Are there other things too?

My principal asked me a great question today…

“Does putting technology in the hands of kids specifically sit with laptops or are there other things too?”

This comes out of a conversation about the pros and cons of subscribing to sites such as Brain Pop and Discovery streaming.  I kind of gave an openly sarcastic response that went something like…”Those are great sites, but can we put the money towards something that will empower the kids rather than the teachers.”

I rushed off an email response and decided to print it here.  Please leave your answer in the comments, I would really love to share them with her.   More than almost anyone I have worked with, she has shown a desire to learn more, and to question, and to listen to other’s opinions.  I have shared responses with her from twitter for other questions, and would love to show her the “power” of a blog…so don’t be shy, leave an answer, I would love to compile them and share them with her…one step closer to getting her to start blogging.

My response(give me a small break, I had 5 minutes before kids walked in):

What an absolutely fantastic question!  I don’t think I can bring myself to a quick answer…but before the bell rings…

When the protests started in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the first thing the governments did was to limit access to the internet…ironically the same exact thing that Wallingford does with its students.  When you take technology out of the hand of the user, then they must rely on someone else and can only rely on what is given to them…in school it’s the teacher they are forced to rely on.  Putting technology into the hands of kids is as threatening to teachers, as protesters using the internet is to the regimes of dictators in the Middle East.  When it is not in the kids hands the teachers choose what they learn, how they learn it, what sources they will learn from, and the final product.  When a kid cannot conform to that, we create an IEP to force them to do what the teacher wants then to do.

There is technology that is made to empower teachers, and technology that empowers kids, I think we need to question who we are buying the technology for…the teachers, or the kids.  One just needs to look into a teen’s room to see which tech does which.  You will not find a teen with a SMARTBoard, a document camera, or a subscription to Discovery Streaming(I know they can’t get it, just an ex).  You will find them with a laptop, a cell phone, and a camera.  There is a reason why the iPads2 are sold out and newest SMARTBoard models aren’t.

Some teachers do let their kids onto computers, but they dictate the learning, the sources of info, and the final product…kind of like watching televisionin Iran…most of what they let kids do on a computer is just elaborate paper and pencil stuff that could have been done with a hand-out.  Why don’t we let kids use computers, use cell phones, or cameras?  They might learn on their own…they might get empowered and then what would our job be 😉

Creativity, Collaboration, Communication…Three outcomes of tech in the hands of kids.  Schools generally don’t want their kids doing three of those…I know we like to say we do, but not authentically, we just want them to mimic the three C’s because then they stay under our control.

O’boy…sorry…such an incredible question…I can go on forever and don’t know if trying to squeeze in an answer before kids was a wise way to answer!

So there you have it…please add to the conversation, and know your comment will be sitting on her desk next week.  If you can’t make a difference in your school, help me make a difference in mine!


  1. Please don’t knock great video sites like BrainPop and Discovery Streaming. Both of these sites are invaluable to my students as they do research. When a child struggles with reading, they can still access videos to help them understand a topic. It just adds to the UDL approach in the classroom. And Google videos is not a viable alternative. There are fewer specific topic videos and lots of garbage. I know my students don’t have time to sort through to find a good one.

  2. Righto…as slanted as my response was, I am not ruling those sites out, you are right, both are awesome, but I think we keep piling on the teacher centered resources, or howabout we get resources and they are used in a teacher centric sorta way. They would not be used in a UDL approach…three letters not in our vocabulary.

  3. I think the subscription services your principal seemed interested in have merit with meaningful use, but they are quite pricey. I agree getting more devices in students’ hands is step one. Step two is empowering them with the freedom to create, connect, and collaborate with those devices, whatever they may be. Teacher as model and facilitator? Yes. Teacher as director? That’s comfortable, but an ineffective way for students to engage in technology use for learning. What that necessitates is not a need for teacher training with certain devices or programs or gadgets, but rather teachers examining their role in a classroom where students have a new level of access to information and equipment. How can we best support our teachers to embrace this shift?

  4. I think we assume kids are more digitally savvy than they actually are. Yes. Kids know how to use lots of technological devices for mostly purely entertainment based purposes. But somehow it’s the access they have at school that’s the determiner of whether they are being “held back” or not. I agree that the events happening around the world should be investigated….but are the students doing that on their own on their multiple devices that they have. I, like most schools have limited access for each of my students to control digital tools on their own on a regular basis. So I do the next best thing. I foster a culture of inquiry and curiosity in my students. So that when they go home and they are 1 to 1 with technology, they will be willing and desiring of learning about what is going on in the world. I like technology like the next person…but technology without thought is useless.

  5. Since you teach social studies, I am assuming that developing your students’ authentic research skills would be of interest. How about getting a one month(?) subscription to ancestry.com for your juniors to do authentic research on 20th century Black historical figures during Black History month? The students could obviously research their own family trees as well, which would be of interest to most students.

    Paul Hawking
    The Challenge of Teaching Math
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  6. Instead of paying for kids to watch Brain Pop videos, I’d rather invest in the tools to help them create their own. And, while Discovery Streaming has some good materials, it is an expensive service (and I know what our district pays for it!) largely under teacher control and not used creatively or otherwise by students.

    I agree with Paul that we need to be spending our increasingly scarce dollars on hardware, software, and services that put the emphasis on students learning to create and communicate rather than consume.

  7. One of the great promises of connecting schools to the internet was connecting students with the world. I think it is downright negligent that we have internet connectivity in classrooms, and so few have ever used this connectivity for interacting with kids from other cultures around the world.

    If all you are using the internet for is an encyclopedia, I don’t see a huge improvement over the old fashioned printed version. As Lisa Parisi just mentioned, there’s not a lot of time to sort through the distractions presented by open-ended internet research. Copying and pasting information from websites offers less cognitive benefit than hand writing information from a printed source. But my main point is there are much better, more powerful ways to use the internet than simply repurposing it for pre-digital age school assignments. We can do so much more!

    Synchronous communications such as live Skype video conferences are the most powerful, but also the most challenging to arrange because of time zone differences. So what a great homework assignment! We are so keen to assign homework, but how many American kids have ever had the assignment of Skyping with a group of kids from Australia and reporting back to their homeroom with what they learned?

    Also on my list is the Student Blogging Challenge. This is the way to go if you desire asynchronous interactions. Learning to communicate with a global audience should be a top priority in education today. Here we have a free, teacher-led activity each week devoted to acquiring new-media online literacy skills involving students from ten different countries. My only question is why aren’t more students participating?

    There you go, my two recommendations- Skype and Blogging Challenge.

  8. *I think one of the biggest things you hit on that makes SO much sense is the idea that kids will learn ON THEIR OWN if we give them the tools/resources to do so. Yes, Smart Boards are cool, but if left in the hands of teachers only….(I think you’ve answered that question). ~I am saddened to say that many “Just don’t get it.” ~Students have their cell phones/iphones etc. on their person at all times. I have recently worked with a “behavioral special ed” student who did ALL his research for “Armstrong *the musician not the guy who landed on the moon* (as that student put it). I did not have to say the words “GO!” he just went to it. On a typical day he has to be coerced into doing research/classwork.

    *I fear that this “New way of thinking ala’ technology” will not happen until the next couple generations rize to the seat of administration. *Fingers crossed it happens sooner.

  9. I love this line

    Putting technology into the hands of kids is as threatening to teachers, as protesters using the internet is to the regimes of dictators in the Middle East. When it is not in the kids hands the teachers choose what they learn, how they learn it, what sources they will learn from, and the final product. When a kid cannot conform to that, we create an IEP to force them to do what the teacher wants then to do.

  10. In our quest to have students creating, we cannot lose sight of our responsibility to help them understand content. BrainPOP and Discovery Streaming can be used to help students build background knowledge prior to creating something of their own. This is especially important for younger students.

    1. Just a random thought after reading your comment…

      One thing that gets lost in the tech conversation is that “good teaching” must come before “good tech.” No one should ever have to decide what technology to use, the lesson, or unit should demand it. We can become an instant 1:1 school and nothing will change if we have a traditional mindset. New tech cannot get integrated into our current teaching patterns and be effective. Our teaching must change first. Our trust in the learners must change first. Tech simply magnifies the teacher’s personality…

      Every class will never become who the teacher wants them to be, they will become who the teacher is.

      We do have that role to help them understand the content, and I think that is where that “good teaching” comes in, and is missed by people who believe you can just through computers in front of kids and they will “learn.”

  11. Can kids learn on their own if given the chance? Many will do just that without any nudging from us, but others don’t quite know where to start.

    If we give them a cell phone they’ll learn how to text and download apps, but will they find any apps that are educational?

    If we give them free use of the Internet at school, they’ll find their house on Google Maps, but will they research a class related topic?

    With all the technology at their disposal, kids still need to learn how to learn. And many (most) times they need to be guided in the process.

    1. You are right that kids need to learn how to learn, but only because they have been taught how not to learn. There would be an adjustment period, and a need to “teach” kids how to use tech, but once their natural learning and curiosity kicks back in, I think we would see amazing results.

      1. Kids will learn on their own if given the chance. Kids don’t need to learn how to learn unless they’ve been severely damaged as they grew. We all are born naturally very curious, otherwise we wouldn’t be walking or talking today. We innately know how to learn, but there are always tools that help that process.

        As far as technology tools I’m not sure how to help. Reading the above comments, tools like Brain Pop and Discovery Streaming sound far too expensive for what can be gotten out of them. For a social studies class, technology seems like a difficult question to me. How has technology been used in politics in the past? All I can really think of is the means of tallying votes and with the way representatives communicate with their people. It seems weird to bring those various technologies in the classroom and it also totally avoids the real question of “what should we spend our limited funds on in order to facilitate learning?” Sorry, I’ve avoided the question so far. I think the real answer lies in Paul’s response: “something that will empower the kids”. I’m not sure what that answer is, but it seems like the only blanket answer that applies to every department is some sort of computing device with internet access for every kid in the class.

        I’d also like to say it’s a teacher’s job to guide and grow natural curiosity for whatever subject they are charged with.

        1. From Paul: “You are right that kids need to learn how to learn, but only because they have been taught how not to learn.”

          From Brent: “Kids will learn on their own if given the chance. Kids don’t need to learn how to learn unless they’ve been severely damaged as they grew.”

          To you both; Kids will learn, yes. But will they all learn everything that’s spelled out in the state standards? That’s the task that teachers are charged with.

          In an ideal world, perhaps this conversation wouldn’t be necessary. But teachers have to go into their existing classrooms tomorrow with their existing students from their existing backgrounds. In the real world, most kids (especially younger ones) need a great deal of support. They need tools to help them build background knowledge before they can be truly empowered to create.

          On a different note…We also have to look at teachers’ capabilities. Many are just becoming comfortable with technology and showing a short video via a computer and LCD projector is a huge step for them. If you want tech that’s going to be used (and I agree with Heather below that this is a primary criteria), then give teachers something they’re currently capable of using. Then help them develop the skills to use the tools in ways that allow kids to be creative and collaborative.

          Tech-savvy teachers know about free tools to help kids create. If a school has a very limited tech budget (and don’t they all?), why not purchase something that can be used to enhance learning in ALL classrooms?

          1. Correct, in an ideal world…if kid’s instinct for learning wasn’t muzzled from day 1 and they came into 8th grade with spirit and desire, I could hand them my standards and tell them to see me in a month, and then spend the next 9 months doing some really neat things. I know someone who is currently doing this. Spends the first half of year covering the standards and nothing else, and then spends the second half of the year letting his kids be scientists.
            I have been in situations where kids are free to learn on their own, and it is hard to imagine that they will learn and grow without direct adult intervention…it is hardest to simply trust them. I think the idea of empowering kids is one that is thrown around a lot in blog/twitter circles, but very few people have experienced it, or can imagine what it might look like in a class.

            After this post, I am totally beginning to side with some of your ideas above about what tech to buy…”give teachers something they’re currently capable of using. Then help them develop the skills to use the tools in ways that allow kids to be creative and collaborative.”

            1. I’m glad you got some useful info from this thread–I did, too! The whole conversation has been very thought-provoking and insightful. How wonderful that your principal is interested in learning other people’s opinions. Let us know what you all decide to do–I’m sure the outcome will be fantastic!

  12. Tool are just tools. I use both sites you mentioned to illustrate points for learners who won’t get the info through reading. I also use them as models of ways to share info.

    We have laptops, but our WiFi never works and many teachers don’t know what to do with them and aren’t able to experiment.

    The best way to spend your money is in technology that will be used.

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