Laptops in the Classroom? No Time Like the Present

Axiom: Children will meet your expectations no matter how high or low you set them.

Anecdotal remark: Children of large families help out with very adult supervisory roles. Small children in developing nations often use “adult tools” without doing themselves harm.

Conclusion: Let children rise to the call. Children who don’t, can never learn responsibility earlier than right now.

Long Neck Child

Humans are more technological every day. Few would argue against the fact that children now need to learn about the proper use of technology as part of their lives. Why not start learning proper behaviours and attitudes from early on?

So then, I say let them have at it. You will need ground rules and agreements as with everything else. Responsible Usage Policy is a fundamental starting point. Teachers and children both need to discuss and learn how to protect themselves, others and the rights of others online. Check out this online version I created with Brendan Lea, one of my cohorts in the COETAIL program.

As with anything, compliance will vary. But even for the cut-ups who prank others by flipping screens, locking keyboards, or as one of my former students did, switching the language settings, even these are opportunities for learning and problem solving. Workarounds with technology are axiomatic. Fixing problems independently is a new survival skill. (BTW, in the case of my language setting switcher, we decided he should be the one to fix the problem.) Before getting started you should read this.

From the author of:

A lesson should not fail or win – because of the laptop or lack of.

Which brings up another axiom. The technology exists to enhance and improve learning outcomes across the curriculum, not the other way around

And now, as always, we must ensure that children understand the need for balance in their lives. There are some great suggestions at Common Sense Media on how to manage this which I will summarize for you now.

Plan off-line time. The lure of digital pursuits is strong, so help your kid plan his or her day to fit in all of the “have-tos” — homework, chores — with the “want-tos” like games and Facebook.

Play active games. While they’re not a substitute for experience, active games are a great antidote to sedentary, solitary games — and a good choice for when you simply can’t get outdoors.

Consider the example you’re setting. I know I’m my son’s digital role model. I make an effort to turn off my email or stop checking my phone once dinnertime rolls around. My actions show him that screen limits don’t only apply to him.

Use media as a jumping-off point. Whether it’s a jewelry-making game that encourages entrepreneurship, a strategy game that relates to world history, or a guitar how-to video on YouTube, think of ways to extend your kids’ favorite electronic pursuits into the real world.

It’s OK to be bored. In fact, experts recommend that kids let their minds wander. Impose some downtime on your kid (and yourself!).

Wait a second here. Before we get carried away teaching children about life balance lets consider ourselves, shall we? Take this test before reading on.

Do it!

In fact, nothing would make me happier than if you would do the following:

  1. Read this article about Nature Deficit Disorder
  2. Turn off whatever “screen support mechanism” you are currently attached to.
  3. GO OUTSIDE WITH NO TECHNOLOGY! (If it is sunny you may wear sunglasses)

Old Things, New Ways
Has technology made children prone to not paying attention, ignoring homework and chores, and heralded the beginning of a new era of mischief heretofore unknown? Or is it just possible that children are behaving in much the same manner they always have and are now merely using different tools to do the same old thing?

Though the actions themselves are closely related to social interactions of the past, the introduction of iPods, cel phones, laptops and social media does, however, change things a bit. Kim Cofino makes a good point about “visibility” that she shares in her school’s Community Learning blog piece: Living with Laptops parent session help at Yokohama International School:

Technology as more visible: In the “old school” context, when children spent time hanging out at places like Gigi’s, their parents might not know really what was happening, and any mistakes made could be forgotten with time. It was almost like those mistakes and behavior were invisible. In contrast, today’s “hang out” space is often online, where every action is visible and permanent.

Technology as less visible: In the “old school” context, when children hang out and chat at home, their friends are there, so parents can see and hear what they’re doing. However, with technology, children can be “hanging out” in a common space in the house, but parents can’t actually see or hear anything, since it’s all on the computer. In this sense, the technology almost makes the behavior “invisible”.

Kim goes on to offer a variety of important points, many of which are covered above. Of particular importance, Kim outlines that rules and discussions are more easily ignored if the adults in children’s lives are not following suit and setting a proper example. I would highly recommend taking a look at (and bookmarking as I have) this site as beyond the many insights shared, there is a long list of hyperlinked resources and connections for further reading. (Thanks Kim)

Are “Tech breaks” Really Counterintuitive?
What do you do when you just can’t seem to focus. Push ahead regardless of the feeling that you just aren’t going to retain or produce anything of value or have a stretch and maybe a snack and a coffee (or something arguably healthier)?

If you answered yes to the former then you are probably not very effectively using your time. Dr. Larry Rosen (linked above) argues for giving students a few minutes to check their Twitter or Facebook so they can stop thinking about it, refresh themselves with a little break and get back to it. This is what we do when left to our own devices because it works (brain research bears this out) so why not allow for it in the classroom. Is the classroom not meant to reflect the reality of students lives?

So to recap my thoughts on the use of laptops in the classroom:

  • Students need to use technology to thrive in our ever-more connected digital world so let’s give it to them.
  • We need to make sure children become adept at not only using it but at not using it as well. Balance in life, is key.
  • We have the responsibility as teachers and caregivers (parents you are listed in here as we teachers are destined to fail without your support) to impart understanding of how to use digital media responsibly and assist the children in developing and creating their own understanding of what this means.
  • We must be diligent but we must also keep our perspective (remember the image of the students texting a picture of passing a note?) because maybe things haven’t changed that drastically at the root (though the lasting impact of upload material is a game changer).

And with that, I leave it too you. Are you part of the problem or the solution?


Image credits not directly linked above: cart-before-horse-2.jpg
Cel phone photo by

About Sean Thompson

Sean has accepted a position as the Director of Technology at The Early Learning Centre, City School, in Bangkok. He is excited to be working with Giovanni Piazza and the rest of the staff to raise awareness of digital-age teaching and learning practice in this Reggio Emilia inspired environment. Sean is also an Apple Distinguished Educator, an International Baccalaureate Educator Network Workshop Leader and a Google Educator available for professional development at your school.
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7 Responses to Laptops in the Classroom? No Time Like the Present

  1. Sean- You have some really great, practical ideas of how we should use technology with out students. And I love that you have invited parent’s to be involved in this whole process. We are more connected and we all play a role in helping students manage this new reality.

  2. Reiko A (^_^) says:

    Hi, Sean,
    Thanks for your recap note on your blog here. I agree with you — Balance in life, is a key.

    As a computer user myself, I am a somewhat computer-addicted person… , so…., I need to know my balance as well. I truly understand how students do with their computers and cell phones.

    I like the points that Rebekah was saying above, too.
    Quote — We need to make sure children become adept at not only using them but at not using them as well. Balance in life, is key.

    Have a good summer (^_^) See you again in Sep 2012 @ COETAIL/YIS

  3. I love the start of your post, it is a great argument against filtering.

    As for acceptable use policies, I used to believe in them, but then I read this and now I’m not sure, it’s makes a lot of sense:
    What do you think?

    • Sean says:

      Thanks Mitch,

      I always feel I have done well if you have something positive to say about a post. I will definitely check out the betchablog post you linked as this is a discussion that I need to have at my new school.

      Speaking of which, I have been busy making promotional videos (@seansensei8 on YouTube) and slideshare.

      I am also creating a cheeky little training site I have decided to call “SEAN Academy” (sorry Sal). Like my one email “” I chose it because it is too cheesy to forget.

      I will be sending you an email soon asking for permission to include your “13 iOS Apps for Education” on this site, naturally cited and linked to you.

      Thanks again for all you’ve shared. I’ve always considered you a mentor. Looking forward to catching up at a seminar or workshop you are running some time soon!

  4. I like the idea of having your schools brochure as a slideshow on Slideshare. Also, Sean Academy sounds great, send me a link and feel free to use my post. Also, thanks for the kind words. Your friendship has been great and you have some excellent ideas. Good luck at your new school and new job, I know your going to be great at it!

  5. Hi Sean,
    Thank you for this great post! So clear, so nice to read!!! I opened all the links (this is a compliment) and I enjoyed the one about Nature Deficit Disorder very much which applies to a lot of us in Tokyo…
    I see you are very busy with SeanAcademy (catchy name!) and SeanSensei . I will go on following your posts and wish you luck and fun in Kansai in this very beautiful school (nice brochure) and with your family there.

  6. Sean says:

    Thank you Anne-Marie. It was quite a treat getting to know you. In the end, i went with the name, (I thought Sean Academy was a little too self-flattering!).

    I look forward to hiking those mountains around the school. Please let me know if you are ever in the area.

    Sean over

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