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“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” -Mark Twain

Originally Posted January 10, 2009

As of this year, my current school has become a 1:1 or “High Access” school.  This means that every student was given a laptop and all kinds of technology is the fingertips of our students and staff.  It has been an interesting ride in my position of supporting teachers as they integrate new ideas into their classrooms.  I have seen some great implementation of creative ideas.  I strongly believe that technology is an important aspect of public education as long as we keep in mind that our content comes first and technology is a tool to teach that content.

However, a concern has begun cropping up among our staff.  We have all of these wonderful tools at our disposal, all you have to do is turn on the laptop.  But are we sacrificing kinesthetic/hands-on learning to the gods of technology?

Please understand that this concern in no way degrades the wonderful investment that has been made by my district.  I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to work in a high access environment.  I just want to make sure that we don’t abandon one of the greatest tools of learning.

One of my colleagues decided to do an informal experiment with his students.  He was curious about effect that computer notes vs. handwritten notes would have on test scores.  So he allowed students to take notes on their laptops for one test, and then required them to take handwritten notes for another test.  There was about a 20% increase in test scores for the handwritten notes.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen to a keynote speech by Neuroscience education consultant Kenneth Wesson and participate in a round table discussion afterwords.  I had the chance to discuss this idea of computer vs. handwritten notes with him.  He gave us the following information:

Computer Typed NotesStudents are concerned mostly with accuracy.  This is the “wrong tool for the job.”

Handwritten NotesStudents write the information in a way that works for them.  You make it your own and there is more of a personal connection (which increases understanding and recall).  He went on to state the printing is more effective than cursive.

Mr. Wesson also talked about virtual surgery computer programs vs. hands-on learning in the medical world.  He said that the hands-on learning was a much more effective way to train surgeons.

I also asked him about reading new information on a screen vs. having a tangible book in your hand.  Some of my colleagues are concerned that in the future they may be denied the funds to purchase actual books in favor of all electronic resources.  Since textbooks are such an expensive affair, some in the district believe this is a major plus of acquiring the laptops.  Mr. Wesson discussed the idea, but stated that there is not yet enough research in this area.

This is a very worthwhile discussion to be having in my building.  While we are technology focused, there is a strong element of brain based learning.  This involves movement and integrating a hands-on approach.  We are in the early stages of our large-scale computer integration and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.  All things in moderation?

Book Recommendations by Mr. Wesson:
The New Brain: How the Modern Age is Rewiring Your Mind
by Richard Restak

Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith

Possible Questions for Comment:

  • Is there such a thing as too much technology, or can we never have enough?
  • Do you have any experiences of technology vs. hands-on learning?
  • Is there a way to integrate technology & the kinesthetic?
  • What thoughts do you have on these ideas?

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