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Learning at its Best

rethinking acceptable use

The boys wake up from their nap and ask to play with the iPad. They want to play games and make videos and Joel wants to play around with Instagram again. I’m not anti-technology, but I’m not giddy about it. I know that their stack of straws and construction paper that they left on the table is far less pretty, but also far more creative, than the iPad.

Christy beckons them away, saying simply, “Get on your swim trunks. I have something that you might enjoy and if you don’t like it, you can play with the iPad.”

She turns on the hose, knowing that it will become a muddy mess. The boys throw it at each other and muck up their hair and build a castle and a meal and a ditch for toy soldiers (that never arrive). They never ask for the iPad. They never beg for computer time. They are lost in the mud and the movement and the moment.

When I think of Acceptable Use (always a proper noun), I wonder if that’s a piece schools are missing. An iPad isn’t “hands-on” any more than a book. It isn’t mud. It isn’t construction paper. It isn’t a tower made out of marshmallows and spaghetti noodles. I know that iPads are great. I don’t believe it is an understatement to call them transformative.

And yet . . .

Acceptable use needs to include turning the devices off. It needs to include creativity that isn’t pretty. It needs to be a little messier, muddier and more hands-on than the slick apps that so often turn art into slick collage art. Students need to recognize that creativity and innovation often begin with simpler tools that have both greater limitations and greater possibilities.

Teachers need to remind students that there is wonder and mystery and learning to experience outside of an electronic device. Yes, I want kids to use technology. However, if they’re going to use technology acceptably, they need to observe bugs and build stuff with their hands and bust out the Play Dough every once in awhile.


About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


5 thoughts on “rethinking acceptable use

  1. just posting one that was swimming in the draft section for way too long

    Posted by John T. Spencer | October 4, 2012, 6:12 pm
  2. Well-said.

    Posted by rynsa | October 4, 2012, 8:48 pm
  3. Though I tend to agree with you, I can’t help but ask myself, “Hands on” to whose point of view? Does the student see a difference between spagetti marshmallows towers and an ipad creations, in terms of it’s hands-on qualities? Or are we imposing our own biases on what is hands-on and what is not?

    Posted by John Patten | October 5, 2012, 11:25 am
    • I’d say, yes, John P. there is a huge difference! When a child’s hands and large muscle groups are working with mud, clay, sand, water, sticks, etc. when they feel smooth stones and rough bark on their skin, when they smell the freshly fallen leaves and hear the crunch and crackle as they stomp around in their midst, there is a qualitative difference as compared to using a flat touch screen. Neurons fire differently. Chemicals in the brain are secreted differently. The sense of awe, wonder, direct connection to earth, nature and place is different. One’s sense of self emerges differently. We need to provide antidotes to the sense of disconnectedness, fragmentation and alienation that so many young people feel today. And nothing has the power to nourish children like nature. There is a soulfulness that is possible in connecting directly with a tree frog, hiding behind a cabbage leaf in the garden that is wholly and totally different than we’ll ever achieve with a touch screen. It is, I believe, critical to allow kids to have direct, unstructured time to play in nature. It provides the foundation for so many of life’s lessons and learnings. Human beings are animals, albeit ones with big old cerebral lobes, but we are still a part of an ecosystem. Young people need to know this connectedness by living it. We should all read Richard Louv again…and again and then go wallow with our kids in a nice cool mud puddle. Enough with the damn devices already. Three cheers for Christy, and other courageous adults who aren’t afraid to get dirty with their kids!

      Posted by Paul Freedman | October 5, 2012, 10:31 pm
  4. The ICT dude at my school was talking about RUA (Responsible Use Agreements) recently. We wish we could just say, “Don’t be a jerk. Discuss.”

    Responsible use is really about two things (1) Be safe, and (2) be nice. Most problems we have with students have little to do with the technology. The problems have more to do with character, distraction, manners, and safety. Those lessons need to be taught with or without technology.

    I think we need RUAs, but I also think simplification is in order.

    Posted by Janet Abercrombie | October 29, 2012, 3:06 am

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