A few weeks ago I grabbed my trusty notebook off my desk and walked into a classroom to do a teacher observation. As I sat at the back table to get a better view of what was going on around me, I watched the teacher prepare to use her Smartboard. Unfortunately, the internet went down and she was not able to complete the lesson that she had planned. Fortunately, she is a seasoned teacher and was able to come up quickly with a back-up plan.
I started thinking about people who complain about the internet and our over focus on technology. Perhaps they’re right? After all, 21st century skills do not just focus on technology. A pencil may break but a good educator can go sharpen it. A piece of chalk may snap in half if you put too much pressure on it but there is plenty of chalk in the world. Teachers can find another piece and begin writing on their chalkboard again. When the internet goes down, it creates a great deal of frustration. Educators should really think about not using it so much with their students.
There are many schools that ban the use of handheld games, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogging and other social networking tools. They do so because they are concerned about the students who will get on the internet and explore sites or write things that they shouldn’t. Schools cannot control a handheld game because they cannot possibly see what the students are doing and they may be using the games for negative reasons.
When students have to remain inside for recess because of inclement weather they should do whole group physical activities or play board games. Board games involve a great deal of social interaction and face to face conversations. Those are the types of activities that do not lead into fights or arguments between peers. Actually, those activities create issues between peers as well.
In these days of 24/7 social media and bullying, schools are concerned that these tools will only be used to torment other students instead of what they should be used for, which is to research projects and engage students. Therefore, banning them is a lot easier because it gets rid of the problem. Or, does it create a new one?
When schools ban handheld devices there is a hidden message that is sent to students as well. That message is that schools are decades behind and are disengaged with the very population they are supposed to be educating. Instead of banning the devices that we know our students love, we should figure out how to use them to engage our students. Adults worry about using technology and students worry about never being able to use technology. Educators read research to show the benefits of technology. Students do not need research and they dive right in, no matter how complicated the device may be.
As much as educators may worry about the problem solving skills our students lack, those same educators should hand students a new device without the directions and watch them figure it out. Students will problem solve when it means they will benefit from the final outcome.
There are millions of educators on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube but they are not allowed to use any of those tools in school. Many schools ban the very tools that their teachers and administrators benefit from outside of school. If teachers and administrators love writing blogs to remain connected with their school community, they should find ways to make sure that they are allowing students to use those same tools.
Blanket rules have a place in school districts because there are reasons where one rule does apply to an issue. A blanket rule of banning technology or social networking tools such as Twitter or YouTube does not make sense. Teaching students how to use those tools properly and finding a balance between technology and other hands-on methods of learning is what really makes sense. Students need to know we are with them on this ride through education. Using tools that will actively engage them will be beneficial to both teachers and students.
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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.