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It’s a Whole New Technological World

By John Addyman

I hear all these concerns about artificial intelligence.

Here’s some advice: ignore it all.

What you do have to worry about is your kids — and especially your grandkids.

If you think you’re keeping up with the latest stuff technologically speaking — forget it. Your kids and grandkids are ahead of you — way ahead — and their lead is widening.

Artificial intelligence isn’t going to change America. Our kids will. They’re doing it now and we don’t notice.

This February, I continued a pattern I’ve developed in my life: I did something entirely stupid. I went back into teaching. Worse yet, I went back into teaching math to middle school kids, fifth through eighth grade.

Now let’s establish a fact: I am old. My youngest daughter confirms that every time my birthday comes around.

“You’re older than dirt, dad,” she says, with conviction, like she’s informing of something new that I haven’t thought about before.

“Dirt,” she emphasizes.

I took that with a grain of salt until I got back in the classroom. Now I have been bathed in comeuppance.

My students want me to send them their homework electronically in Google docs.

“What’s a Google doc?” I ask. What happened to homework written on paper?

“You send us a Google doc and we do the homework and send it back to you and you grade it and send it back to us,” my kids explain.

“What?” I asked.

I gave them a project to do. If you teach math every day, I have discovered that sooner or later bubbles come out the ears of students. So I gave them a project. All math and no play makes a room full of dweebs.

“Do you want us to do a presentation?” my students asked after I gave them the project assignment.

“OK,” I agree.

“Do you want us to make a video?” they ask.

“Is this a Google doc thing again?” I ask.

“We can do that,” they agree, “but we can also post it to YouTube.”

“You can?”

“Sure,” they say. “Even you can access it.”

One of my students, Jack, suggests that when I teach math every day and don’t do some different things, students will react in certain undesirable ways.

“The bubbles?” I ask.

“All over the room,” he promises.

He suggests I invent some math games. He tells me several websites that will help me do this. He explains all this to me in terms I do not understand. He says he will help me. He is 11 years old. I am, well…you know about the dirt thing.

When I was a corporate citizen and part of a software company, we had the latest technological stuff. We had people who would come to your office, sit with you at your desk, and teach you the latest changes. We were first adopters to new technology. I had a laptop before many people did. When I opened it up at a coffee shop, I was normally the only one so equipped. We all know times have changed.

In retirement, I lost all those knowledge-transfer aspects and had to do a lot of new learning on my own. But the pace of that learning has slowed down. My brain can still run at the same speed, but the opportunities are fewer.

My students have the opportunity and the will to learn so much more and do it rapidly. They talk about chat rooms they’re in. When I hear about some of the things being discussed, my guess is that parents don’t know a thing about those chat rooms. The Chromebooks they take home are powerful little computers that allow them to see a class from home, to research things on the web and have access to pieces of information in nanoseconds that used to take me several hours to find in a library.

Kids are hurtling forward in acquiring information and doing tasks and forming opinions at a speed most adults can’t fathom. There is a subculture of this information-gathering and sharing that is striking to me because its members are so young. The pandemic, which put those Chromebooks in the hands of kids, may turn out to be the trigger points for an information and technological wave that most of us won’t appreciate until it’s too late and we realize a generation of our making has left us in the dust.

For me, I have plans this summer to become immersed in Google docs and all that stuff, to once again become reasonably computer-proficient and to get ready to run with my kids in the fall when we come back to school.

But by then, they will all have learned so much more. It’s going to be a challenge for all of us. I’ll keep shrugging that dirt off me.