Slice of Life: It’s OK to Argue in Here

Slice of Life 2011We’re working on some daily persuasive writing as I toss out topics that I figure will garner some strong opinions from my sixth graders. The other day, we discussed the validity of our state’s MCAS test as a requirement for a high school diploma (you’d be surprised at how many students agree, given how much they dislike the test, and how many were completely unaware of the seriousness of the test in 10th grade). Yesterday, our topic was whether or not schools should allow students to use mobile hand-held technology devices in class.

We begin with some framing of the question, as I explained how many schools are grappling with this topic right now, and then we pushed into brainstorming around the issues for and against the topic at hand. This is where I try to balance between encouraging independent thinking and respectful listening. But they get it. They listen. They talk. They debate. It doesn’t get personal.

Since my students were mostly divided on this topic of mobile devices, I thought I would share out our brainstorming list of the pros and cons of allowing cell phones, iTouches, GPS and other devices from home into the classroom. I am sure you will find their insights as interesting as I did.

The Pros:

  • Handy research tool
  • Educational Apps
  • Built-in calculators and dictionaries
  • Ability to contact family
  • Ability to contact anyone in an emergency situation (they had a past lock-down drill on their minds, I think)
  • Less need to purchase expensive laptops
  • You can easily take pictures/videos
  • Email/Text teachers (I joked that this might fall under the “cons” side for teachers)
  • Move towards paperless classroom
  • e-books available for reading at any time
  • Some students work better, harder with music soundtrack

And the Cons:

  • A distraction for students
  • Inappropriate texting/instant messaging
  • Device might get damaged
  • Device might get stolen
  • Someone might hack into it
  • Games, not always educational
  • Social distraction (paying more attention to device than to people around them)
  • How would it get power/charge all day?
  • Pictures and video of others might be an invasion of privacy
  • The “cool factor” of the most expensive devices would create an equity issue (I was so proud of them for seeing this as a problem)

They then wrote for a bit and then a few shared out their writing. This was not a full writing project. It was a writing prompt, but I loved how it got discussions going around the room.  I could not help noticing that many of my most tech-savvy students were against the concept. Perhaps they were realizing their own difficulties with meshing their understanding of technology with the rules of the school.

Oh, and did I mention our school now has a class set of iTouches? We’re still working to use them (some PD is now underway) but that addition to our tech has piqued their interest and prompted the question by one student, “Why can’t I just bring my own in from home? It’s got all the apps I need.”

Peace (in the argument),

  1. I think technology should be in the schools and used. We use it as much as possible in my first grade classroom (projector, document camera, 3 computers for the kids, computer lab). I am not in favor of the kids bringing their own because I think that is when we lose control of how they are used and when they are used. Just weighing in. Thanks for the post. I bet your kids loved being heard.

  2. Interesting that the most techie ones understood the downside. I allow some of my most ADHD kids to bring in their ipods and listen to music (classical or jazz – I help them pick something) in writing workshop and it really helps. We’re trying to go paperless – book blogs for reading responses, blogs for writing pieces, and the occasional use of the ipod for audiobooks (again, for special needs students). It’s evolving slowly…

  3. I think we need to embrace technology (I’m trying) and the possibilities it holds for teaching and learning. My biggest problem is getting our tech department to allow me to even use blogs with students. I’m extremely frustrated. I keep running into walls.

  4. I teach sixth grade, too. Do you have specific guidelines for the discussion/debate that you go over with your students before holding one? iTouches would be awesome – have fun with that!

    • We talk all year about raising hands, showing respect for differing opinions, acknowledging other sides of the coin, giving everyone a chance to speak.
      Here, we collectively brainstormed together the pros and cons, and then let them sort out thoughts in writing.

  5. I’m so glad you posted this. I am working on the same thing. I wrote about this too. I’m haviong my students write a persuasive research essay. I plan to show your blog on my smartboard. Thanks for sharing! Have a great weekend! Happy Slicing! 🙂

  6. Interesting discussion. I liked seeing the lists of pros and cons and was quite struck by the fact that the most techie understood the downfalls. We are so not technology based at our school, but my own class has a blog (upon which occasionally they must post–that took some instruction) and occasionally I try to do paperless assignments. The difficulties my students face are access and money. It takes money to keep up with technology, to have a house (I have one student I’m pretty sure lives in his car), to have a computer, paper, ink. Sometimes in our push to technology, we forget that some will be left behind, like some were when we all became literate. Now the literacy is not only words, but technology.

    Thanks for your post.

    • I try to never forget the access/equity issue. All the tech that I do is done in class, with everyone involved. I think about this a lot. But it is good to reminded of, too.

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