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Are Auburn kids too wired or just tech-savvy?

Technology aides learning at EV Cain
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Julann Brown admits it can be difficult to pull her sons away from a video game or the computer screen. While the Auburn mom of two says gadgets of the 21st century — smartphones, video games, computers and mp3 players — do have their drawbacks, they have also allowed for a convenient way to gather information. To Brown, no electronic or digital item could replace real-life experiences, though. “I see technology as a double-edged sword. I think boys in particular tend to get addicted to technology. I have no way of knowing if statistically this proves out,” Brown said. “Getting my kids to stop using the computer or stop playing a video game once they have started is a struggle — it can be a huge time suck.” Some local teachers say rather than pull kids away from technology; they integrate it into many of their programs to help keep kids engaged and teach them valuable technical skills. For Brown, the question, “are kids today too wired?” has a complex answer. While she can appreciate its benefits, Brown said technology has caused some kids to lose the ability to create outside of the virtual world. “I think that technology too often replaces hands-on experiences that are crucial to a young child's mental, social and physical development,” Brown said. “For a number of years, I held art classes for the very young and school-age children and found it disturbing that many children had not had the real life experience of working with their hands to create or build, though they had already used the computer to play games and ‘build’ things.” When it came to her two boys, Avery, 15, and Jeremy, 12, getting their own pieces of technology, the Browns waited as long as they could. “We resisted for quite a while and my boys were some of the last kids to get to use the computer, get a cell phone and get video games,” Brown said. “They felt it was a great injustice, but I am glad we waited and held off as long as we did!” That doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy playing the Wii with her family or checking out an occasional YouTube video. Middle School using tech to teach Even more exciting, Brown said are classes like Olivia Conn’s, a multimedia and language arts teacher at E.V. Cain Charter Middle School. “I applaud this. I think that technology is an amazing tool that can open up the world to them and engage kids more than a text book ever could,” Brown said. “For instance, Mrs. Conn at EV Cain has the kids view Ted Talks videos and respond to them online. I enjoy the videos as well; the whole family does. It encourages family discussion.” Conn said she also has her multimedia students create stop motion animation videos and her language arts students create pages of their work online as a digital portfolio. “What you see here at our school is technology is being incorporated into their regular curriculum,” Conn said. One student, Haley McKee brought a story she read to life by using the program Blabberize. In it students can record their voice to make it look as if a character in a photo is moving its lips. “This is one of the characters in my story,” McKee said of a black and white drawing of a man behind bars, speaking with her voiceover. Conn said the exercise helps her students understand different point of views in literature, a seventh grade standard. Conn and fellow teacher Suzanne Scotten wrote grants to the Auburn United Indian Community and Auburn Education Foundation to help fund the cost of multimedia equipment, including video cameras and laptops. Scotten’s eighth grade students make documentary films about their personal heroes. She said one student, Derek Ikeda, learned one set of his grandparents were in Japan during the nuclear bombing in Hiroshima, while another were in an internment camp in the United States. She said it was the technology projects that got him asking questions. The project keeps her students engaged in learning until the end of the school year. “This happens after S.T.A.R. testing. When often kids are checked out,” Scotten said. “When you watch these (videos) kids that are 11 are dealing with sex trafficking, genocide. It is amazing.” Getting ‘unplugged’ still a priority. Despite all of the positive learning that technology can be a platform for, Brown said she still encourages her kids to get outside and be “unplugged.” “In general, we try to limit their ‘screen time’ this includes computer, TV, Wii, iTouch, etc. We insist they sit and read a real book, go outside and get physical exercise and are participating in sports,” Brown said. “It’s all about balance, though sometimes, admittedly, we get out of balance and they get too much technology and I see it affect their moods.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.