Spring Break Update 2: the role of tech aka stop banning cellphones

Spring Break Update 2: the role of tech aka stop banning cellphones


I stumbled upon an online article: http://www.thetechedvocate.org/coming-technologies-k-12-classrooms/  that had me thinking about the co-evolution of technology and education – especially when I was teased about ‘calculator controversies’ which reminded me of the debate that ensued when I bought a TI-68 the first year it was available ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/TI-68 ) to help me with my math classes. Assumptions were that it was a ‘banned’ calculator. I persevered (with some family support) to use it….and my marks clearly indicated it’s not about the tech…it’s about how it’s used…..


Now, I also know one of my colleagues is currently going through a sexting issue at her school…..but again, for me the tech isn’t the issue – it’s the behaviours (and full disclosure: I saw similar/worse done when I was a student…..but maybe it was just at my school…..)



Anyways – the smartphone ‘problem’ got me thinking about the tech disruptions that have already occurred in education – some of the tools that people wanted banned….once upon a time….



Now, the first classrooms made good use of slate and chalk – boards of which can still be seen over 125 years later in classrooms…..


and the first disruption was a fad that allowed for portable printing (and cursive) and probably the greatest cause of graffiti and those first social media messages (pssst…pass this note). Pencils were great….but they needed another resource….paper (which finally began being made in affordable ways in the  mid 1850s)…..and until these disruptive pencils would be accepted quills were would remain the standard – sure the kids needed to sharpen them with pocket knives, but…..


Then came another social media disruptor in the 1920s: radio. Kids would start focusing only on the square box and let others tell stories to them through those invisible rays that (probably unhealthily) could send send programs and what those darned kids called music into their houses (and with transistor radios even outside of home as well) Sure some companies tried creating “schools in the air” to send lessons out during school times, but it was so easy for kids to just change the channel – all the technology’s fault?


In the 1930s, to join chalkboards as a staple in classrooms for way too long, came the first overhead projector – used by the US military they were quickly adopted into schools so that a single example/task at at time could be worked on…..because the military, much like the industrial revolution, valued common learning and common doing…..


At this time, typewriters were first being used in schools. But typing vs writing – the actual beginning to the question that keeps getting asked even today: which is the more valuable skill (personally I choose spelling, composition and synthesis).


Finally int he 1940s, the challenge to the long enduring pencil arrived: the pen. Sure it was invented in the 1880s, but it took time to be able to make it in affordable ways. And when vandalizing, pencil can be rather easily erased….penmanship is much more enduring….Funny sidebar: when nasa put a call out for a pen that could write in a variety of non-gravity conditions, the cheeky response was: use a pencil (or: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlnDu88JRVA )



Also in the 1940s came the mimeograph. And I still remember the smell that filled the room when the handle started being cranked when I was recruited to help my dad in his schools office. Great ways to make multiple copies of….common tasks….worksheets….maybe too easy….



Then came the use of headphones so that students could listen to lessons repeated over and over again. Sure some radicals might pursue a different approach to help the student learn, but louder and repeated is a strategy…..



and then the first big cheat to make math students more reliant on tools than their own brains and reams of paper: the slide rule. Kind of like an abacus, it works – and for some retro hipsters can be a very cool conversation piece…..but there are better tools that have come around since then….and by better that means: easier to cheat (apparently)



VIDEO: filmstrips in the 1930s, personal filmstrip viewers in the 1960s, VHS in the 80s: When VHS became the dominant form at home, they also became regularly used at school. Sure there were some video tape machines used, but it could be very complex to line up the video film with the audio tape (which had to be started at the same time – my personal favourite was the ‘beep’ that prompted the picture to be moved manually if the picture did not move on time (I don’t think it ever did). But VHS blended video with audio and brought in a variety of entertaining and informative (aka not-entertaining) tapes to share with students. Unfortunately they would often quickly appear quite ‘dated’ and an expensive investment meant that even if the information presented was out of date (aka proven wrong) it was still shared. Except for Bill Nye – The Science Guy can still captivate a class. This film system first started in the 1930s (and probably some of the machines are on the top shelves of many hidden storage rooms) and became simpler with the VHS/TV unit being unsteadily wheeled into the classroom (as books and pencils would quickly be stored into desks knowing that the lights were going down soon). It also led to many confrontations between copyright & convenience…..and netflix/youtube availability….


And in the 1950s there was a lot of work being done around Skimming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXR9Ft8rzhk


Finally in 1959 the Photocopier began replacing the earlier mentioned mimeographs (and other systems like photostat, carbon paper etc) Which led to it being even easier (and cheaper) to make common worksheets…..but started an awareness of the digital revolution and possible reliance on less use of actual pieces of paper (and almost 50 years later, we’re almost there……and a vital reminder: a pdf version of a worksheet is NOT digital learning)



To help out the photocopier (my opinion) came liquid paper. Because when you’ve run off 50 copies and then notice a spelling error…..easier to white-out one part than to re-type or re-write an entire page (this is what killed my interest in writing: good copies. I could almost guarantee that the final line of my slowly created good copy was where I would mess up and need to start again….)


The bane of some math teachers came in the 1970s: the TI-83 was the first multi-use (and affordable) calculator. But of course, they would undermine the learning of basic skills….so we should avoid them….right? And each calculator improvement has led to outcries of weakening math skills – even though my kids are doing more complex math than I ever did when I was a student….(and yes, I did finish Algebra 12) and their focus is learning many strategies to solve problems (the calculator app is ‘a’ tool, but not ‘the’ tool to use)


Also in the 70s came Scantron. An easy way to mark multiple choice/true-false questions. So, if easier is better (for teachers that is, not the students) then it must be good…right? The business model: free machine! just pay for the grading forms! No questions?



Then in the 1980s came the personal computer. I still remember my dad getting in trouble for bringing in some computers ‘when we had a very good typewriter lab right next door’ – a parallel when I’ve been questioned about wanting to bring in and use tablets when we have a very good computer lab just down the hall’ <– it’s not about doing old things in ne ways, it’s about doing things that wasn’t possible previously.



And the battle between operating systems (cheap deals vs what will actually be used) began : https://technolandy.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/day-67-of-183-ilandy-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-single-platform/


Remember those calculators? In the 80s it got worse: they started to be able to do graphing. and long equations. and play ‘snake’ (sidebar: have you seen https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/photomath-camera-calculator/id919087726?mt=8 )


Then through the 1990s, chalkboards started to be replaced by whiteboards (much better for my hands that would too-easily dry out when using chalk) – which led to some trying out how to make them into smartboards (while more often seen as a 2000+ tool, they did start in the late 1990s) – and a bit better than my ‘first use’ which just had a projector aimed at a white board that I would have students interact with. But then again, smartboards are SO 2010 anyways……




iClicker: handful of multiple choice tools to quickly poll students and get results in real time. This has been replaced by many apps….unless your school bans cellphones….


laptops: ranging from ‘one laptop per child’ to enhance learning in developing countries to concerns over students breaking them in schools unlike the more reliable desktops (or the compromise of zap-tying them to the office-space-type rows (sorry – personal bias slipping through as I’m a big fan of using technology in classrooms, not taking the class to a separate room for group indoctrination instruction). I was able to see first hand how the tech being able to come into the established learning environment and how this was better than going to the lab…..but I also admit that we were using apple iBooks and I was very keen to use them with all their built in programs – without the right teacher having the right tool, I don’t know if the use would be as powerful….


iPads: I quickly flipped my love of laptops for tablets. When asked (as I am now) I freely admit that I hope my next Learning Lab (not computer lab) will have a mix of (mostly) iPads but with some androids and chromebooks (and maybe a surface) as I continue to advocate: I may not agree with the operating system you use, but will fight for your right to use it.


smartphones: I know some schools still band them outright, but I prefer to use a rather simple rule: TOOL or TOY?  When being used as a tool for research or creation, I provide very positive feedback; when a ‘toy’ and a distraction I give reminders about appropriate use of technology during our valuable learning times together. (and wonder what would happen if we were to embarrass/single out students who distract themselves in class by reading/writing/drawing in the same manner as someone on a screen….) When students have the right tool for themselves to work with, it helps to let them do their learning ‘when it’s right’ because surprisingly, not everyone gets fully inspired to do some creative writing at 10:30 because that’s when the visible calendar indicated the right time would be…


Apple TV: has been another useful tool to allow quick sharing of screens. And using bluetooth, it doesn’t even create the strain on wifi signals that techies can so often be fearful of! I used to have to hook up my laptop to the projector and then use a bluetooth keyboard/mouse to have students interact with the machine – now their personal devices can be shared ‘as needed’ <– and AirDrop has been another invaluable tool to archive artifacts of learning from students as well.



Internet in general: this has lead to innovations such as Khan Academy and a range of online websites with specific (and general) use. To not be using the web as a learning tool (especially for research) is crazy. Especially as it becomes faster and easier to use on all mobile devices.


Social Media: Twitter for Educators is so important. I recently had a kindergarten teacher ask/wonder what the point would be for her, and I mentioned #kinderchat and the names of a couple of other great kindergarten teachers on twitter who are sharing strategies and ideas – and this happens for teachers of all ages/grades/mindsets of students.

Blogging as a way to reflect on learning has also been valuable for many, but as I will restate: the right tool for the right person. I took a ‘days-of-learning’ blog challenge a few years ago and have found it to be invaluable as a tool for me to take time to reflect each day over something I learned or was thinking about. This is not an approach for everyone. But finding a way to reflect and share what you are practicing helps confirm some ideas and rethink others – but this could easily be via instagram or youtube or…..hmmm – I might have a new idea I’m going to think on…..


Apps: have been referred to, but first acceptance of hand-held tech needs to be embraced so that app use can be more widespread. It’s coming.



Change happens in Education, and technological disruption has a hand in it….just usually slower than what should be happening. Just be aware that many of the ‘old ways’ of doing things were once disruptions into ongoing practice….shift happens.




About technolandy

Principal of Sorrento Elementary Educator pushing 'technologization' in education: blending technology and curriculum seamlessly. Advocate for better understanding of Anxiety in Education (and use of self-regulation) Piloting ePortfolios
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