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Wednesday , September 18 2019
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Home | Opinion | Op-Ed: Go Karts and Ed Tech

Op-Ed: Go Karts and Ed Tech

When I was but a lad, there were several go kart tracks in Northeast El Paso.

One was at a miniature golf course which had an orange dinosaur, and one was dedicated solely to go karts farther north on Dyer street.

I remember, as a 9 or 10 year old, the thrill of riding these mini-cars, which seemed to me to go a hundred miles an hour, with the summer wind in my hair and the smell of exhaust hitting my nostrils.

These lawnmower-engines-strapped-to-a-frame with four wheels seemed to me the be the pinnacle of the driving experience. It simply could not get any better than zipping around the tire and hay-rimmed track, trying to out-maneuver my friends and “win” the imaginary El Chuco 500.

Only later in my life, after I had experienced real driving, real speed, and real El Paso roads did I realize that the go kart experience led much to be desired.

Years after those Northeast El Paso tracks packed up and left, did I try to ride Go Karts again, only to realize that while the karts and the tracks were virtually the same, the experience was something much less than desired.

No matter how hard I pressed the accelerator, no matter how well I swept around the corners, no matter how much I tried, the go karts would not go faster than some predetermined speed, preset before I even bought my ticket and go on the kart.

The speed limit was set ahead of time by someone, somewhere, no doubt who was taking the advice of lawyers and bureaucrats who said that “This shall be the speed: No More, no less.”

Probably as a kid, that limit – that throttle governor – was there already, I just didn’t notice it. It was just a thrill to be a “driver” in a world where I couldn’t drive until I was 16.

I was thinking about how those go karts had been ‘governed’ by adults when I was a kid and then thought about how we do that with kids in education.

A case in point might be how we let kids use technology in classes.

As a long time observer of how technology is used in classrooms, I have noticed that there are basically three kinds of teachers when it comes to edtech: Those that ignore technology all together (won’t even allow kids near the go karts), ones that allow a minimum use of technology that mimics what happens already in a class (you can ride the go carts, but you can only go so fast) and those that let kids go to explore and use edtech as freely as possible (remove the throttle governor and let the drivers drive as fast as possible).

Teachers that do not allow any use of technology in a class are usually ones that have a built in argument that technology does not make a difference.

Students are doing well, why should I add another “gizmo or gadget” to what they are doing? My students are always achieving, so why mess with success? In my mind, these teachers are doing their students no favors at all.

It is the education equivalent of never going to the go kart track, therefore never allowing the experience of traveling faster than they usually do. It is worse than governing the go kart, it is not even allowing the student to climb in.

Teachers that allow students to use some technology but limit it to Google searching and typing up reports in Microsoft Word are the equivalent of the throttle-governed go kart. You can get in and drive, you just can’t drive too fast.

Do what we always do in class, just do it digitally. Always drove the same speed. You won’t win the race, but at least you wont crash. I understand that many teachers feel like they will lose control if they remove the governor, because many of them are not, as they often tell me even in 2019, “Tech Savvy.”

So to them, any edtech is better than no edtech. The funny thing is many in this group will say that they don’t “really” see a difference in their student outcomes. This isn’t surprising, because they are merely substituting the old analog assignments for the exact same assignments in digital form.

The last group of teachers are those that remove the throttle governor of edtech and let their students go. Press down on the accelerator and see how fast your kart can go. Feel the wind in your academic hair.

These teachers love to explore the new tech that is available, are not afraid to let their students try new things and even thought they might occasionally crash. That’s okay, because by messing up occasionally, students learn. These teacher are not afraid to say to their students “Teach me something I don’t know, show me something awesome, present your work in a new format.”

It is pretty easy to find these teachers: They are tweeting out their student’s experiences and learning for the entire world to see. Go ahead and look for hashtags like #microsoftedu or #appleteacher.

They are all over the place and are leading the way forward for students and their colleagues.

Principals all over should challenge their teachers in the upcoming school year to allow their kids to get in the edtech go karts and take off the throttle governors.

Parents should seek out those campuses and those teachers that allow students to press on the accelerator of learning. They will be amazed at what happens.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

About Tim Holt

Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

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