Starting high school in 2016

My oldest boy started high school this year. He goes to an accessible private school nearby. We went to a parent’s meeting last night.

  • Personal electronics is banned from the school. So no smartphone. No portable game console. Last year, the principal hinted that the ban was unenforceable. This year we got a message asking for our help in enforcing the ban.

    This seems awfully hypocritical. All the parents show up to school with smartphones in their hands. They check their emails every five minutes. Some don’t even have the decency to turn this phones off, so you get ringing in the middle of a talk.

    The school is organizing a symposium on “the digital” where actual university professors are going to talk about technology and its impact. I wonder whether they will talk about the fact that half the parents are smartphone addicts? Probably not. If there is a problem, it must be with the kids.

  • The French teacher (it is a French school) encourages the use of the dictionary. It seems like a big deal to him. A parent asked whether it was ok if the kid used a tablet to look up words. The teacher said it was… he admitted to using a tablet himself (at home)… but he added that he wanted to promote the feel of paper.

    I don’t know about you but I simply never look up anything in a paper dictionary these days. It is hypocritical to ask teenagers to do so. None of them will ever use a paper dictionary in the real world.

    He says he wants to promote reading. But, of course, no ebook is in sight. What is meant by “reading” is “read an actual paper book”.

    Newsflash: we have never written and read more than we do today… but very little of it is on paper.

  • Though some teachers hint at some discomfort, all the information (grades, assignments) end up on the school’s web portal. Teachers can send assignments by the portal and students can reply back with their completed assignments.

    One of the middle-aged parents, no doubt someone working for a large organization, asked whether her 12-year-old would get training in the use of the web portal. The teacher routed around the question until he ended up telling the parent that “yes, we make sure students can use the portal”. The uncomfortable truth is that kids don’t need training to use a web portal in 2016, and only a minority of middle-aged folks do.

Summary. Though my son’s school is probably ahead of most… it is still presenting a backward picture of the world. It is a place where smartphones are still in the future. It is a place where you use paper dictionaries.

12 thoughts on “Starting high school in 2016”

  1. Interesting anecdotes for sure! I think that if I were a teacher myself, I would also encourage the use of both (paper and online). Because if they ever need to use a paper dictionary, they will need to know how to use it (and not fear it). After all, shouldn’t we teach people what tools are available to them, so that they can make their own choices later on?

    1. @Benoit

      After all, shouldn’t we teach people what tools are available to them, so that they can make their own choices later on?

      I know (quite well) professional editors, revisers and translators. They use paper dictionaries as weights to keep doors open, little more.

      There is no way that a 12-year-old will get to the job market in 2025 or 2030 and have the option of using a paper dictionary… unless he goes to work for an obsolete organization, and then he has other problems to worry about.

      But, I mean, sure, maybe we will undergo a civilization collapse… but then I submit to you that instead of teaching people to use a paper dictionary, we should teach them to hunt, fish and fight with a bow.

      1. I still use “real” books every day in my job. Buying the latest ebook edition of all my professional references would be prohibitively expensive. Despite improvements over the last five years, it remains far too difficult to make notes in electronic books, especially technical subject books. I can read a book and learn the material in half the time it takes when using an ebook. I can fix the typos and correct the errors much easier by writing in the book than attempting to create a corrected equation in a “post-it” note compatible with the miserable comments editor. The only advantage I see for the ebook is that I can search for every instance of the phrase “stress corrosion” faster than I can find the index.

        At the same time, I think we agree that the school is hopelessly behind in using technology in ways that would help students learn more, learn better, and learn faster.

        1. Buying the latest ebook edition of all my professional references would be prohibitively expensive. Despite improvements over the last five years, it remains far too difficult to make notes in electronic books, especially technical subject books

          Having access to all my references wherever I am, on whatever device I am is a great benefit. I agree however that something like Amazon Kindle is simply ill-suited for technical reading. But I don’t think that’s a limitation of technology per se… Would you trade MSDN or Wikipedia for a paper version? The problem is that Amazon has optimized its software for novels, not for technical reading.

  2. My seven year old was writing something the other day and wanted to know how to spell a word. I told him to look it up in our paper dictionary, an old, beat-up Webster’s Collegiate. He could look the word up online, and probably figure it out just by typing the first few letters into the Google search bar. But the dictionary is a good physical representation of the concept of indexing things in alphabetical order; I’d like him to grapple with that a little bit, and learn how to find what he’s looking for without the computer doing half the work. My wife just rolled her eyes: “He’s never going to use one of those in his life, don’t waste his time!” Naturally, he just looked it up online. You and she are probably right, and maybe its a lost cause, but I’m going to keep pushing it anyway. Maybe I’ll get him an Encyclopedia Britannica while I’m at it.

  3. Nothing quite like a paper dictionary to teach you about the function of sort keys! If the point seems trivial, assign a reverse phone lookup homework problem, using a paper phone book.

    🙂

    1. And I suppose that teaching the long division is a way to teach about multiplier circuits in modern processors?

      I have a good plan to teach you to swim. We’ll start by taking you on a boat ride around the world…

      1. Long division is hard. I did not understand arithmetic operations much, although I could DO them, until second semester of college algebra, polynomial rings and quotient fields. Thing cleared up a bit then.

        A boat ride around the world would of course widen my horizons, so to speak. 🙂

        1. Long division is hard. I did not understand arithmetic operations much, although I could DO them, until second semester of college algebra, polynomial rings and quotient fields. Thing cleared up a bit then.

          And on this basis, if I give you a bunch of transistors, can you implement a 64-bit integer divisor circuit?

          I suspect not.

          That’s because knowledge is simply not all that transferable. If you wish to learn something, learn the something, not something else.

  4. C’est l’une des rares écoles où c’est complètement banni. Mes enfants sont au public et les appareils ne doivent pas être utilisés en classe… Sauf quand des profs le pemettent. Plusieurs enseignants incitent les enfants à utiliser leurs appareils en concevant des activités spécifiquement pour cet usage. Avec le partage wifi et les tableaux interactifs dans chaque classe, je pense que c’est un gros plus. De toutes façons cette prohibition étant vouée à l’échec, il est préférable dans faire bon usage. Par contre, les jeunes avec un appareil dans les mains ne s’arrêteront pas à la recherche en cours… et c’est une gestion que certains enseignants ne sont pas capables de mettre en pratique.

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