It’s Not About the Tech

One of my first experiences with tech being thought of as the end all, be all, happened about 20 years ago. I was teaching 6th grade at a very high-income public school in California. Being a new teacher at the school the other teachers were explaining to me how careful I was going to have to be with grading – especially on the report cards. “If you are going to give a kid an A- or B+ you have to be ready to pull out your gradebook and a calculator in front of the parents and do the math right in front of them to prove that the grade is correct,” they warned me. They went on to explain that this would not happen very often, but it would happen.

Sure enough – when the first set of report cards came out I was sitting in a parent/teacher conference and one student’s parents had me show them why their son got an A- in math – with the gradebook and a calculator (them peering over my shoulder). Two other teachers were sitting with us and the parents asked one of them about the B+ their son had received from her in reading. She was using a gradebook program on her Apple IIe computer and pulled out the print out to show the parents. That was it … “You did the grades on a computer?… then never-mind … they must be accurate.” They left without so much as a glance at the printout. They were gone about 30 seconds when we all burst out laughing … because we knew that in reality the way this program worked the chances of making a mistake was much higher with the computer! But this happened 2 or 3 other times that same year.

I also had 3 Apple IIe’s in my classroom – and to integrate them I had students take turns in teams of 3 to run “Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?” I had more parents come to visit my classroom (even parents that didn’t have kids in my classroom) to observe kids using the program and pulling out assorted reference books to look up the clues to find Carmen. I did this during “silent reading time” as a way to include reference books into the mix. Pretty cool – for 20 minutes or so a day. I had student’s moms come speak to me on several occaisions after school (twice in tears), so happy that their child was going to be far ahead of other kids their age because they were using a computer in class!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I bring this up in reference to a post from Chris Lehmann at Practical Theory about how his school is going to open as a 1:1 laptop school – every student will have an Apple G4 iBook. Chris explains:

“We are going to be modelling the “textbookless school” in that we did not order textbooks for every kid. We’ll have classroom sets of books to use as references, but the laptops will be the primary learning tool at SLA.”


“We really have the opportunity to create School 2.0, and we can’t wait to try.”

But here is the important part. Chris is wary of the tech being an end all, be all:

“The laptops aren’t what change schools all by the themselves, the way we think about schools — the way we plan, the way we teach, the way we assess, the way we talk about what our schools can and should be — all those things are more important than the tools.”

Yesterday I posted about Best Practices and one of my points was that very often teachers that use best practices with technology just figure that that’s the way everyone does it so they don’t get the word out about what they are doing that is so powerful (I called it WOW! kind of stuff – see point 8) Well here is another area that has made people wary of tech integration. Maybe it’s just me, but so often when I’ve observed teachers that have obtained tech for their classroom, they wait for the tech to take over and make their program fly. Well it ain’t gonna happen! But they and their administrators and their students and their parents become disillusioned about tech and project-based learning (which also is often done poorly and so gets its own round of bad PR) and that makes it harder to find those really, really, really great examples and make the case for 21st century tools.

Pencils, paper, books, markers, rulers – are all just tools that allow access to learning. Giving students these tools doesn’t make them learners – it is teaching students about how to use them effectively – and your chances of being successful in life is fairly bleak without the knowledge of using these and other tools – that is the point.

So congrats to Chris and his staff on going into their adventure with their eyes wide open about how to use these new tools. And best wishes to Theodore Lehmann – all of 10 days or so (and family) on upcoming surgery. Thank God medical schools have understood the value of hands-on/minds-on learning for quite awhile.

Learning is messy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One thought on “It’s Not About the Tech

  1. Thanks for the thoughts on Theo… we spend much of the day at the hospital, and he’s doing well. Honestly, the surgery can’t come fast enough so we can get him home. And I couldn’t agree more with your piece.

    One of the things that makes me so excited about SLA is that I’m working with a group of teachers who understand the pedagogy comes first – and then the tech helps us get there. Another thing I’m excited about is that we *will* be working to make the school as transparent as possible, so hopefully, we will have some best practice to share soon!