Fire Up Those Pencil Labs! by Patrick Higgins, Jr.

Fire Up Those Pencil Labs! by Patrick Higgins, Jr.

When Christine sent me an email about joining the group of writers here at T & L, I was happily surprised. To be honest, things have been absolutely blowing up for me in the last two years. I've gone from teaching history to working with teachers to integrate technology to working as a curriculum supervisor. The one constant in all of the change has been reflective practice through writing, and I am excited to be a part of the conversations here.

To begin on this maiden post, I'll start with a confession: I am a binge writer. The format doesn't matter: blogging, twitter posts, commenting on other's writing, or even post-it notes to my kids in their lunchbags, I tend to get an urge to write in a manner akin to poison ivy; when it's there, I can't stop, and when it's gone I hardly think about it.

A few weeks back, I spent some time at the ASCD Annual Conference in Orlando, and thanks to Scott's tip, was able to get my hands on a media credential for the weekend. This was ASCD's first real foray into giving non-traditional writers equal footing with traditional media. So, myself and a slew of others blogged, twittered, streamed, and what-have-you the bejeezus out of the conference. If you are so inclined, check out the coverage here, here, and here.

I pulled out as many quotes as I could from the sessions I was in and broadcast them out in as many ways as I could. One such quote hasn't faded from my memory just yet. When asked about whether or not each student had a laptop at Health and Sciences Middle College High School where he teaches, Dr. Doug Fisher wryly replied that they didn't. The same audience member quickly came back with "Well then you must have computer labs?" Fisher's response did more to activate my thinking than anything else I heard that weekend.

"No labs either. We feel that having a computer lab would be like having a pencil lab."

The room didn't know what to make of it. Personally, I audibly laughed, which made me a little uncomfortable as I was about three feet from Dr. Fisher when he said it. Since then, I've been looking around at various places in which we "put" technology into our classrooms. The next time you are in a school, take a look at where they put their computers. Are they located in spaces that are integral to learning? Or do the students have to leave a learning space in order to access the computer?

In 2000, Jerram Froese from Gilbert Elementary in Irving, TX, coined the term "Inspired Classroom," to describe the layout of his classroom as seen in the image above. Notice where the computers are located in relation to the student seating. By removing the stigma of the computer as "other" in the classroom, Jerram opened up a whole movement. Originally a response to the inability of his school to go to a 1:1 environment, the movement has spread to other district in Texas, and some in Georgia.

If our stated goals with technology are that it be transparent and that it be a tool in much the same way Socratic Questioning or writing with pens and pencils, then having it lie as something outside of the learning space is no longer an acceptable practice. We are at a time and place where computing technology just is. It's ubiquitous in its reach, and rather than relegate it to the perimeter of the classroom, let's make it a necessary part of the learning process.

A while back, I wrote a post about how my activities as a student have changed much in the last 6 years, and I think of the richness that access to ancillary materials can provide in understanding new materials and processes in classrooms. Just the act of seeking out additional information about classroom topics in the form of video, books, and further clarification transforms the learning experience tremendously as it's happening.

It's time to stop viewing educational technology as an extra "center" or reward or project station, and make it so that in classrooms, it just is.