I teach at Larson Elementary School in Hueneme. The students that I teach are 100% English learners. They are, for the most part, the sons and daughters of field workers. Some of my students are recent arrivals to the United States, having lived here for less than 2 years. While they are not English natives, they are most definitely digital natives. With their talk of PSPs, DSs, xBoxes, Wiis and all the other forms of technology they have available to them, they are a student different from the student I was in their place all those years ago, and worlds apart from the students their parents were at their age.
I have a very distinct memory of my times in the computer lab at Adams Elementary in Santa Barbara. With our boxy Macs, and computers to spare, it was one of my favorite times. I can still go to my garage now and pull out mother’s day and Easter cards that I made for my mom on the paint program. I remember getting lost in the world of the Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego. I would go as far as to say that the times that I spent in that computer lab are what fueled my love of technology.
It saddens me now to take my students to the computer lab. Every time we go, I have to decide who will not get a computer because while I have 24 students, I only have 20 computers and, on a good day, only 18 that are working. The only program that they have available for use is Success Maker. I feel as if I’m doing a disservice to my students. I feel this way because I do think that my students think in a different way. I don’t think that the things that they are dealing with are all that different from the things that I dealt with when I was their age, but I do believe that the way in which they are going to handle and process these things is vastly different from the way that I would have handled and dealt with them.
I want so much more than my school has to offer for my students. I think that when a child comes up to you and says that they don’t want to play anymore games; it’s time to change the game. If they can spend “over 10,000 hours playing videogames” (Prensky, 2001) at home, then there is something wrong if my students get tired of “playing” on Success Maker when we are in the lab for less than half an hour. If they get tired after less than half an hour, how will they spend the effective “100 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 5 to 10 weeks” (Prensky, 2001)? This “game” has become boring for them. As Prensky says, “They must be real games, not just drill with eye-candy, combined creatively with real content.” Success maker is just drill. Where is their Carmen Sandiego? Where they can learn about geography while pretending to be government agents on the search for a mastermind criminal? Now that was fun and that was a game that I played with “sharply focused attention.”
So, do I think that my students are different from me at their age? Yes! But are they fundamentally and physiologically so? Maybe. I would say that if a person believes in evolution, then yes they are physiologically different. They would have to be. In the same way that the author states our brains had to be “reprogrammed to deal with the invention of written language” (Prensky, 2001), then it stands to reason that my student’s brains are also evolving and reprogramming to adapt to all the new digital media and technology that they are being exposed to. On the other hand if you look at the child him or herself, look at the fights or disagreements that they have with their parents, the problems with their brothers or sisters and the issues that they are facing at home, then no, these kids are just like me at their age. They are translating and reading to their parents who don’t speak English. But while I was reading papers that came home from school, they might be looking up websites, and googling information for their parents. They are also fighting with their older sister, I was fighting with my sister cause I read her diary, my students are fighting with their older sister because their read her texts. So, no, these kids aren’t all that different from me when I was their age, and yet they are totally different.