Helicoptering the Kids with School Software

Education is certainly different today from what I knew, and that’s especially in terms of the technology.  Elementary classrooms have Macs, the middle schoolers have classes in using programs like Word and interested high schoolers can learn how to use Flash animation; most of the local high school classrooms now use Smartboards that are frankly light years ahead of what I had.  But the schools – locally, the middle and high schools – also now have online programs that allow you to access all of Junior’s grades on a real time basis; at the middle school level, when the kids are literally the walking dead, there’s also a program to keep the parents up to date on the daily assignments.  But how often and to what extent should I utilize them?

The grades program is entitled Sapphire, a product of K12 Systems, an educational software firm.  The package is comprehensive for the using district; teachers can enter grades and make comments on the system; students and parents can check their grades as often as they wish and even the school nurse has a tracking module.  From the time that Eldest entered middle school – and she’s now a college freshman – the parents were advised to check Sapphire regularly in order to know how the kids are doing.  Depending upon the adminstrator or teacher, the advice was to do so daily.  Parents were likewise told at the outset of middle school to regularly keep tabs on the daily homework assignments via Moodle, a separate package upon which teacers can handle online quizzes and homework assignments, not to mention a readily available platform upon which to list the present assignments and projects due.  Depending upon the teacher and grade level, Moodle can even be used as a teaching platform for assignments in elementary school; I was surprised to find that Youngest was recently doing an extra credit quiz on Moodle over the past weekend.

There are certainly advantages to Moodle.  While I’m uncertain as to the package cost of the platform for the district, it certainly fits in well as a worthwhile investment despite the austerity that’s continuing to work through the local school systems.  There’s less need for the use of paper and the waste that especially hits the younger kids homework sheets are mangled or lost either enroute to or from the home.  It has likewise cut down on the cost of the planners that many schools have handed out to students at the onset of the new school year.  Our local district has given each student a planner for years but the quality and size of the planner has diminished considerably in the past two years as this line item has fallen to the budget necessities.  Parents can continue to check the provided planner, especially for the younger students, but Youngest’s teacher actually suggested that the parents provide a larger planner for use.  In the local district, Moodle is especially effective for the middle school parents as this is how the teachers post homework assignments and projects for the students; it’s at this age that the child’s ability to organize and think clearly is particularly hard hit.  By the time that the kids hit high school however, that aspect of Moodle is finished and it really is up to the student’s ability to keep and maintain a planner…and the parent’s ability to keep up with that as well.

But if our job is to raise them and prepare them to make their way in the world, does this technology ultimately help or hinder?  For all of the school system’s commentary about the need to keep tabs, what sank in for me came from a high school math teacher with teens of her own.  As a parent, she only touched base in the system herself but once every two weeks; how were the kids doing and what were there any issues that seemed to be cropping up, such as recurrent missed homework?  As we spoke, her thinking mirrored mine – and I felt like a terrible parent because I wasn’t checking every night – in that the kids weren’t really learning consequences if they weren’t allowed to screw up (as kids and teens can do in such combustibly magnificent fashion).  Gee, you got a D because the homework wasn’t turned in…there goes that particular privilege.  Likewise, the kids gain a sense that the ‘rents will also be there to backstop them and they don’t pay attention to the time management and organizational skills that life requires.  On a personal level, my own kids hate Sapphire and Moodle because it creates – for them – a sense that they have no independence and are forever tied to the apron.  In a small way for them, it retards their belief that they’re moving onwards to adulthood and still require constant supervision.

There’s no tried and true approach to the technology since no two children are alike.  In this household, one teen’s ability to organize and manage work meant that these were rarely utilized while a sibling’s lack of structure led to greater use (and bloodshed).  It’s taken time to reach a balance so that the child doesn’t feel as though independence is retarded while I’m comfortable with what’s going on with the schoolwork.  There have been repeated conversations about expectations and consequences and this child seems to understand that if the performance – matching the abilities – isn’t there, then privileges will disappear and consequences will occur.  Welcome to adulthood.


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