Tag Archives: Seymour Papert

Simple Truth: Technology Changes. The Skills We Believe in Don’t.

Five years ago, I created this simple graphic in an attempt to push #edtech enthusiasts to remember that responsible planning starts when we think about just what it is that we want our students to know and be able to do, NOT when we find a flashy new tool that we want to tinker with in our classrooms:

(click here to view image and permissions on Flickr)

Technology is a Tool

The image still resonates with people today. 

I probably see it four or five times a week in my Twitterstream, it’s shared over and over again in conferences, and it’s appeared in more than a few books.

But I felt that it needed to be refreshed — five years is an eternity in a digital world — so I spent the better part of last weekend creating an updated version.

Here’s that final product:

(click here to view image and permissions on Flickr)

Image - Technology is a Tool - V3


Now go back and view both images.  What do you notice?

The point that stuck with me as I updated the graphic was this:  The technology tools that we use in our classrooms and in our personal lives are constantly changing.  Five years ago, Animoto and Edmodo and Prezi and Flipcharts were the tools burning up our social streams.  Today, it’s Flipgrid and SeeSaw and coding and green screen technologies.

That’s why the left hand column of my newest graphic looks a LOT different than the original.

But the skills that matter most to our students stand the test of time.

Taking action and driving change and joining conversations and imagining new possibilities and finding questions worth asking and answering have defined the most accomplished people forever.  They mattered to kids generations ago, they matter to kids today, and they will matter to kids fifty years from now.

Need proof?  Ask Socrates.

Marc Prensky stopped by the Radical a bunch of years ago and explained it to me this way:  The tools and services that we use should be the nouns in our conversations about teaching and learning.  They are the “things” we use to accomplish the work that we believe in.  The skills that we believe in should be the verbs in our conversations about teaching and learning.  They represent what we want our students to “be able to do.”

And while nouns are constantly changing, verbs largely stay the same from year to year.  We will always have access to new tools to make our work more efficient and effective, but “our work” — helping to develop reflective, thoughtful, action-oriented kids who, as Seymour Papert argues, “know how to act when they are faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared” — remains largely constant.

What does this all mean for classroom teachers? 

It’s simple:  Be teaching geeks, not tech geeks.

Concentrate on just what it is that you want kids to know and be able to do — THEN start looking for digital tools to support those outcomes.  Chasing the latest fad may feel fun and exciting — and it may make you the trendiest teacher in your building — but if you can’t tie that fad to an outcome that matters for kids, you are just wasting everyone’s time.

One more thing:  The most controversial aspect of both of these images is my choice to label my columns “Wrong Answers” and “Right Answers.”  

In fact, I’ve taken a ton of abuse over the years for that decision!

People passionately argue that there ARE no “wrong answers” when it comes to using technology in teaching and learning.  Or they passionately argue that you CAN’T do any of the tasks in the right hand column without the tools listed in the left hand column.  Or they passionately argue that by labeling the actions in the left hand column “wrong answers,” I’m hurting people’s feelings and alienating teachers who aren’t quite ready to take kids towards the behaviors listed in the right hand column.

But like it or not, I’ve chosen those words deliberately. 

Here’s why:

(1).  The terms “WRONG” and “RIGHT” evoke tons of reactions from people when looking at this chart — and those reactions can be great starting points for conversations about the use of technology in your schools and communities. 

In fact, I ENCOURAGE you to slap this image up on a screen at your next faculty meeting and ask people how they feel about those labels.  Better yet, ask them to come up with better labels for each of the columns.  Doing so will force your table groups to think more deliberately about the role that technology should play in instruction even if they DO passionately disagree with me.

(2). If teachers aren’t looking beyond tools when making instructional choices — if they really DO believe that “Posting to SeeSaw” or “Adding to Flipgrids” are worthwhile instructional outcomes — their decision-making really IS flawed.

In a profession where we’ve learned to shy away from questioning the professional decisions of our peers, that may make more than a few people squirm, but I am a firm believer that we fail our kids and our communities when we let technology — instead of teaching and learning — drive our decisions.

Stated more simply, there ARE wrong answers to the role that technology should play in teaching and learning — and until we are willing to admit that, we really can’t be surprised when technology investments don’t have any real impact on the development of students.

(3). I don’t buy the “You are alienating people who are just learning technology when you label their choices as wrong” argument.

The simple truth is that technology ISN’T intimidating anymore.  The vast majority of services that are aimed at educators are incredibly simple to figure out.  Need proof?  Take Flipgrid — one of the hottest new technologies out there — for a spin.  I figured it out in five minutes because there’s really nothing to figure out.

That’s incredibly cool because when new technologies are so easy to use that you don’t have to wrestle to figure out their features, you are freed up to think more deeply about the ways to move your kids forward towards mastering the more meaningful goals listed on the “right” hand side.  We can think about teaching INSTEAD of technology because the technology has become, in most cases, a breeze to use.

Again — this might make people feel uncomfortable.  Maybe even alienated.  But chances are that the people who feel uncomfortable or alienated by this argument REALLY NEED to be nudged out of their comfort zone — and if my image can be the impetus for that discomfort, that’s a win.

Alright.  Enough said.  Hope you dig the image and find it useful in your work.

Know that it is licensed Creative Commons – Noncommercial.  That means you can use it without asking me for MOST purposes.  Want to Tweet it?  Want to use it in a presentation to your faculty?  Want to use it to start a conversation in your graduate class on educational technology?

Go for it.

You just can’t use it in situations where you are making a profit — books that you are publishing, presentations that you are being paid to give — unless you reach out and ask me for permission in advance.

If you need to reach me, find me in Twitter:  @plugusin

Or email me:  wferriter at outlook dot com


Related Radical Reads:

Technology is a Tool, Not a Learning Outcome.

More on Technology is a Tool, Not a Learning Outcome.

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks.

What Kind of Students is YOUR School Producing?

Do We REALLY Need to Do New Things in New Ways?





Do Your Students Treasure Answers or Collect Questions?

One of the brightest minds I know is a guy named Evan Sharp.  I had the chance to meet Evan at Educon this year and his drive to wrestle with big ideas was instantly contagious.

At one point over the last year, Evan shared this cartoon with me.  

Go ahead and read it.

I’ll wait.

Really.  I want you to read it.

It’s interesting, right?  And it has me thinking this morning.  In fact, it’s stirred up a bunch of provocative questions that have been sitting in the back of my mind.  

Here’s just a few:

Do school cultures teach kids to treasure answers or to collect questions?

We know the answer to this one, don’t we?  Knowledge driven curricula and high-stakes, fact-based end of grade exams have placed a high priority on answers and a low priority on questions.

Need proof?

Ask the kids in your classroom two questions.  Tell them that you are going to grade the first and the second is just for fun.  See which one they tackle first/work hardest on.


How will a “treasuring answers” attitude towards learning help and/or harm students in today’s world?

I’ll admit it:  I’m SUPER skeptical about the “treasuring answers” approach to learning that we’ve taken in the last few decades in American schools.

I think it was a function of easy accountability instead of an attempt to truly prepare students to be successful in life.  And I think kids who treasure answers will struggle with the one skill that Seymour Papert identified as essential for being competitive in today’s world:  Knowing how to act in situations for which you were not specifically prepared.

Treasuring answers feels like rehearsal to me.  “What am I going to be asked — and how do others want me to answer those questions?”

Collecting questions feels like discovery to me.  “What can I find that no one else has considered before — and why are those new discoveries important to me and to the people around me?”

But IS there a place for treasuring answers in school?  SHOULD we be preparing kids with a solid foundation of basic information that they can draw on and from?  More importantly, is it possible to ask good questions if you don’t have a solid foundation of basic information to draw from?

What’s the right balance between treasuring answers and collecting questions?

What steps can we take to create learning spaces where the questions that kids ask are perceived as just as valuable as answers that they give?

Maybe this is an easy fix.  Maybe teachers should just create time and space for their kids to ask and answer their own questions in class.  Kind of like the Wonder Question project that I started tinkering with last year.

Or maybe we need to begin educating parents — who often have traditional views of schooling based on their own experiences in classrooms decades ago — about the tension between treasuring answers and collecting questions.

Maybe we need to do a better job identifying (and eliminating) the nonessentials in our curricula to create time and space for questioning.

Or maybe we should start grading questions.

(That was a joke, people!)

Related Radical Reads:

What Kind of Students is YOUR School Producing?

Wonder = Joy (And Joy Should be Shared!)

More on the Challenge of Wondering in Schools.