Thursday, October 9, 2008

The cost of tools



I don't wish to abandon technology.

I love pencils and pens. A ream of paper weighs a lot less than a ream of clay tablets. It's nice to be able to read after sunset. Trudging off to an outhouse is not much fun in winter. Even a red corncob serves as a piece of technology in the right circumstances. (See above.)

I obviously use the internet. I blog. I know how to align an IWB.

Still, all tools have a cost.

The original Luddites did not fear technology--they were weavers, after all, and used tools. They were against a technology that mass produced a cheaper (and inferior) cloth. That their jobs were on the line played no small part in the movement to destroy industrial looms.

All tools have a cost.

Learning to use a new tool costs time, time usually well spent if the tool is going to be used frequently of for a long time. I don't mind learning how to use the SMART board--I will use it a lot, it helps the students learn, and it looks like it's here to stay.

Still, there are downsides. Sometimes the board does not work. Projectors break. Upgraded versions require more time investment. The SMART board takes up a good chunk of the whiteboard, space I value. The whiteboard is easier to erase.

Someone gets to clean the filters for the projectors that use the whiteboard. That someone happens to be me.

All tools have a cost.

High technology can get expensive. If administration or the board of education spends a lot of dollars on a project, they expect it to get used. Using it costs time.

We have a curriculum. I use a daily plan. I have a set of tools for the classroom. Pens, paper, markers, microscopes, glassware, and lots of other goodies. My district blesses us with an abundance of tools.

I love toolboxes, I have several in my basement. If you want to make me happy, buy me a toolbox for my birthday, loaded with tools.

If you want to disappoint me, however, buy me a gold-plated heavy duty shovel and expect me to use it on my next project, no matter what that project is.

When I get observed, I make sure I throw in a minute or two using the latest gizmo. Even if the gizmo is not the best tool for the lesson. This makes me a cynic.

I'd rather be a Luddite than a cynic.

All tools have a cost.

The best teachers I know can squeeze their lessons into just about any new technology thrown down from on high. The best teachers I know can teach the same lessons just as well using a crayon on the back of a paper towel.

Public schools will never be able out-wow the technological toys kids carry with them. It costs too much, the learning curve is too steep, and it's also besides the point.

We are here to teach.

All tools have a cost.

Here's where I am supposed to stomp my feet (I do that a lot), proudly announce I do not own a cell phone (after years of being on call as a doc, last thing I want is more access), and condemn the flow of high-tech methodologies flitting through the schools.

That would miss the point.

All technologies have a cost, but sometimes the benefit outweighs the cost.

Last week, I had my students plant seeds. Old school technology. Every single one of them had used a computer before, and almost every single one of them has a cell phone.

Most of them had never planted anything before in their lives. They are excited by something new.

In the next few weeks, I am going to have a class create wiki pages. I have my supervisor's blessing. I am using a class of freshman, a Level 1 CP Physical Science class, a fancy way of saying our lowest level offered.

My turn to be excited by something new.


The top photo is called "Outhouse," taken by mexico 2000, originally posted on Flickr, taken in Stamford, South Dakota.

3 comments:

Tracy said...

Micahel, I have been meaning to comment on this post for over a week. I read it while I was in Boston for a conference about blogging and shared your blog with someone as 'one of my favourite blogs'. We laughed OUT LOUD and nodded our heads at these lines:

If you want to disappoint me, however, buy me a gold-plated heavy duty shovel and expect me to use it on my next project, no matter what that project is.

and

The best teachers I know can squeeze their lessons into just about any new technology thrown down from on high. The best teachers I know can teach the same lessons just as well using a crayon on the back of a paper towel.

Tech is not the end-all of good teaching. Give me a group of kids, some paper, and some coloured markers and I'll be a happy camper. Because the strongest tool that we (my students, I, you, your students) share is our ability to be creative regardless the physical tools in our possession.

What did your students plant?

doyle said...

Hi, Tracy!

My students planted (mostly) beans, radishes, and wheat. Unfortunately, some of them planted the wheat about an inch or two deep. We have plenty more wheat berries, though, so they'll try again.

It's fun to watch them take care of their plants.

(They're learning how to grow plants, I'm learning how to, um, wiki.)

nashworld said...

"The best teachers I know can squeeze their lessons into just about any new technology thrown down from on high. The best teachers I know can teach the same lessons just as well using a crayon on the back of a paper towel."

-this, to me, speaks of TPACK by Punya Mishra & Matt Koehler

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. Given rich and detailed content knowledge... there is a pedagogical approach that is most appropriate for each learning goal.

Of course, the same applies for technological tools. They see the best teaching when an instructor makes use of deep knowledge of all three types to create the best environment for learning.

Your post here reminds me that the shiniest tool isn't always the most effective.

Also- have you read "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv?