OK... August is here and I'll now acknowledge the multitude of "back to school" promotions going on at every retailer (even Menard's is selling school supplies). We've downloaded the supply lists for our 1st and 8th grade children and are now planning our contribution to the economy. Fortunately, the highest tech device on either of the lists is a scientific calculator. Though I must rant for a moment... On the first grade list is a ream of photo copy paper and a package of dry erase markers. Isn't the school supposed to supply those? I draw the line when they start asking for toilet paper.
With younger children, we have it easy. I know that in a year or two I'll be among those shopping for a shiny new graphing calculator. I've seen models required at some schools ranging from $90 to $150 or even a little more. And... while our 8th grader does NOT have a cell phone yet, I know that is probably right around the corner as well. So that begs the question when will a smartphone or similar mobile computing device show up on the supply list? Or, phrased differently, why wouldn't I want my child to bring a device such as the iphone or ipod touch to school?
If I have to shell out $150 for a calculator anyway and a cell phone (to be used in an appropriate way, of course) why wouldn't I want all of it packaged into a single device. Not to mention all of the other functionality the smartphones have. I've talked about this for a couple of years now and done a few presentations on it. The reception from parents and classroom teachers is usually positive, but I meet a much more critical response from the technology folks in schools.
We recently had a discussion about mobile computing devices at one of our cooperatives regular technology coordinator meetings. I don't believe a single school in the co-op allows smartphones in the classrooms and most would not allow a (non-phone) device like the ipod touch to join their wireless networks.
As a former technology coordinator, I can understand issues like security, integrity of the network and so on. As a former teacher, I understand the classroom management challenges they present. However, as a parent, it gets a bit more fuzzy. I can spend $230 (or less) and equip my son with a device that is a scientific and graphing calculator, dictionary, thesaurus, foreign language reference, has full access to internet research tools, displays, stores and allows editing of word processing and spreadsheet documents, has access to hundreds of math, science and social studies applications, can function as a classroom response device, and... I'll stop there, but you get the picture. Oh... and if I want to, I can get one that is a phone too.
I can give him one, but he can't use it in school. What message does that send to our parents and students?
There are, in my mind, too many positives for us to draw a line in the sand and say "no" to these devices. It will be a challenge to figure out how to properly implement them and it will take a great deal of education for staff and students alike. Remember when the Internet was new and there were discussions about whether we should even let students access it? Try to take that away from an entire school and see what happens. We found a way to make that work (usually).
Plenty of people smarter than me have found great ways to use these devices in classrooms and I think it transforms teaching every bit as much as an electronic white board (and you can get a classroom set for 1/2 the cost). Try the phrase, "smartphone in the K-12 classroom" (or use "ipod touch" in place of smartphone) in your favorite search engine and you'll find a wealth of information. One of my favorite sites for ideas on using mobile devices is, http://www.learninginhand.com/
I'm sure I'll write more about this in the future. For now, I'd like to hear from you. Anyone in a school that is using mobile devices in the classroom? Has anyone tackled this with their technology personnel? Are parents asking about these devices or am I the only one thinking about it? Feel free to comment - oh, and you can chime in about your feelings on artificial vs. natural turf too if you'd like :-)