I remember a day, 15 years ago, when I was teaching my Calculus class and I received a call from my son’s middle school nurse. She started the conversation by assuring me that he was ok. Apparently, students in his classroom (including my son) decided to throw pencils at each other when a substitute teacher was in the room. My son’s forehead had the misfortune of being the landing spot for one of those pencils. The consequence for these shenanigans was an afternoon detention where students were required to sit quietly and do nothing
Remembering this incident in my son’s classroom led me to ponder about the proverbial pencil when it comes to technology and harmful behavior by our students.
Technology in the classroom and devices in our students’ hands have accelerated at warp speed in the last five years. Students have cellphones in their back pockets, access computers in their classrooms, and carry Chromebooks, iPads and laptops in their backpacks. We have a generation of young adults who, up until recently, only used technology as a way to communicate and express themselves on a social level. Now our students are using that same technology to communicate and express themselves on an academic level. The pens/pencils of the past are quickly being substituted/accompanied with digital keyboards and voice typing apps. Students of this Generation Z communicate, collaborate and create in a technology rich world.
However, this does not mean that students are not still “poking themselves and each other in the forehead”. We, as parents and educators, are acutely aware of the alway present temptations by our students to test the limits of school web and content filters. Whether it be online games, social media or inappropriate websites, this testing of the limits has the potential to lead our students into the path of harm.
So when they do test the limits, what are the consequences? In the article by Edgar Cervantes,You shouldn’t take technology away from kids, he asks the question “Is prohibiting kids from using technology really the right thing to do?” The answer should be “No, it is not the right thing to do!”
As a school district Technology Director, I am tasked both legally and ethically with protecting our students from the dangers that they face when they turn on their devices at school. School districts have done a tremendous job of developing safety programs for our students including developing strong web and content filters that comply with CIPA, FERPA, and COPPA. Teachers and support staff discuss with students about digital citizenship and how to appropriately access and interact with each other online. Students are educated on cyber bullying and student privacy. Professional development is purposely focused on the social and emotional implications of student and adult online interaction.
However, there are those in our communities who don’t believe that we, as educators and administrators, are doing enough! They have their own opinions as to what student technology protection should look like. When the discussion of internet safety comes up, it is not uncommon to hear comments like: “We should shut off the WiFi during the school day” or “School districts should constantly monitor student browser history to catch them in the act.” or my least favorite “Devices should be left at home and not used in school”. Are these the actions we, as school districts, should be taking?
In an EdTech Magazine article, Nicole Antonucci emphasizes that “restricting use of devices in the classroom is moving away from the trend of improving education by integrating technology.” Our responsibility, as educators, parents, and community members, is not to treat the symptoms of bad technology decision made by our students…. Our responsibility is to treat the cause of these possibly harmful decisions.
When students throw pencils across the room at other, do we take away all writing instruments? No… because students need these instruments to take notes, collaborate and be engaged in the lesson. We, instead, change the pencil throwing behavior that is causing holes in student foreheads.
So, when students use proxies and personal data plans to “go around” the school’s filter system, our first instinct should not be to take away devices or lock down internet access. Our instinct should be to support them as they learn, explore, connect and grow in amazing ways while keeping them safe from flying pencils.