Education Opinion

A Teacher’s Experiment: Traffic Lights or Critical Thinking?

By Marc Prensky — September 17, 2014 2 min read
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The same teacher as I responded to in my two previous posts further writes:

”...this year I did implement a “traffic light” routine in my class whereby if it is red, all phones go away, if it is yellow, they may be used if I deem it is for educational purpose, and green they all come out for things for Monkey survey or Qrcodes, etc. But I want them coming into the room with more human interaction and mannerisms, even in this day and age.”

First, kudos to this teacher for experimenting! As educators we are all involved — like it or not — in a worldwide experiment to figure out how to educate kids in our new context. We need to try as many new ideas as possible to find what works, and share the results. Thank you for sharing your method, and I hope you’ll keep us posted on how it works out.

As we experiment, though, we must all be careful not to bias our experiments by inserting, a priori, our own values. If, for example, there is an explicit or implicit value judgment from a teacher that putting “all phones away” is not just another (older) method, but is somehow “better,” this is not useful for our students. We need to provide opportunities for students to reflect on changing paradigms of behavior and communication in the world WITHOUT any implied judgments of something being “more human” or “better” a particular way (particularly an “old” way). We need to find ways to do this, and get student feedback, frequently — even given our overstuffed curricula.

This is not to say that communicating “values” to kids is wrong — it is rather an acknowledgement that certain older values are changing in our new context, and the old values may not serve our kids in their world as well as they served us in ours. I believe, for example, that it truly doesn’t matter whether kid’s heads are facing up or down — or what technology the kids are using to communicate — IF their usage is related to strong connection and strong content. A great, thoughtful discussion on Twitter, with opinions from around the world, can be equally, or more instructive for students than a face-to-face discussion confined to the classroom. And do we count Skype as face-to-face?

What is important is that our students leave all our classes with stronger communication and stronger thinking skills than when they arrived — no matter what the “subject” and “content” we teach — and that those strong skills encompass as many media as possible.

This teacher/commenter is clearly being thoughtful about the issue, and is tryng to create a useful and practical solution. It would be great to hear from other teachers who are experimenting as well, and to see how their solutions compare and work. In particular, I would like to hear if there are classroom models where instead of the teacher saying “when I deem it is for educational purpose” we say “when we decide as a group,” or “when each student responsibly decides.”

Perhaps the most important question to ask about any practical solution is this: Does it truly accomplish our long-term goals? I.e. In the future, will this teacher’s students remember him/her as “that teacher with the colored lights” or will they remember him/her as “the teacher who actually got me to think critically about my cell phone use”? If the latter is what’s happening, we are making progress.

As always, your comments are welcome.


The opinions expressed in Prensky’s Provocative Ed-Tech Thinking are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.