It has been quite frustrating watching our 13-year-old son struggling academically. He has learning challenges caused by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID). Either condition can present daunting challenges for a child. Especially in settings like a classroom, where the expectation is that children focus on tasks for significant periods of time and that they do not disrupt the class.
It has been a bumpy road for our son from the first day of school. Despite the challenges, he is a gifted and talented child. He often amazes us with his sharp wit and he is able to do well on exams and general school work. In our experience, getting and keeping our son organized and managing his time are actually the biggest challenges. Organization and time management are problems that we needed to address or we could expect him to fail academically.
To be clear, I am not an academic. I have never taught a class of kids. I do not have a PhD in child psychology. However, I am a very motivated parent who has had over 30 years experience doing very technical work. I have engineered solutions to national defense problems that many others said couldn’t be done. They range from helping multiple national agencies share information in the post 9/11 era, to creating advanced training systems for the US Army. I have learned over the years that I really love a challenge and the digital student project would prove to be very challenging indeed.
I spend a great deal of my time creating technical concepts, which requires a significant grasp of available technologies, hands on experience and in-depth knowledge of capabilities of various technical products. To say the least, I am a fan of technical solutions. That said, I am above all a father. I have attempted to the best of my ability to not allow the technology to take my eye off the goal of doing what is best for our son. If the balance between technology and usability are wrong, the technology can easily become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
I am also Black American male. Not that it mattered to the approach taken or the outcome of the Digital Student project, but it is relevant to the crisis facing our nation. The fact that there are more Black young men in prison than enrolled in college sends alarm bells that I can’t ignore. Equally, the International Education System Rankings (click here for a summary) should cause all Americans concern.
I’m motivated by the statistics above to help others, which is why my wife and I support the Partnership for Academically Successful Students (PASS) group at our sons’ school. PASS is parents, staff, and community members working together to share and develop a plan to improve achievement for African-American, Native American, and Latino students. I believe that education is partly the solution. We have to seek ways to engage students and I wonder how much of the root cause of the problem of the failure of many boys (not just Black Americans) to achieve academic success is linked to teaching methods today. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for teachers is getting the attention and interest of boys.
During my research, I didn’t find as many sources of information that address turning your child into a Digital Student as I expected there would be. Many students, like our son, has skills that position them well for adapting quickly to the new technologies and processes that will support their transition from traditional educational tools. The question is, are parents and academia ready to move forward? Our children can’t do it without us. I sense that there is a great opportunity for success and failure.
If this blog can help anyone who has a struggling child to turn school grades around, then to me, it is worth writing it. It is only through my research and later decision to transition our child to a Digital Student that I realized the pioneering nature of the project. Out of over two thousand students, he is the first Digital Student in his school using an iPad. There is one other student who uses a netbook.
So what next? In the upcoming post (section 1.1 Why go digital?), I will cover why we decided to get rid of the huge binders, backpacks, briefcase, spiral notepads, and replace most of it with an iPad 2.