More on the Challenges of Wondering in Schools

So my recent post detailing how limited technology budgets leave my students wondering grabbed a bunch of attention today—and the comments y’all are leaving are fantastic. 

I wanted to address a few of them directly in a new post simply because I think the answers are important enough to stand alone. 

Here are three in particular that I think are worth drawing attention to:

In an email I got early today, a reader named Tom wrote, “You’re being awful hard on your school, don’t you think? Most systems are doing the best they can with what they have.”

After rereading my piece, I agreed with Tom. 

My original draft did make it seem like the blame for the lack of access to information in my school was the fault of the people who work for our system. 

So I did some revising and rewording to try to make it clear that many of the challenges that we face are the result of working with limited technology budgets. 

Today’s schools are forced to make tradeoffs all the time—and often, technology comes up on the short end of the stick.

Now, that doesn’t change my belief that districts have got to look into bring your own device programs. 

There’s just no excuse for cash-strapped systems to overlook the tools that our students can bring to class with them.

Sure, it’ll require some investments in infrastructure.  Sure, it’ll require some careful policy crafting.  Sure, it’ll require some new thinking on the part of IT staffers.

But an inevitable digital shift is occurring all around us that’s just plain impossible to ignore.

Another comment that caught my eye came from Kerry, who wrote, “I wonder how any of us managed to learn anything before computers were invented?”

The answer’s easy, right? 

Before computers were invented, my kids would have trudged down to the library and cracked open the World Book Encyclopedia to find the answers to their wonder questions.

Their answers wouldn’t have come for a few weeks because they would have had to wait until we could sign up for time in the library. 

Then, they would have had to flip through dated paper texts looking at simple illustrations and hoping to understand entries that may or may not be written at their reading level. 

What’s REALLY crazy is they wouldn’t have complained at all because they wouldn’t have known any better.

Here’s the thing, though:  Today’s kids aren’t nearly as intellectually patient. 

They KNOW that instant answers are possible.

Worse yet, as long as they’re not at school, most kids have a device somewhere close at hand that can immediately connect them to an endless supply of interesting and interactive content.

Which only makes schools look foolish and useless to them. 

Let’s face it:  The expectations that our kids have for their learning spaces—and paces—have changed, y’all.

If we hope to keep their attention, we’ve got to create the kinds of always-on, anytime-anywhere learning environments that they already realize are possible.

And finally, Clix—one of my favorite Radical readers—wrote, “Bill, wouldn’t it have been possible for you to take your laptop online and have the students suggest websites or search terms?”

Sure, Clix—it would definitely be possible.  I’m actually lucky enough to have a laptop and a data projector, so we do whole class exploring all the time.

But my argument is that if we find a way to safely give kids access to our existing wireless network, it would be equally possible to have a bunch of kids researching their own questions all at once.

They wouldn’t have to hope that I finished searching out the questions asked by other students before the end of class forced them to leave with their own questions unanswered.

We constantly hear about how important it is for schools to begin differentiating learning opportunities for kids.

Differentiating learning, though, requires differentiating the opportunities that kids have to access information that fits their abilities and interests.

That’s far more likely in a room with multiple access points (read: student-owned wireless devices) than in a room where we’re working with one device—and therefore one question—at a time.

In the end, my dream would be to have 5-10 wireless devices—either student or school owned—in every single classroom. 

I’d have them sitting at table stations for individuals or student-groups to turn to whenever an interesting question popped to mind. 

Of course, we could also use them to create new content, to respond to poll questions, to Skype with other classes, or to backchannel during Socratic Seminars, too.

But mostly, I just want to give my kids a chance to answer their questions as soon as they have them simply because that kind of immediacy will encourage them to keep asking new questions—which can’t be a bad thing.

Does this make any sense?

6 thoughts on “More on the Challenges of Wondering in Schools

  1. Steve Johnson

    Hey Bill-
    Just a wondering I had from your wondering about Kerry’s wondering…
    Does the instant access to answers cheapen the learning at all? Does it harm retention? I’m always looking up answers just in time on my phone to things I wonder about and I’m not sure I hold onto that info for much longer than the moment I need it. I wonder if the actual act of seeking out answers in a more involved process helps retention? Did the longer processes of the past separate those that REALLY wanted to know the answer from those that weren’t willing to work to find out?
    I wonder if the very knowledge that answers are instantly available is a deterrent to trying to retain those answers long term? In other words- it’s great that we can instantly acquire answers, but why should we then bother to remember them?
    Just some wonderings as I read through these posts. Thanks for making me wonder 🙂

  2. Chris

    Great thoughts. As a fourth grade teacher, most of my students don’t have a wireless device yet. But my school bans their active use anyway. I teach at a Christian school and the middle school grades are going 1:1 next year and I am jealous. I want to integrate more technology but I am limited in that I must be the driver in the room or the students are individualized in the computer lab. I continue to explore new uses of technology in my classroom constantly.

  3. Bill Ferriter

    When talking about the frustrations that come along with computers in the classroom, Clix wrote:
    Then its My computer wont turn on. Whats my login? Hey, look at this
    picture! Whats the difference between Safari and Firefox? Does it
    matter which program we use? Do we open Microsoft Word? Wheres the
    internet on this computer? I dont have a Start menu.
    For me, Clix, these questions are another reason to let kids bring in their own devices—which (1). they will be familiar with already and (2). are far more likely to be updated than the computers were using at our school! Honestly, I spend at least 2 hours every time I try to use our mobile laptop carts just trying to figure out which computers have the most recent versions of Internet browsers on them.
    And while I agree that access to technology doesnt automatically mean that kids WILL ask good questions, I do know that once I can teach them HOW to ask good questions, technology will help us to find answers that arent otherwise available in my classroom.
    Technology isnt a solution for immature thinking—-but technology is a solution for the challenges that my kids face trying to answer the intelligent questions theyre asking.
    Thanks for your pushback—It always helps me to polish my own thinking.
    Rock on,
    Bill

  4. RR

    Bill,
    Great post as usual. Let’s face it– Bring Your Own Device is the future. Kids get the tech 24 hrs/day, and schools can eliminate computer hardware purchases and concentrate on infrastructure. Of course there will be issues to iron out (e.g. underprivileged familes, wifi/cell overload) but nothing that can’t be solved. The sooner we figure it out the better.
    As far as students being distracted by other things that tech can deliver to them instantly, focusing on the task at hand is a vital skill for them to learn. Sure facebook may distract them, but don’t adults have the same issue? How much revenue do corps lose during the NCAA tourn? Kids need to learn to these lessons while they are young so it isn’t as big a problem when they hit the working world.

  5. Clix

    I just want to give my kids a chance to answer their questions as soon as they have them simply because that kind of immediacy will encourage them to keep asking new questions—which can’t be a bad thing.
    Mm. Depends on the kind of questions asked. Do we have to do this? Why can’t we watch a movie instead? Are you really going to give us WORK during the last week of school? Does my chin look fat? Is Rebecca Black the least talented singer on YouTube?
    Either some questions are more worth exploring than others, and therefore a teacher’s guidance is important and necessary, or… not.
    Now, this isn’t to say that a teacher can’t guide students in small groups. It’s possible. But when you’re answering questions to group A, there’s that much more opportunity for groups B, C, D, E, and F to be … let’s say unguided.
    Additionally, I dunno, maybe I’ve just got some STUPID kids, but I’ve never EVER been able to say “good question! let’s look that up!” even when we’ve had access to a mobile lab. Then it’s My computer won’t turn on. What’s my login? Hey, look at this picture! What’s the difference between Safari and Firefox? Does it matter which program we use? Do we open Microsoft Word? Where’s the internet on this computer? I don’t have a Start menu.
    *sigh*

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