teaching technology kids critical thinking

Teaching Critical Thinking and Technology to Kids

Our eldest is five years old and started school this year. Once a week, she goes to the computer lab with her classmates. She thinks it’s awesome, and so do I. I want technology to be incorporated in our children’s curriculum and am thrilled that teaching coding to young kids is part of the province’s education plan. Maybe if we teach our youth more about how to problem solve by learning how a computer works, they’ll learn how to problem solve by using the power of that machine – and not just try to crowd source answers and opinions to serious questions.

Somewhere along the way, between the high school grad classes of 1995 and 2005, people seemed to have lost the ability to think critically when it comes to sourcing information on the Internet. In the mid-90s most students left high school without an email account, let alone a bevy of social media profiles. Google only arrived in ’97. But by the mid-00s, you could have a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Blogger account by the time you picked up your diploma.

That increased access to the whole wide world didn’t really come with an instruction manual, though. Instead of learning how to use the internet as a tool, how to actually harness the unprecedented materials now available, more and more people (young and old alike) are relying on smaller and smaller circles to provide them with information, rather than searching for answers themselves. I think we’ve all forgotten our smartphones are actually phones, with the ability to call companies or professionals when we need to, and that the internet is filled with search engines that can help us find pretty much any detail we could ever need.

I think part of the problem lies in the unstoppable size of the Internet. We’re reaching a point where the entirety of human knowledge is estimated to double every day – and you can find pretty much all of it online. That’s a lot of information to sift through to find the nugget you’re looking for. Which is exactly why we need to raise a society that understands how to find relevant, accurate information amid all the noise.

Asking an online forum, often of strangers, for medical advice, rather than calling a pharmacy, telecare, or seeking out a clinic or ER, is not an appropriate use of technology. These people don’t know any better than you do. Use your computer or smartphone to find the number of a qualified professional to call. Find the answer you’re looking for on a research hospital’s website. Ask the group for help finding those bits of information. But don’t rely on the anonymous crowd to tell you what dose of cold medicine to give your child or how much your tax rate should be.

Part of the problem also lies with how the official information is presented online. There are have been plenty of times I’ve gone looking for details on federal or provincial programs, or even details about school districts or hospitals, and found myself completely lost. We need to teach ourselves and our children to better understand the online world we’ve created. Ideas must be communicated more precisely and people must be better equipped to search out answers.

For now, our daughter is simply playing games and practicing number and letter recognition online. But pretty soon we’re going to be talking about finding reliable sources alongside discussions about privacy and safety online. I hope that we’re not the only parents planning to teach these skills – and that we’re being supported with similar critical thinking practices in the classroom.

She Said appears Saturday in the Times & Transcript and on Pickle Planet.

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