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powerful moments in education

The “New Toy Syndrome”

For many years, in the days leading up to Christmas, my sisters and I would debate the possibility that it was finally happening.  Maybe. Just MAYBE this year, the unthinkable would come true. Would there be a Nintendo under the tree on that special morning?

It was all I could think about- I just loved going over to other kids houses when I knew there was the possibility of playing Super Mario Brothers.  The skill set needed for being a successful gamer was not one I possessed, but there was something so magnetic about it.  I once noticed a friend had a Nintendo and when she announced that there was nothing really to do, I caught a glimpse of the rectangular gray box under the t.v. in the living room.  Nothing to do?!? I asked, “Well….do you have anything special we can play with?” The word stunned barely captures the essence of my confusion when she replied, “No…”. My manners kept me from suggesting we play Nintendo, though I am not quite sure I will ever understand why…

Fast forward to my 2nd Christmas with my now husband.  He seemed to really want a Wii.  We aren’t gift buying-giving people, mostly due to my beliefs that we should just live in a world where time and space together are the gift.  For some reason, however, he continued talking about it with the light in his face of a 10 year-old boy.  Perhaps I did it to heal the scars from my childhood, or maybe it was to try to understand his want, but I began research to buy him one.  He ruined it all when he came home from work one day and announced he bought himself one- “a great deal”- and I was crushed that I couldn’t fulfill the dream…

Speed up to present day. We rarely play it.  It hurts my shoulder. Though, watch out if you challenge me in bowling…

So on Thanksgiving, when he joined the conversation on the earth-shattering deals for the XBox Kinect, for sure I ignored him. And the same day, a post was sent to me from a friend and colleague, one that touched upon the need for balance that I have explored for a bit now.  The balance between techie toys and natural human interaction.

“Technology simply affords us the opportunity to connect, share, and engage with the content and a broader audience. And that is a really good thing. However, we should not let the variety of technologies dilute the learning. We have a lot of good things in this world and yet we always want something more. It’s like the “new toy syndrome” afflicts an entire society: the syndrome that exudes a strong desire and want for something, yet when we get it, we are looking towards the next new thing. We get the iPhone 4s and we are already anticipating the iPhone 5. The same approaches are happening in education. We get a cart of laptops and we’re already thinking about adding a cart of iPads. We get an HD projector and an Apple TV and we are already anticipating an interactive projector that covers our entire wall.”

In his article,Andrew Marcinek discusses the concept of watering down technology by continuously adding “new toys” and leaving no time to play, to explore, to really understand its use as an educational tool. Wow.  This is really something to think about- diluting learning opportunities?  For certain this was not the intent of anyone responsible for dreaming up and creating the technologies of the 21st Century.

How does this “dilution” occur?  From lack of time, training, and patient, well-planned paths to reach the vision, I would say. Yes, the creation of technology is moving faster than the pace of it’s successful integration, in most cases.  But I think it’s because we get distracted by the wonder of the new toy- What can it do? How does it DO that? How can I use this? And then BAM.  There is something else. Marcinek pleads that “it [technology] is an entity that we must pace appropriately and integrate purposefully”. Pacing can be tough in schools, especially when so many can get into the “keep up with the Jones'” mentality, with the fear that our children will not be competitive, or something along those lines, in this new world. Some may argue that we could be left behind if we avoid forward thinking, but consider this- how forward thinking is it really when we are not completely understanding and integrating tools to their fullest today? It becomes wasteful thinking.

Personally, I fear more that children will grow up in a world where they are constantly living in tomorrow, without reflecting upon the opportunities of today. What about being current? Our society is pounded with, “Wait until THIS comes out.” or “When you get to high school…” or “When you graduate….”.  Yes it is important to think and plan for the future- but pace appropriately. Explore the opportunities of today! It’s snowing? Gear up and build a snow city! Make a snow angel and lie still, breathing in the silence. Or sure- grab your iTouch and play a game later.  It’s raining? Grab some art materials you haven’t used in awhile and see what you create! Get some friends together and create a simulation. Read a book, whether real or digital. Our 4th graders are learning to write memoirs? Explore the art of storytelling orally, digitally, dramatically…So many options- we are only limited by impatience.

Let’s slow down a bit.  Let’s be thankful for the ingenuity and creativity in the world. And let’s use it today not in preparation for tomorrow, but as an experience that will serve-as precursor to learning, tomorrow.

RELATED LINKS

Focus by Andrew Marcinek

On Finding Balance

The 7 Golden Rules of Using Technology in the Classroom

In Response to the Claim of the Wall Street Journal

If We Don’t Let our Children Play…. by Darell Hammond

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One comment on “The “New Toy Syndrome”

  1. Jack Haubach
    November 28, 2011

    Jac,

    Read your post just before I saw this story from one of the high school students from the journalism class I have been helping to produce a magazine as a final project. Goes to your point, I believe, and comes from the perspective of a 17 yr. old.

    JackH.

    “How the iPad Stole Christmas
    By Abby

    Cloaked in a 19.7×14.8 cm liquid crystal display complete with two HD cameras, a dual-core A5 chip and a 10-hour battery life, the apple iPad seems to rank highest on this year’s collective Christmas list. Other coveted items include Amazon’s kindle (and other electronic reading devices), the ever-widening spectrum of gaming consoles, and the usual slew of toys, ranging from dirt bikes to Barbies. And we can be sure that retailers are doing their best to get these items into the hands of the public to make 2011 the most heart warming Christmas yet.

    Virtually anyone who has turned on a television within the last month will have seen commercials advertising revamped holiday layaway programs from such stores as Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Sears. Layaway allows customers who are short on cash to pay off their Christmas purchases in bite-sized bits over a given period of time while the store holds their items. In this way, customers are guaranteed their goods before store inventory is depleted and retailers can still profit from impulsive buying. So no worries, despite our thinning wallets, the recession won’t hinder this season of giving.

    But perhaps our economic difficulties are a blessing in disguise. Everywhere are billboards, television commercials, and magazine advertisements assuring consumers that a shiny new car topped with a red bow is the sure path to their loved one’s heart, or that bringing home an Xbox Kinnect will guarantee unconditional love from their children. Yet amidst these pressures to purchase the perfect present, it seems we have lost what they call “the true spirit of giving.”
    The trouble is certainly not a new one. For centuries, Christmastime materialism has bound the plots of movies and stories, namely those of A Christmas Carol and How the Grinch stole Christmas. In both stories the main character is one fraught with a hatred for Christmas. Charles Dickens paints Ebenezer Scrooge as a man who has replaced his capacity for love with greed and treats poorly both his family and employees. Similarly, Dr.Suess’ Grinch is a character determined to ruin Christmas for the Who’s, who he thinks are altogether vile in their flamboyant Christmas celebrations. In both stories the character endures a metamorphosis during which they realize that the crux of Christmas is not ribbons, tags, packages, boxes, or bags but rather the sense of well being that comes from good company and good will. These stories have touched generations; we know their lessons well…and yet somehow still the problem persists.

    To want is an innate facet of human behavior. Want for food and want for shelter keep us alive. Want is not an entirely evil thing. It becomes a problem, however, when a want for things replaces the familial and jovial nature of Christmas. Surely there are those families who are untouched by Christmas greed, but still it seems the population gravitates towards the literal bells and whistles of department stores and retailers promoting their brand of holiday fulfillment.

    My suggestion is not to deny one’s children presents while touting staunch anti-materialistic principles, nor is it to boycott all mass-produced goods. I do, however, think that a few alternatives to the Christmas rush would do some good.

    A possible solution is to redirect the holiday focus from gift giving to other traditions that exist within one’s family. These activities can range from caroling, to tree decorating, to making a gingerbread house. And while purchased gifts can certainly be considerate, those made by hand can convey an even greater sense of caring. A handcrafted gift is not a cop-out for spending money; depending on one’s personal skills it may take more time, more creativity, and quite possibly more funds. But it is such sacrifice that a recipient will genuinely appreciate. And still depending on the recipient, it might just be the case that an ipad would be the best gift this holiday season. “

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This entry was posted on November 26, 2011 by in education, The World of TE(a)CH and tagged .

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