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Helping kids cross the digital divide
Students at the Island School on Manhattan's Lower East Side go from being digital consumers to content creators at the middle school's tech café.
October 5th, 2012
10:27 AM ET

Helping kids cross the digital divide

By Steve Kastenbaum, CNN

Editor's note: This story is part of the CNN series, "Our Mobile Society," about how smartphones and tablets have changed the way we live. Listen to the complete story in the audio player above.

(CNN) – Middle school students at the tech café inside the Island School on New York’s Lower East Side have their laptops open.

They’re working on their next blog posts about current social issues under the guidance of their teacher, Lou Lahana.

He’s on a mission to help these kids go from being consumers of digital products to being content creators – to end ‘digital inequality.’

[3:01] “They’re creating a whole bunch of media in various forms. They talk about digital fluency. What, to me, that means is that you’re fluent in a wide range of technologies. You don’t just do film making. You don’t just do programming. You do whatever tool makes sense to express yourself and what you are interested in.”

Education experts say when you compare children from low-income households to their peers in better off communities, you find that they have similar levels of access to today's digital technology.

The so-called digital divide has all but disappeared.

But there’s a huge gap in knowledge of how to use that technology.

Northwestern University professor Eszter Hargittai believes that bridging the gap is the key to creating a path out of poverty for students.

[5:47] “If we have classrooms where we actually paid attention to these things then we can teach children to get better… so that they could actually catch up.”

At the Island School’s tech café, 13 year old Ray Rivera is making big strides in catching up. He’s learned how to write code, how to create videos and digital music, and he’s learned how to use the internet to broaden his knowledge base.

[6:27] ““It feels awesome. We’ve done a lot, I mean from doing blogs to doing games to creating 9/11 memorials. I think it’s, uh…. exhilarating.”

Listen to the complete story above and join the conversation below.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. RJ Jennings

    ALL children are being cheated.
    They are cheated by your digital and technology fixation.
    There should not be even a calculators, much less any more technical tool, when children haven't learned the raw basics.

    How fast can children answer "what is 8 times 7" or "what is 9 times 6"?
    Where is the language, communication and spelling skills in audio visual educational entertainment?
    Where is the imagination that cames from reading Jack London's "Call of the Wild" when a movie (audio visual Cliff notes) is limited to what is shown & heard?

    Yes I'm old, if you consider 63 old.
    However, my B.S. is in Accounting (3.75 of 4 pt avg) plus I am a computer professional: programming, implementing and consulting for 35 years.
    I also deal with the illiterate, arithmetic incompetent, consensus building, non-thinking graduates that pass the 'oh so important' mandatory assessment tests.

    I have always preached, "Stop teaching a test and start teaching a skill" however no-one is interested.
    What's wrong with the McGuffey Reader series? "See Spot run" at least had the benefit of being on paper.

    Now they are teaching the short-cuts. Like typing skills over penmanship and SPELL CHECK which guesses what the "write word sight be"?
    I've seen it before because in 1967 I learned how to use and MAKE a "slide rule" (slip stick).
    Eight years later, after 4 years in the service, plus more wasted time, I went back to college and saw that almost everyone had a calculator.
    If someone followed the formula, plugged in the values, the the number displayed must be right.
    Even if that answer was "MINUS SIX (-6)" for the length of a piece of rope.

    Where is the reading when you can GOGGLE, cut & paste, then move some words, possibly replace some words with synonyms, ALL without understanding or any real thought and effort.
    To finish the assignment, get a grade, finish the short term objective without any other thought, just finish.
    Here is a fact: "Two years after one finishes school, no-one will ask for grades, honor societies, clubs; if one can't do the work then they are fired."

    "Educational video {games} engage the young student ..." So what?
    A 10th grader was telling me how his education is better than in the "old days" because he had already taken Algebra, Advanced Algebra and is currently taking Trig.
    My first question was, "so you know about "RISE OVER RUN"?
    He didn't know. The answer is "SLOPE" and it is at the beginning of the TRIG that I still tutor.
    My next question was about his last year's Algebra, "tell me about 'A' 'X squared' plus 'B' 'X' plus 'C' equals ZERO".
    He did not recognise the QUADRATIC EQUATION itself or even the title of the formula.

    There should be absolutely NO technological tools allowed before HIGH SCHOOL (9th or 10th grade).
    NO MACHINE PRINTED assignments should be accepted before HIGH SCHOOL, because there is value in being able to use PAPER AND PEN.
    This is not draconian, instead it teaches patience, forethought, planning and the need to act slowly.
    Isn't there a difference between looking a word up between the first and second draft as opposed to spell check slapping in, unnoticed, a possibly inappropriate word.

    This writing is an exercise in futility.
    It doesn't even make me feel better because I have wasted the time to write and then rewrite this second draft.
    Nothing will change, except for my grandchildren.
    I read stories, talk about the stars, explain where words come from and even teach them phrases in other languages.
    Here is one last thought that is the very true story of my oldest son's high school freshman math teacher that sent a note home telling me, the father, to stop teaching math to my son because I was doing it wrong. The next morning the Holy Cross High School principal nearly fired the math teacher. You see, I had previously taught my son to calculate a square root with a pencil, so when the teacher made the statement that it was too hard to take a square root manually, well you can guess the results. Next I taught him about the idea of exponentiation, but that's another story.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:21 am | Report abuse |
  2. James Mulhern

    We need a revolution in education, a re-visioning of the way we think about our teaching methodologies. In the 21st century our educational approach should be synthetic, incorporating "open" pedagogies that are holistic and encourage an awareness of the interconnectedness and simultaneity of ideas across domains, time, media, and disciplines. Incorporating technology in the classroom is a great way to move forward. An overarching concept of our teaching should be "I link, therefore I am" (S. J. Singer, as quoted by Edward O. Wilson in Consilience). As educators, we need to help students synthesize what they are learning in all of their classes by linking ideas among subject areas. We also need to incorporate other non-traditional domains into the classroom experience (those from everyday life), so that students will make connections to "real-life" happenings that are occurring contemporaneously with their lessons. In doing so, themes, images, and ideas will achieve a resonance that is not possible by curriculums that are "closed"–restricted to one discipline, classroom, or setting. A synthetic learning experience reinforces content, encourages the sharing and development of ideas, and facilitates critical thinking skills. Learning is enhanced, especially the ability to synthesize information and make meaningful connections. Student metacognition increases as discussions of relevancy become par for the course, literally. Our students will become the innovative “creative creators.” (Friedman, That Used to Be Us) that our globalized world demands.

    James Mulhern, http://www.synthesizingeducation.net

    October 9, 2012 at 4:21 am | Report abuse |
    • RJ Jennings

      See my comments above.
      I went to your site "http://www.synthesizingeducation.net".
      I also found "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge" at http://wolfweb.unr.edu/homepage/fenimore/wilson/consilience.htm
      I stopped reading at: "the Ionian Enchantment . . . the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws".
      I am unimpressed because I have the background and would be teaching high school physics if I could have raised my 5 children on that income.

      I see that you are in Broward.
      When I first moved there, I found that I needed to also speak Spanish if I wished to converse with the rest of the people there.
      Starting in 1955 I learned to read English using the now abandoned "phonic" approach, not unlike the McGuffey Reader.
      To learn Spanish, I read the "El Nuevo Herald" Miami Sunday paper in Spanish out loud using a dictionario to translate.
      I learned to tell time, count numbers past ten, and to ask for more than directions to a bathroom.
      I even wrote checks with Spanish words for the numeric amount and that was sometimes very funny.

      I did not need "links" to learn to read, write and converse in Spanish; I just needed a desire.
      Why aren't you teaching that desire?
      Knowledge is FUN and by extension, reading is FUN.
      It should be EVERY TEACHER'S job in every class to raise EVERY STUDENT'S reading level ABOVE that grade level.
      Math is the language of science.
      If a student cannot speak, read and write math, then that student is HANDICAPPED.

      "Reading, writing and 'rithmatic" are the nurturing foundation for learning.

      Walk through the science department at any large university.
      Note the ethnic, racial, and languages of the students.
      Why are Americans missing?
      I believe that American education system students are not prepared to compete with Israeli, German, Asian and other foreign educated students.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
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