Toys & Tools

Picture of an iPod TouchI’m sitting in the auditorium of the Old Saybrook High School in Connecticut.  I do not start for another hour, and since another computer is connected to the project, I have mine on my lap.  This is great, because I can keep rearranging my slides :-/

Also, scanning through my aggregator, I ran across a post (There is no need for a ‘Creepy Treehouse’ in using the Web in the Classroom) by my friend Bora Zivkovic, where he comments about an article that I read yesterday morning in the Raleigh News & Observer.

After my talk in Chapel Hill last week, Susan Wells, the principal of Culbreth Middle School, came up and described their project to give students iPod Touches, and how excited they are about the opportunity to explore the possibilities.  The article (An iPod Touch for each Student?) emphasizes that the district is pursuing the 1:1 access to these technologies, without a full vision for how they will be used.

Bora mentions the creepy treehouse affect, which was a new term to me.  But I wonder if, going into an exploritory adventure with technology, especially if they give students an opportunity to share their insights, the affect might be more akin to a tree-based telescope.

The line that struck me from the Observer article was… experiment that would challenge teachers and administrators to ensure the hand-held devices are used as learning tools, not toys.

I understand this concern.  But might we find that a learning tool can be a toy, and that a toy can be a learning tool.

9 thoughts on “Toys & Tools”

  1. I love your last comment! I am becoming more and more convinced that learning tools should be toys . . . they should at least be something that encourages some sort of play. John Medina’s Brain Rules talks about the importance of play as a part of learning.

    When administrators or parents or teachers complain that technology is used just for “fun” or that kids are just playing around, they ignore tons of research that suggests that the brain learns best when it is having “fun.”

    Ten or twenty years ago, the concerns were the same. Instead of worrying about “wasting” time playing with Web 2.0 technology, some educators were complaining about the use of paper-based simulations, video and movie clips or having kids work in groups.

    We need to continue to cite research when introducing new learning tools, whether they are tree-based or bit-based.



  2. iPod touches, with all due respect, do not represent even the tiniest fraction of what 1:1 computing could mean in the intellectual development of kids and the evolution of a school.

    Like other handheld magic beans of the past (Palm anyone?), the iPod Touch may be used for multiple choice testing, polling, web surfing and very limited word processing, but fails miserably as an intellectual laboratory or vehicle for self expression.

    Simply put, the decision schools make to invest in such devices is either a desire to “do education” on the cheap and/or symptomatic of a lack of imagination and understanding of the technology’s severe limitations.

    Not only does such a decision limit kids’ learning potential, but it retards the progress of using computers in personally meaningful constructive ways that I’ve spent the past 18 years advocating.

    One thing I’ve learned over two decades of working in “laptop schools” is that it’s hard to go back to the funding well twice when you bought one of an expensive something for every kid only quickly to determine that it was an imprudent investment and you need a real computer now.

    If you want kids to have iPods, ask Santa for them.

    1. Gary,

      I’m not going to pre-judge the potential of the iPod touch as a classroom tool. It hasn’t had time enough, in the hands of teachers and learners. But, by and large, I agree with you wholeheartedly, that our goal should be to put a full range of information working tools in the hands of our students — the very richest “intellectual laboratory.”

  3. It would seem more prudent to put one interactive whiteboard per classroom (1:1) than one laptop or ultra-mobile device per student.

    Wonder if Santa delivers those? *lol*


  4. It depends on how the technology is used that determines whether it is a “creepy treehouse” or a “tree-based telescope.” I see a lot of student blogs, for instance, being used as nothing more than electronic journals. When I was a student, I loathed journaling, thinking that the teacher only wanted to invade my privacy. I also hated when teachers asked me to do a report on a book I read for leisure (probably why I’ve never joined a book club). I keep these things in mind when I look at using new technology with students: Do they see it as an invasion of privacy? Does it allow them to share too much about themselves? Does it take away the “fun” of something they enjoy?

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