In his Atlantic article, Phil Nichols argues that many of the flashy digital tools in classrooms today do a good job of ¬†aiding formal teaching, but not necessarily promoting student discovery. ¬†He argues education technology should look more like a programmable calculator, offering the intrepid student an easy language with which to code and pursue independent learning. On an iPad a student can only experiment within the world of an app or program created by someone else. It’s much harder to develop something from scratch. Nicols writes:

“Texas Instruments unwittingly embedded a flexible programming environment into a ubiquitous technology accessible to (and even required of) most high school students. These devices not only fulfill their conventional role as tools for calculation but can also support more subversive uses. The TI-83 and its kindred are Trojan Horses, sneaking in subversive education under the auspices of convention.”

Last year, while cleaning out the basement of my childhood home, I discovered a plastic storage bin marked “Calcusoft.” Inside were piles of notebooks filled with sketches, storyboards, and lines of code, and buried beneath it all, a TI-83 Plus graphing calculator.

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Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She's worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She's a staff writer for KQED's education blog MindShift.

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