Change the Tools

originally posted at:

Remember when you begged your mother to spend the extra money on the super-duper-deluxe package of your official high school grad photo?  I do.  It wasn’t enough to have 12 or 15 of the wallet-sized photos, I needed at least 48.  Remember when you looked for the least smudgy ball point pen you could find in order to write personal messages to each and every person to whom you gave one of those photos?  I do.  As I recall, we began to share these forced-smile, ridiculous background, did-I-really-wear-that-haircut photo wonders in junior high. I think the first sheet Mom popped for came with 9 photos, just enough to share with best friends and a few cousins. Each year my pleading for “just one more sheet” grew as the size of my circle of friends grew. I’m a sentimental person, but I bet I’m not the only one from the class of 1983 who still has a pile of these in a box buried in the basement.

My children have never, ever asked me to purchase a sheet of these wallet-sized photos, not once, not even the minis!  They watch as I decide how many to buy and who to send them to at Christmas time, but they’ve never once seemed interested in partaking in this photo-exchange process that I’ve tried to explain to them.  Seems it just doesn’t happen anymore.  But then why would it?  Our children are able to carry with them hundreds of photos of their friends, pictures they’ve taken themselves, pictures that will likely never be printed on photo paper. They have cellphones, iPods and digital cameras. They don’t need to write promises to stay in touch, while trying not to smear blue ink all over the place.  They have Facebook, Flickr and glogster to share photos with remember-when phrases.

The tools of memory-making have changed and the tools of knowledge-making are changing too.

Those of us passionate about shifting our education system to a model such as NB3-21C agree that the competencies we want to empower our children with: critical thinking and creative problem solving, collaboration, communication, personal development and self-awareness, and global citizenship, are not “21st century” ideas.  These learning goals have been taught by teachers, for many years, in many ways that did not require the internet. But while the goals themselves are not new, many of the tools most suited to facilitating mastery of these competencies in a networked knowledge economy are indeed 21st century tools.

The learning environment outlined in the NB3-21C Strategy Document would allow our students to communicate and collaborate across the street and across the globe.  Using netbooks and other technology tools, students will be able to personalize their learning path exploring topics of interest to them and finding others with similar interests. Multimedia publishing, video conferencing, shared authoring, and the development of  peer networks through social networking applications will bring added engagement to the curriculum. One-to-one access at the high school level will enable students across the province to explore subject areas previously unavailable in rural or small schools. This 3 year plan would eventually see all K-5 classrooms with clusters of netbooks as well as interactive whiteboards and FM sound systems, and all students in grades 6-12 would have 1:1 access to netbook computers.

So yes we can “teach” students how to learn, to communicate by reading and writing, to share ideas with their classmates, to be aware of world issues with pencils, paper and textbooks. But imagine what they can learn if we allow them to use the tools they already have locked in their backpacks, or give them access to the tools we use in our homes and workplaces. It is time to empower students in their learning journeys – it is time to put the tools in their hands.


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