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I read a great post by fellow Nott’s lad Tom Barrett. About getting glue on your laptop. He was of course talking about his desire to see the ‘digital’ backpack in schools. On the one hand, I suspect that most of our kids do have ‘secret’ technology in thier backpack. Schools of course like to ‘ban’ anything that isn’t made of paper.

The result is that kids cart about 15 kilos of text books each day. Why? Well ‘just in case’ they need them of course – be prepared for class sunshine!. A hallmark of the ‘just in case’ learning environment.

No teacher would of course, revert to the text book lesson just because they hadn’t got much else prepared before hand. We love our text books, they make teachers feel safe – cause we’ve got the teacher one with the answers and they don’t.

Time-warp time … lets go back 20 odd years …

As a kid I remember looking at the physics text book on a summers afternoon in a hot science lab. The room was silent – apart from the occasional ‘cough’ – or fake ‘cough’ of some other poor kid trying to relieve the boredom too. I had no clue what half of it meant. Day by day, week by week, we moved ever onward.

I knew every poster on the wall, I could tell you the colour of the curtains in every house you could see out the window. I knew every scratched name and comment on every one of the decades old furniture. I knew some of the stuff in the book, well I could recite some facts, but by and large they days turned to weeks and finally it was all over. I left school clutching my ‘O’ Level in Physics – grade ‘C’ – I passed, but really had no clue what it all meant and why I needed to remember it.

I do remember that the school got a ‘research machine’ Z80, and I do remember finding any excuse possible to use it. I’d risk detention, prefect floggings and parent phone calls to get my hands on that thing. I was a programmer – I could get the damn thing to do maths homework for me – another subject that I remember – not for a love of maths – but for the teachers never ending ability to write endless things on a board without ever moving off line, or need to rub out – that woman could measure the real estate of a black board to the inch. We never used the computer for ‘maths’, it was called a ‘research machine’ – no one knew where to put it I think, so it sat in a basement room, next to the staff room – the place where the teachers hid between classes. You knew if you were about to be busted, the smoke plume predicted the approach of the teacher as the door opened.

Tom also posted this photo of the bevvy of new laptops that arrived. Imagine how liberating these are seen by kids. Imagine that they could use them all the time. Imagine if the teacher could do more than get me to ‘google’ with it.

I also thought when I saw this photo that it initially looked like a stack of paper. Then I read ‘Toshiba’. Imagine how much less paper is needed in the classroom by having these. I’ve said before – if teachers quit the ‘photocopier’ habit (some teachers in my school come in during the holidays just to prepare a mountain of that stuff – they call it planning ahead) – then the money would be there to get every kid one of these things.

The point being, that things haven’t really changed in 30 years.

Computers are ‘specialist’ tools in school, and the teacher MUST have PD to become a specialist before letting kids near them. Like 20 years of ICT in the classroom hasn’t been enough to master Power Point.

In the mean time we continue to demand that kids carry all manner of pens, rulers, glue and books – but not laptops, PSPs or Phones.

The joke is, when we do ICT – we actually ask kids to leave their backpack outside. How dumb is that! Its almost like bringing paper near a computer will somehow destroy it reverence. All hail paper.

This represents the disconnection that Tom is talking about to me. Go tell it to the scribes I say.

So what is in the backpack? what is so scary?
Schools seem to love to ‘ban’ anything that is not either made of paper – or a tool to write on paper.
The utopia is obviously using ‘the book’ to find the words to write on the photocopied paper that we came in during the holidays for. That justifies us as ‘hard working, committed teachers’.

Let’s face it, kids have mobiles phones on them – yep it’s true! It’s just year 7 that hand them into the office each morning. Sorry to shock anyone there.

Touchy!

Remember in the 90s – Schools taught ‘Touch Typing’?

We used ICT to learn to use a QWERTY keyboard. Brilliant! We invented word processors to get rid of the typing pool and immediately decided to make our kids learn to type as it was now a computer science skill. It was a skill to Marion the typist on floor 7 in the 50s maybe. Who now allocates time to in ICT to ‘learning to type’? I can’t remember it for a few years now. We assume they can use it – they are digital natives (a term I am not comfortable with).

Next, we complain that kids use txt language and MyFace speak! They don’t use ‘proper’ English!

Well consider this. I suggest that it is NOT the desire to kill off the written, proper English that drives them. Its the fact that they use a phone keyboard, predictive text, and have learned to communicate using the least number of characters possible because that is the technology that they had personal access to. Access that doesnt require the teacher to ‘approve’ its use.

So in the 21C classroom, how bad is a mobile phone? Kids can negotiate txt in that faster than they can a QWERTY keyboard.

Next I’d like to take a cheap shot at the good old Scientific calculator! – how may key shift, funtion, tap f1 tap f7 does that take to actually access the function they want? That is a far more complex activity than using a mobile phone, PSP or DS. It also has limited use outside of science and maths. But these things are okay – as they don’t connect kids to their ecosystem.

I don’t see phones as dangerous. The reality is that kids have them, they bring them, they use them, they loose them. With our without school permission – mobile phones, DS and PSP are ubiquitous in high school backpacks.

But these are banned items – they cause problems in the classroom! They can do anything on them!

So true, they can do ANYTHING. As opposed to having their nose in a text book, memorising every knot in the wooden desk. I don’t believe that teachers are so un-creative as to deny that they can take advantage of what is already in their kids’ backpacks. Just like the proxy war, give it up! embrace what is possible! dont waste their time and yours trying to be the last guardian of a mentality thats hardly moved in 30 years.

Kids will live without you photocopying yet more text to go with the text that fades in and out of focus, day after day.

The mobile phone is a networked computing device. The PSP is a networked, bullet proof ‘google’ gadget, they have more power than a calculator, and take less effort for kids to use than a QWERTY keyboard.

Finally, I go back to the ‘writing’ of txt. Kids know what ‘formal’ writing is – they do, really, I kid you not. They also know there is a time and a place for that. (and if they don’t, spend 10 minutes to explain it). Just like they might ‘swear’ when in their peer groups, but not in class – they already select the most appropriate language for the context.

As long as the tool is used for learning – whats the big deal if they do a bit of txting in comments on a blog. So what if they want to look up wikipedia on a wifi link to their PSP or N95. Why can’t they record their recount on their iPod or MP3 player? – Maybe they could show you how they could blue tooth it to your phone. Saves carrying around those floppy discs.

Don’t believe me? Ask your kids what they can do with a phone these days. Connect with what is in their backpacks. You might finds a whole new world of learning in there.

Thanks Tom for the original post.

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