In one of our conversations after dinner, I asked him how his math class is going. He got shy, giggled, and said "goooooooood". Right... His mom chimed in, as parents so often do, with "oh yeah, D has a math test tomorrow, don't you D?! Maybe Uncle John can help you out!" It was clear that he was supposed to have studied for the test, had a little, but wasn't quite ready. His mom handed over her phone and D began studying.
Now I'm not laying blame on his mother, him, or any parent or student who uses technology to practice a new task. Heck, it's my job to infuse technology into learning! However, there is a limit and I think that became evident that evening. See, when he finished playing his game, I quizzed him.
"D, what's 3*5?"
"Good. What's 9*3?"
"Good. What's 7*7?"
I'm not expecting him to have his times table nailed down, but his body language was off when he got stuck. His eyes weren't looking at his fingers or the wall. They were staring off into space as if he didn't have a clue where his times table went. Now I've never taught elementary and it's been a LOOOOOOONG time since I've been a student there, but this wasn't right. Sadly enough, I've seen it many times with teenagers.
We talked through the problem, how I would get my answer, and carried on. I kept cycling back to 7*7 and would get a similar reaction, but never getting a confident (and accurate) response. He would limp in with 49, but didn't know why.
The really confusing, and frustrating, question came next:
"Ummmmm, OH YEAH, 28!"
"OK, now how did you get that?"
"Well, when I was playing the monkey game on my mom's phone, I remember seeing a 24, a 28, and some other numbers, and the monkey said it was right when I pressed on 28"
Once again, I don't fault my nephew or his parents, nor his teacher or the school district. What he said, though, is disturbing to me. Technology has made multiplication a magic act in a way that I can't believe it intended to. He didn't tell me that 7*4 was 28 because of adding 7 a total of 4 times, adding 4 a total of 7 times, taking 7*5 and subtracting 7, or any other mathematics-based methods.
Without overwhelming a 9 year-old with math instruction, I went into a mini lesson on how I process these multiplication facts and called it good. At some point very soon in education, we are going to have to realize that game companies, even the education ones, are in it to make money.
There's a time when tech is great. There are also times when we need to power down whatever device is being used and power up our own processing habits. Why? Because the monkey said so.