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?