Tool, Not A Toy
Originally posted on October 5, 2014. We recently completed a class project on teen usage of social media, so this seems appropriate to post again.
As a child of the 80s, I grew up in the era of the PC. I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, when I was in junior high. Like many kids my age, we also had an Atari 2600. I was introduced to the Apple IIe in college and never looked back.
As adults however, it’s easy to forget how much children today are hard-wired, if you will, to the digital age. We may think of iPhones as a new invention, but they came out when my students were still in elementary school. My one-year-old niece can take a selfie almost better than I can.
For the first time this year, I am allowing technology in the classroom, mostly because I am forced to do if I want students to produce the best quality work. I am teaching a speech class, but we don’t have enough desktop computers on campus for me to hog a media lab one period a day for them to write their speeches. When students are working in my other classes, sometimes they ask if they can listen to music while they do so. While I play classical or jazz for some classes, at other times I allow them to choose their own tunes when they write or draw a scene from a story. The end result tends to be better work than I might have received otherwise.
Not, don’t get me wrong: if I confirm they are texting or goofing off, I am enforcing school policy and turning the device over to the discipline office. I have established a mantra that guides my philosophy for electronic usage: It’s a tool, not a toy. If you use it as such, we will not have a problem. If you deviate from that philosophy, we will.
There are some larger principles we can draw from this approach. One of the things we are being asked to teach students is digital citizenship: how to use technology in a responsible way. In an era where everything is instant, we need to re-introduce an appreciation for patience. Here are some suggested guidelines:
Think before you text.
Don’t take that risqué selfie.
Don’t post that mean picture to Snapchat.
Unplug and be in the moment.
But we can’t just blame tech-obsessed teens when many of use our phones almost as much as they do. I can’t count the number of times a student has told me they are responding to a parent’s text during class or are on a “bathroom break” because Mom or Dad expects them to return a voicemail.
This may sound harsh, but the “think before you text” rule should apply to parents as well. One of the best ways you can help your student focus on art, math, science or history is to wait to contact him during a break, if you must do so at all. If someone is in the hospital and you need to pick your daughter up during third period, her day is going to be thrown into chaos whether or not you interrupt her second period class with a text. And if you want to tell your growing teen you still love him as much as when he was five, try a note in with his lunch like we did back in the digital dark ages.
And, one final thought: I am amazed at how many smartphones I see whose front glass is cracked like a haunted house mirror. Even if you are frugal and purchase an older model phone, after taxes and activation fees, it’s still easy to spend $250. I have never understood how parents make this kind of investment and then don’t include a protective case for the device. Teens rarely think of protecting their phone when horsing around with their friends. You would never send a football player into the game without a helmet and shoulder pads. Why would you do so with a phone, which for students can be a communication device, research tool, word processor, camera, and music player?
Like I said before, it’s a tool, not a toy.
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I have been a public high school teacher in Southern California since 2005 and writing since junior high. I have an affinity for chocolate, photography, sarcasm and well-written TV shows that refuse to talk down to their audiences.