass, M.D., in the New York Times titled “Fixated by Screens, but Seemingly Nothing Else”, screen use and attentional issues were discussed.  The author stated that increased screen time may be linked to and also a consequence of A.D.H.D.  This article also referenced a study in 2010 in the journal Pediatrics that stated viewing more television and playing more video games were associated with attention problems in school age children and college undergraduates.

Children are exposed to bright screens with intense visual stimulation which can alter the wiring of the brain. As children become so accustomed to the screen and intense visual stimulation, they are in turn less able to focus on a teacher or a “still” environment that does not produce the same visual stimulus.  Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at the University of Washington School of Medicine stated “if a child’s brain gets habituated to that pace (of a video game or highly stimulating screen) and to the extreme alertness needed to keep responding and winning, the child may find the realities of the world underwhelming, understimulating.”  Learning and functioning behind a screen is not always indicative of the real world.

In an article in the Huffington Post, Cris Rowan writes “diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, developmental delays, unintelligible speech, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders are associated with technology overuse and are increasing at an alarming rate.”

While I am a strong component of the use of technology, I suggest limits should be set and a healthy occupational balance should be maintained.  This means shorter time periods of tablet/device use and the continuation of functional activities such as handwriting, creative and imaginative play and sensory motor play and experiences.  I occasionally use an iPad as a therapeutic tool in therapy sessions; but, it does not replace the use of various other practical tasks.

With the growth of technology in today’s world, we can assume that a majority of children have access to tablets and devices at home. If they are spending so much time at home on them, is it necessary that we also force their use in the classroom?  I welcome the opportunity to further discuss this emergent epidemic as we watch our children grow in an environment overwhelmed with screens.

Lindsay Marzoli, MS, OTR/L #06167

Licensed and Registered Pediatric Occupational Therapist

Director of Occupational Therapy Services

Learning and Therapy Corner, LLC

1818 Pot Spring Road, Suite 100

Lutherville, MD 21093

410-583-5765

Lmarzoli@LTCorner.com

http://www.LTCorner.com

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). Policy Statement: Media Use by Children Younger Than

2 Years. Retrieved November 21, 2013 by pediatrics.aappublications.org

Blog Post by Cris Rowan, Pediatric Occupational Therapist. Posted on 3/6/2014 and updated on

3/24/2014 titled 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children

Under the Age of 12.

Huffington Post. The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child.

Cris Rowan, OTR. Posted on 5/29/2013 and updated on 7/29/2013.

The New York Times. May 9, 2011. Screen Fixation and A.D.H.D- Fixated by Screens, but

Seemingly Nothing Else. Dr. Perri Klass. NYTimes.com

And here is an anonymous response by another Baltimore County occupational therapist:

I agree with the OT’s perspective about technology in the classroom. The STAT program can play an important role in learning, but it needs to be used in moderation. BCPS OTs report to each other that they are seeing more referrals and the students do not have the same quality of fine motor skills than in previous years. They attribute this to children spending more time indoors and on devices. The children are not playing with toys and are not playing outside with other children. Eye strain, decreased finger coordination and strength, and decreased sustained attention to tasks that are not on a screen are all concerns from my point of view. Every year I observe 2-3 kindergarten students who just cannot hold a pencil. They are “all thumbs.” I ask them if they play on their i-pads a lot at home. Every single one of them lights up and tells me, “Yes!”.

I see both pros and cons for the use of technology, but the demise of handwriting skills because of technology is not the only reason; the alignment of the curriculum to the state curriculum also plays into children’s difficulties with handwriting. Developmentally appropriate pre-writing and handwriting is not stressed in the Pre-K, K, and 1st grade curriculums. By the second quarter, kindergarten students are encouraged to compose ideas, but they do not know how to form the letters with the appropriate sequence of strokes. They draw the letters to the best of their abilities and do not receive feedback about their letter formation. They receive feedback about their thoughts. I do not want to have their creativity squelched, but they also need to learn the basics of writing. Pencil grasp and the accurate sequence of strokes for letter formation take a back seat to composing ideas. I have 1st and 2nd grade teachers tell me that it is painful to get these ideas out of the children because they do not have that higher level thinking at this time in their development. I see Pre-K students copying words without instruction on how to hold a pencil or how to hold a crayon. They are copying words but can’t identify all of the letters, much less pronounce the words. I see Pre-K students drawing and coloring with full-fisted grasps and their fingers wrapped all around crayons. Schools need to stop purchasing standard pencils and standard crayons for Pre-K and K classrooms. All of the children would benefit from using beginner crayons and the thicker beginner pencils. Modify the tools so that it is easier for them to complete the task. This way they are not holding onto the pencil or crayon with a tight grasp and hyperextension at their finger joints. Stop pushing human development. School curriculums and social norms change, but the rate of human development has not changed over these past 20 years. Pre-school classrooms also should have less worksheet activities and more multi-sensory instruction. Letter instruction: make playdoh letters, shaving cream letters.

Cursive handwriting is barely taught in BCPS schools. This is a national trend, not just a BCPS trend. It is taught as filler time. Some people believe that cursive is a dying form of communication and it is true that school systems have phased it out of the curriculum. Cursive writing has been shown to be a more effective mode of communication than manuscript for children with learning disabilities because it eliminates the constant starting and stopping of each individual letter. The letter formation also discourages letter reversals. Despite this research, BCPS does not provide in-depth instruction in cursive handwriting for children with diagnosed learning disabilities. Are the occupational therapists then allowed to provide this instruction to the children with learning disabilities? No, because that is considered handwriting instruction. The occupational therapists are to focus their interventions on the visual motor and fine motor components of handwriting, not teach handwriting. Unless a parent intervenes with private OT services or works on cursive handwriting at home, the child will not be provided with this intervention.

There is a benefit to having the STAT program for children with learning disabilities. Before the children were provided with 1:1 devices, it was difficult to obtain devices for the students. The majority of these children did not have IEPs; they had 504 plans or no formal accommodations. Accommodations are provided at the school level, not through Assistive Technology, and the schools were not providing devices to these children. My child has a learning disability of dysgraphia. His teacher was putting him on her teacher laptop (this was before the teachers were provided with their own devices), because the computers in her classroom were antiquated. I could have gone the Assistive Technology route, but that would have taken months by the time he was teamed, assessed, and provided with a device. I bought him a Chromebook and he used that for 4th and 5th grade. It worked out great, but not every family has the resources to purchase a computer for their child for in the school. Now I see students with dysgraphia having the opportunities for keyboarding everyday. That was not true before STAT. Children are also provided with having Kurzweil for reading and writing difficulties.

If we are providing 1:1 devices, we also need to provide keyboarding instruction. Do we expect kindergarten students to automatically know how to form their letters? No, so why does BCPS assume that children will know how to operate a keyboard and touch screen? It is up to the teacher to fit it into their day. This time does not exist unless it is mandated by the curriculum. Dreambox math program is mandated by BCPS. Teachers are told that the children must have X amount of minutes of Dreambox per week. If Dreambox can be mandated, why can’t a typing program be mandated by BCPS? Before STAT, I would recommend that children with processing difficulties use word processing and I would always hear that their typing was too slow. Of course their typing was slow. They didn’t know the keyboard. Teachers would be told to fit it into their day. This time did not exist. These children had difficulties with attention and processing; everything already took longer than their peers. Providing keyboarding instruction for all children helps level the playing field for all of the children.

I have concerns about screen time and altering the wiring of the brain. I see children having difficulties with sustaining their attention to paper/pencil activities. Life is not an actively moving pixel. I do not like seeing Pre-K students dancing to song after song from YouTube. The movements are so fast and they cannot keep up with the movements. They are also watching the screen, like it’s a giant TV. Daily calendar or question of the day using the white board also eliminates the fine motor and visual motor aspects of the task. Also, in the upper elementary grades, the teachers cannot monitor that the children are using the technology appropriately all of the time.

One aspect that has not been brought up is how does this decrease the socio-economic gap in education? Outside of my current school, I work in Title I schools. Many of the families do not have internet access and do not have the ability to access BCPSOne, much less a tablet with a keyboard or a computer. Are we unintentionally increasing the gap as our more affluent families access BCPSOne? What programs are in place to encourage our less affluent families to play more educational games and access BCPSOne? Could STAT be a way of encouraging these families to be a more active participant in the educational process? If BCPS is going to be a leader in STAT, they need to think outside of the box so that all socio-economic levels are participating in STAT.

Need to Know a Capital? Just Ask Siri.

 

This is a video of our superintendent in Baltimore County Public Schools discussing the need for every child to have a device K-12.

 

And here it is transcribed if for some reason you cannot watch the video:

“There’s a big fear that technology will replace teachers. That’s not the case. But, teachers who use technology will replace those teachers who do not.

My name is Dallas Dance. I am the superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, which is in Baltimore County, Maryland. We are a horseshoe around Baltimore City, with 110,000 students in 173 school centers and programs. To put this in perspective, we have a $1.6 billion budget and we have 19,000 employees. So, running the day-to-day operations of that, while also providing the strategic vision for 110,000 students.

Most of the nation’s classrooms have about 30 students in them. How can a teacher personalize and customize an instructional program for kids unless you leverage technology?

In Baltimore County Public Schools, we have a five-year journey to go one-to-one in Grades K-12, to where every single kid would have a device.

Quite essentially, we are equalizing the playing field and leveling it, so that regardless of the school, where the student lives, or the community, every single kid has access to information, and we can personalize that learning experience for every single kid.

When you think about 21st-century learning, every single student needs to understand cultural differences and how to make sure they’re prepared and can compete in a global economy. How do you make that happen? You have to start in elementary schools.

To be superintendent today is just like being a leader, as it’s always been — being visible and making sure that people understand what your vision and what your mission is. They understand you’re approachable and that you understand the value of people and being people-oriented.

People will tell you that ‘Dallas Dance is people oriented’. It’s all about making sure that we do the work together as a team.

So, I always tell people, ‘leadership is about balancing oneself’. Making sure that you have a work balance, but also a personal balance, as well.

So, for me, my day does begin at 4:30, making sure that I spend about an hour to an hour and a half just taking care of Dallas. I work out, I meditate, I pray — just to make sure that I’m prepared mentally to support other people throughout the course of the day. Because, when I leave the house at around 7 o’clock, it’s game time – to making sure that I’m a servant-leader to everyone else.

But then my day ends at right around midnight, when I go to bed and I actually think about what I have to do the next day. But, I also make sure that I spend time being the most important role and that’s a parent — making sure that I FaceTime my son, every single night, to make sure that he understands that, while I might service a lot of other children — meaning 110,000 of them — the most important role is being Dad to him.

So, we always talk about facilitation of learning — and the teachers in the 21st-century have to facilitate learning — especially when kids already have information. If a five-year-old already knows the capitals to United States’ cities, what are we going to do in terms of what we can do with that information with the kid? They are not going to need to go into 5th Grade History learning that material if the information is already provided. Because, hey, they can ask Siri!

How do we, then, ask them to use that information to make it relevant to what they need to know in their lifetime? So, the teachers who can facilitate learning in small groups, that actually allow students to take ownership of the classroom, to where you can walk into a classroom and you may not even know where the teacher is because students are taking ownership and they’re so engaged.

That’s the classrooms of the 21st-century. Those are the classrooms of tomorrow.”

And here’s an image with a similar message about teachers, tweeted by Ryan Imbriale, Director of the Office of Innovative Learning (aka STAT) in BCPS.

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The Overselling of Ed Tech by Alfie Kohn

Here in Baltimore County, the public school system has put a lot of money and resources into a 1:1 computer program known as STAT in 1st through 12th grades.  Please read the blog below written by Alfie Kohn about the national push for education technology which is expensive with little to no data supporting improved academic outcomes.  Why should BCPS be putting this much money into a computer initiative when there are so many needs going unaddressed in our county school system?

Please also read Undermined by Design about the design of STAT described in this paragraph. “Skinner, famous for his experiments in operant conditioning (the use of reinforcement to develop a desired behavior), first pushed the idea of programmed learning from machines in the 1950s. Not much has changed in the 21st century when it comes to “personalized learning”; instead of a Skinner Box, the BCPS curriculum is now making use of the DreamBox and Ascend Math mathematics programs, which are operant systems in flashier 1:1 device packages. A student completes a preprogrammed task (a math problem), earns a reward (a few minutes of a video game, virtual coins, or an accomplishment badge), and their data is logged as evidence of progress. The student then repeats the process towards “mastery.””

You can also read the original The Overselling of Ed Tech, By Alfie Kohn

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the idea of using digital technology in the classroom tends to be either loved or hated. After all, anything that’s digital consists only of ones or zeroes. By contrast, my own position is somewhere in the middle, a location where I don’t often find myself, frankly. I’m not allied with the Waldorfians, who ban computers from elementary and middle schools, but neither do I have much in common with teachers whose excitement over the latest export from Silicon Valley often seems downright orgasmic.

Basically, my response to ed tech is “It depends.” And one key consideration on which it depends is the reason given for supporting it.

Some people seem to be drawn to technology for its own sake — because it’s cool. This strikes me as an unpersuasive reason to spend oodles of money, particularly since the excitement is generated and continually refreshed by companies that profit from it. Their ads in education periodicals, booths at conferences, and advocacy organizations are selling not only specific kinds of software but the whole idea that ed tech is de rigueur for any school that doesn’t want to risk being tagged as “twentieth century.”

Other people, particularly politicians, defend technology on the grounds that it will keep our students “competitive in the global economy.” This catch-all justification has been invoked to support other dubious policies, including highly prescriptive, one-size-fits-all national curriculum standards. It’s based on two premises: that decisions about children’s learning should be driven by economic considerations, and that people in other countries should be seen primarily as rivals to be defeated.

But the rationale that I find most disturbing — despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it’s rarely made explicit — is the idea that technology will increase our efficiency . . . at teaching the same way that children have been taught for a very long time. Perhaps it hasn’t escaped your notice that ed tech is passionately embraced by very traditional schools: Their institutional pulse quickens over whatever is cutting-edge: instruction that’s blended, flipped, digitally personalized. This apparent paradox should give us pause. Despite corporate-style declarations about the benefits of “innovation” and “disruption,” new forms of technology in the classroom mesh quite comfortably with an old-school model that consists of pouring a bunch o’ facts into empty receptacles.

We can’t answer the question “Is tech useful in schools?” until we’ve grappled with a deeper question: “What kinds of learning should be taking place in those schools?” If we favor an approach by which students actively construct meaning, an interactive process that involves a deep understanding of ideas and emerges from the interests and questions of the learners themselves, well, then we’d be open to the kinds of technology that truly support this kind of inquiry. Show me something that helps kids create, design, produce, construct — and I’m on board. Show me something that helps them make things collaboratively (rather than just on their own), and I’m even more interested — although it’s important to keep in mind that meaningful learning never requires technology, so even here we should object whenever we’re told that software (or a device with a screen) is essential.

Far more common, in any case, are examples of technology that take for granted, and ultimately help to perpetuate, traditional teacher-centered instruction that consists mostly of memorizing facts and practicing skills. Tarting up a lecture with a SmartBoard, loading a textbook on an iPad, looking up facts online, rehearsing skills with an “adaptive learning system,” writing answers to the teacher’s (or workbook’s) questions and uploading them to Google Docs — these are examples of how technology may make the process a bit more efficient or less dreary but does nothing to challenge the outdated pedagogy. To the contrary: These are shiny things that distract us from rethinking our approach to learning and reassure us that we’re already being innovative.

Still more worrisome are the variants of ed tech that deal with grades and tests, making them even more destructive than they already are: putting grades online (thereby increasing their salience and their damaging effects), using computers to administer tests and score essays, and setting up “embedded” assessment that’s marketed as “competency-based.” (If your instinct is to ask “What sort of competency? Isn’t that just warmed-over behaviorism?” you obviously haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid yet.) Those of us who once spoke out against annual standardized exams were soon distressed to find that students were being made to take them several times a year, including “benchmark” tests to prepare them for the other tests. But we couldn’t have dreamed that companies would try to sell us — or, tragically, that administrators and school boards would be willing to buydystopian devices that basically test kids (and collect and store data about them) continuously. Even the late Jerry Bracey never imagined things could get this bad when he referred to how we were developing the capability “to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn’t be doing at all.”

If you haven’t given much thought to the kind of intellectual life we might want schools to foster, then it might sound exciting to “personalize” or “customize” learning. But as I argued not long ago, we shouldn’t confuse personalized learning with personal learning. The first involves adjusting the difficulty level of prefabricated skills-based exercises based on students’ test scores, and it requires the purchase of software. The second involves working with each student to create projects of intellectual discovery that reflect his or her unique needs and interests, and it requires the presence of a caring teacher who knows each child well.

Even if we were willing to use test scores as a measure of success — something I don’t generally recommend — a recent review found that studies of tech-based personalized instruction “show mixed results ranging from modest impacts to no impact” – despite the fact that it’s remarkably expensive. In fact, ed tech of various kinds has made headlines lately for reasons that can’t be welcome to its proponents. According to an article in Education Week, “a host of national and regional surveys suggest that teachers are far more likely to use tech to make their own jobs easier and to supplement traditional instructional strategies than to put students in control of their own learning.” Last fall, meanwhile, OECD reported negative outcomes when students spent a lot of time using computers, while Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) concluded that online charter schools were basically a disaster.

Lucid critiques of ed tech — and of technology more generally — have been offered by educators and other social scientists for some time now. See, for example, the work of Larry Cuban, Sherry Turkle, Gary Stager, and Will Richardson. (Really. See their work. It’s worth reading.) But their arguments, like the available data that fail to show much benefit, don’t seem to be slowing the feeding frenzy. Ed tech is increasingly making its way even into classrooms for young children. And the federal government is pushing this stuff unreservedly: Check out the U.S. Office of Education Technology’s 2016 plan recommending greater use of “embedded” assessment, which “includes ongoing gathering and sharing of data,” plus, in a development that seems inevitable in retrospect, a tech-based program to foster a “growth mindset” in children. There’s much more in that plan, too – virtually all of it, as blogger Emily Talmage points out, uncannily aligned with the wish list of the Digital Learning Council, a group consisting largely of conservative advocacy groups and foundations, and corporations with a financial interest in promoting ed tech.

There’s a jump-on-the-bandwagon feel to how districts are pouring money into computers and software programs – money that’s badly needed for, say, hiring teachers. But even if ed tech were adopted as thoughtfully as its proponents claim, we’re still left with deep reasons to be concerned about the outmoded model of teaching that it helps to preserve — or at least fails to help us move beyond. To be committed to meaningful learning requires us to view testimonials for technology with a terabyte’s worth of skepticism.