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Teaching in the digital world

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How will we insure that all our children have the advantages that technology can provide? Most importantly, how will we use this technology to engage our students in their faith journeys?

 
Kathy
Mears

Children entering Kindergarten this fall share a birth year with the iPad: 2010. These children will challenge those of us who teach and lead in Catholic schools.

Children in our Catholic schools have always come to us with a diverse set of skills. Some children know their colors, some can count to 10 and some write their names and read! Others struggle to state their name, mix up some numbers and don't always recognize their colors. Our kindergarten teachers, following the advice of St. Theodora, take these children and love them. Then, they teach them.

This fall, when these iPad students enter our schools, chances are their skills are going to be different from previous generations. They may not write as well with a pencil, because they have been using one finger on an iPad to move objects and to color. They may not cut well, because on an iPad, cutting has a whole new meaning. They may not turn pages as well, because these students will have used their finger or fingers to change an iPad screen. Paper is not a commodity that they will be as acquainted with as a learning tool. Their brains will be wired to deal with screens and colorful visual imagines.

These children's brains are being formed differently. These students are accustomed to high quality pictures and, chances are, some of our books will look very dull. They will be used to moving objects on a screen that keeps them engaged. Staring at a chalkboard or a page that does not have moving pictures may be a challenge. Words like scroll, flip and apps are common terminology for most students. Tech words are a part of these students' everyday vocabulary.

Not all students, however, will come with this knowledge. For some students, there is no iPad in the home and sometimes there are few books, crayons or pencils, either. I have a fear that the disparity between the skills and experiences among five-year-old kindergarten students will be as diverse as it has ever been. This will be a challenge for our teachers and school leaders. It is a challenge we will do our very best to address.

As Catholics, it is important to think about the Catholic school of the future. How will we engage children who are used to a very personalized, high-tech approach to their learning? How will we develop our skills to meet their needs? How will we insure that all our children have the advantages that technology can provide? Most importantly, how will we use this technology to engage our students in their faith journeys?

Pope Benedict asked priests to blog and to use technology as frequently as possible to engage the world. Pope Francis has embraced new technologies and ways of communicating. He has a Twitter account (@Pontifex) and frequently poses for "selfies" with people in St. Peter's Square.

Part of these efforts is the new evangelization. Catholic schools are by their very nature places for evangelization. Now, it is imperative that we follow the example of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis and use technology for learning and to spread the good news of Christ. As Pope Francis said on World Communication Day in 2014, "The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires, but of people."

Learning more about technology and utilizing it to assist our students in both their academic and faith knowledge is very important. We would be very wise, however, to remember that our students still need us. They need people who support them, encourage them and challenge them. They need us to be role models on how to use technology and digital tools. They need us to teach them to know, love and serve God, with or without an iPad.

The babies born in 2010 when the iPad was born are coming to our schools! We stand ready to continue our own learning in reaching more diverse learners. We ask for your prayers and support. Together, we can provide the quality Catholic education all of our students deserve.

KATHY MEARS IS THE SUPERINTENDENT OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS IN THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.

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