There is a great deal written and reported about integrating technology into classrooms, primarily as it pertains to enhancing the learning experience, increasing test scores, and engaging students. All of these uses of technology are important, but we cannot forget to teach our children about the technology itself and how it works. That, I think, is something that isn’t talked about enough.

We have a tendency–even as adults–to be attracted to the “coolest” things, and when it comes to technology we are no different. Flashy animations, interactive programs, streaming video … the bells and whistles of technology. I love that stuff, too, don’t get me wrong. However, with all of the hype and buzz, I think we often lose sight of the practical.

For instance, in the caveman days, it was probably very “cool” to be able to throw a spear 30 yards on the run to fell a buffalo in one shot. On the other hand, if you couldn’t skin the animal or start a fire, that kill wasn’t worth much to you. What do you think cave-children learned first?

During the frontier days in America, it was a big deal to have your own horse, but if you couldn’t take care of it, you wouldn’t have a horse for long. Learning to ride and jump was important, but long before anyone learned to ride a horse, he learned to care for the animal. And in the Army, new recruits learn how to take apart, put back together, and care for their weapons before they ever fire a shot.

These practical lessons in knowledge can easily be applied to technology. It is extremely important to be able to use the technology of our modern world, but just as important is a rudimentary knowledge of how the technology works.

I know too many people who know how to do many things on their computer–surf the ‘net, eMail, play games, and use all sorts of programs–but if something doesn’t work, they have no idea how to fix it. When asked why they haven’t learned to troubleshoot their computer, the usual response is, “I don’t want to know how it works, I just want it to work.”

That’s like deciding there is no reason to learn basic math because you can just use a calculator. But what do you do when there isn’t a calculator around to do the math for you? And what do you do if there is no one around to fix your computer?

I realize not everyone can be a computer expert, but I’m not suggesting everyone has to be. What I am saying is this: The most practical application of technology is using it to increase productivity. In the world of business, that means getting things done better, faster, and with less expense. It’s the same in the world of education, with one additional goal in mind: We must prepare our children for the future and make them as self-sufficient as possible.

The “How It Works” series from Ziff-Davis is excellent. You might also try the “Dummies” series of books from MightyWords (formerly IDG Books). Libraries should be sure to carry current issues of major computer magazines. I personally like PC Computing, Family PC, and MacAddict.

There is a lot of great information out there in many mediums, but you have to know what you need before you can take advantage of it. After all, the best learning CDs in the world don’t work if you never clean your computer’s CD player and it locks up from years of accumlating dust and grime!