Apps For Learning

Elmo, the smart-mouth puppet showed up in Westchester one Saturday evening.  Clever that puppet.  He didn’t stop talking…about the Katonah Museum, about Sesame Street and also about educating youngsters.  He was accompanied by Gary Knell, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sesame Workshop. Mr. Knell was at the Katonah Museum to receive an award…and well deserved, too.  The organization he leads aims to help children reach their highest potential. Don’t we all?  My thoughts drift to the grandkids who can’t yet master cursive writing, but who handle cell phones, Nintendo handhelds and Wii’s with aplomb.  I’m told I should be pleased that they are high scorers on “Angry Birds.”

So, back to Knell who believes that “our nation is now—flying through the turbulence of digital communications…(which is) reshaping our lives—reshaping learning, reshaping basic human interaction.”  Most of us in the room at this point are moaning that the kids are glued to the TV and the latest digital device.  But not Knell.  He sees an opportunity for Sesame Street “to unleash new creative energies around visual learning.”  Then he puts forth a challenge:  “We can view our new digital age as a threat—or a huge opportunity to promote artistry and creativity.  No longer will children passively receive content.  They will more and more draw inspiration and create it, amend it, bend it and shape it.  And out of those efforts will emerge our new Rauschenbergs and our Rothkos and our DeKoonings and our O’Keefes.  Children born this weekend at Northern Westchester Hospital will still be in their 30’s in the year 2050.  They will leave the lasting legacy of this 21st Century in America, as civilizations are really most remembered by the art they leave behind.”  I say, “Amen.”

Then our eyes light up as Knell tells us that, “There are pockets of innovation in wonderful research laboratories around the country, including the MIT Media Lab, which is doing new work on projects to advance learning. We need to find a way to take these pockets of innovation, and connect them to the capital needed to penetrate the mass market.”  The Sesame Street Workshop is one of those pockets, but there are others.

Dr. Michael H. Levine oversees the Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s efforts to catalyze and support research, innovation, and investment in educational media technologies for young children.  He and Cooney Fellow, Carly Shuler, recently reported out on Shuler’s study of the role of mobile technologies in the lives of young people.

“Parents realize that kids are not only using digital media…they are wearing these devices. These devices are as much as part of children’s lives as their clothes,” says Dr. Levine.

Dr. Levine’s takeaway from the study is “that it’s time to shift gears from a model of educational instruction that adds technology here and there to a model of educational delivery that integrates technology, where it works best, into every aspect of the teaching and learning that’s going on in the classroom.” Alas, I won’t be around for this, but I sure hope this dream comes true.

To download the entire study, Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children’s Learning, go to:

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