Wednesday, March 09, 2011

New Tools -- New Responsibilities

by Mary Beth Hertz

"Can I use a pencil?"

"Do you have a piece of paper, Ms Hertz?"

"Can I just please write it down, Ms Hertz?"

I get these questions in my lab from time to time. My answer is always, "No," provided the student is not writing down a password or URL to take home or if the student has an IEP or other individualized learning plan.  I answer that my job is to teach them how to use technology instead of paper to solve problems and organize ideas. I am showing them a different tool to use--one that I believe will be ubiquitous by the time they are my age. One that they are already at a disadvantage with because of access at home and lack of proper instruction in the past.

It is my belief that my students will be required, like no other generation has in a long time, to replace some of the tools we have grown accustomed to with new tools that often do the same job, only more efficiently and often better.

With these tools comes new responsibility.

See, not only am I teaching kids how use computers to do more than search YouTube and play games, I am also responsible for sending good digital citizens out into the world. More and more conversation and interaction between people is moving online, and children are joining those conversations at a younger and younger age.

Just as teaching with just a pencil and paper no longer suffice, teaching courtesy and manners face to face no longer suffice.  While both are an integral part of our formative years, we cannot stop there. Students who cannot type or navigate a computer will be left behind. Young adults who have not learned how to conduct themselves online will have dire consequences--some immediate, some later in life.

I am charged with making sure that my students leave my classroom prepared to engage in an online world in a meaningful, collaborative and respectful way. It is my job to give them the technical skills and the social know-how that will help them navigate their futures.


  1. As described, I'm not sure I agree with banning the use of pencils. Why not rather extend a variety of tools to students and allow them to choose the best one for the task at hand?

  2. Mark,

    I don't 'ban' the use of fact we DO use them for certain tasks, even in the computer lab, but when the purpose of a lesson is to know how to bookmark sites and take notes using Diigo, then a pencil just won't suffice.

    I completely agree that we need to allow them to choose the best one at hand, but we also need to show them other options than those they are used to using.

    Thanks for asking the question.

  3. The real pencil problem is that the computers are limited to one room. Mary, I'm assuming that you teach in a computer lab.

    If I were a "computer teacher" I would ban pencils, notebooks and pretty much anything used in the regular classroom. My job is to teach them the technology.

    That said, I do agree with Mark too. The pencil is a tool and an option. The computer/laptop/tablet/smartphone should be an option and tool also in every class.

    Until we get to the point that students have access to every tool in every class, banning pencils in the computer room is perfectly acceptable in my eyes.

    And just so you know I'm not up on a soapbox, I teach in a 1:1 classroom and have seen first hand how access to numerous tools is beneficial. I'm also pushing extremely vigorously for my middle school adopt a 1:1 for all students.

  4. MB,

    I think the most important thing you mentioned was that we need to get our students "prepared to engage in an online world in a meaningful, collaborative and respectful way".

    Too many people are rude online, not safe online, and have no idea how to use the many tools that are out there. We have to prepare them for a world that is increasingly moving away from paper and going to online systems.

  5. I can see requiring learning certain tools, but I can't imagine situations in which pencils need to be prohibited, even after reading the examples given in the comments here. There is something wrong if the teachers are pushing students to use a tool that is less valuable to the students than a pencil for the same task. Perhaps the task needs to be changed.

  6. It seems like people are missing the point - the pencil was not less valuable. They were being taught to use a specific tool and needed to use it. It would be like trying to teach a student how to ride a bike and they ask to walk instead. It doesn't work.


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