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Teaching Digital Natives

Jennifer Hooks

Here's how to keep today's techno kids from "powering down" the minute they walk into your room...

Recently I casually observed a mixed-age ministry program in a small church I visited, and something caught my eye. I noticed something about the kids that I don't think I'd ever really seen
before--though I'm sure I'd witnessed the same thing previously.

Five-year-old Kira followed her teacher around the room, toting a DVD and endlessly imploring the teacher to get the remote so she could watch her favorite Christian video. Eleven-year-old Maria fiddled with her iPhone, playing games, texting friends, and running new apps she'd downloaded, while 8-year-old Jordan played with his dad's new Flip phone, making goofy videos of the kids and then replaying them for laughs. Two other kids sat huddled together at the room's lone computer playing a Christian video game and lamenting the lack of an Internet connection so they could play with others online.

So what struck me about this small group of kids? It wasn't the abundance of media and tech gadgets in a humble ministry. What I really saw for the first time was how all the kids--from the youngest to the preteen--were naturally integrating all the technology at hand into their casual experiences that evening.

We used to say that today's kids were "wired." While this is still true, we need to add "wireless" and "unplugged" to the mix. Kids are connected to technology everywhere they are--whether it's at a home computer or walking down the street texting. Today's kids are uniquely adept at and equipped for our technological global existence--much more so than many of us adults leading them.

A conundrum has been developing in public education that's left a majority of professional educators truly at a loss: They watch as students, who outside of class quickly master every technological advance unveiled, walk into their classrooms and glaze over, check out, or "power down" because the lecture-based style is so outdated and undeveloped that it's rendering the classroom experience irrelevant.

The common refrain of students who've been interviewed about the topic is essentially, "I'm bored stiff when I go to class." Many say they feel they must turn off their brains when they walk into classes because their teachers don't understand how they learn best. Students today are rejecting the lecture-based classroom. "My teachers just talk and talk and talk," kids say. "It's not Attention Deficit--I'm just not listening" one classic T-shirt reads.

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