beyond the hype and hysteria

Even though my school is considered "poor" (though not really poor, because the really poor kids are the ones working in the factories) more than half of them have mini-tablets.  Apparently the mere possession of a mini-tablet is a divisive issue on campus. The first crowd hates the mini-tablets and the second group loves them.  We'll call one group the haters and the others the hopers. Not surprisingly, today a verbal battle broke out in the staff lounge (or as I like to call it the "staff vent and gripe location")

"All they do is write shorthand messages. It's ruining grammar.  It's ruining poetry.  Some day we'll replace rhyme with free verse and all Hell will break lose. We'll have poets who don't even capitalize letters."

"At least they're spending their free time writing," Mr. Brown responds.

Another teacher jumps into the conversation, "I had two kids throw wads of paper.  One kid threw a paper airplane.  Do you know how dangerous that is?  I don't want to get sued when a kid pokes an eye out or gets an infection from a paper cut. I never have projectile issues when I teach with slates."

"So incorporate airplanes into a lesson on velocity. Who knows, maybe this is what will start the first glider that will lead to human aviation."

"I will do my best to add human aviation to my lesson on the War of 1812. Seriously, today when I'm lecturing, I see a whole row of them doing origami."

"If they weren't doing origami, wouldn't they be just as checked out?  Their issue might be that lecturing is a bad strategy for them."

The first teacher joins the discussion again, "I don't know how many times I've had to take away a mini-tablet because a student was playing hang man. And seriously?  Hang man?  Can children's games get any more violent?"

"So, design your own classroom activity that can incorporate student mini-tablets. You are taking away a tool that might revolutionize learning because a few people use it wrong."

*     *      *

The truth is that I'm in the middle on this one.  Yes, we can use mini-tablets. However, they are not the fix-all for education.  The truth is that multitasking is not a good thing.  Novelty is decent, but fades quickly.  Mini-tablets feed the need for novelty, multitasking and entertainment.  Sometimes deep critical thinking runs against the mini-tablet as a medium.  So, looking toward it as a "revolutionary device" is a bit extreme.  Sometimes a kid just needs a book - a really interesting, deep-thinking, fascinating story.

On the flip side, mini-tablets have some great potential uses.  Banning them for classroom management reasons is absurd.  After all, who would ban chalk because students have been known to bang erasers and create dust clouds?  The real issue is one of fear.  Teachers are afraid that they won't be able to keep students interested in the subject. It's a bit humiliating to lose out to a sheet of paper.

So, I'm hoping for this: that students will find philosophical conversations more interesting than hang man.  My hope is that they will use mini-tablets to send messages and manage information as they engage in problem-solving.  My hope is that I will see the mini-tablet not as the hero or the villain of education, but as another tool - one that should not be banned, but also one that does not belong in every lesson.

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