Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What If?

Updated 2-20-07
Quick Links:

What If
(PowerPoint) and What If (mp3) - download to same folder for music to play
What If
(Windows Media Player)
What If (Google Video) - Google Video is no more, so YouTube version.
What If Sources
(Word, PDF)
When teachers returned this fall we received an email with this sign as an attachment and a suggestion that we print and post if we wanted.
Turn off and put away all Cell Phones, iPods, and Electronic Devices during class!
Shortly thereafter many of these signs popped up outside and inside classrooms.

Now, let me preface the rest of what I’m going to say with this clear message: I understand the intent behind this. I understand that cell phones, iPods and other devices can be a distraction in class. I understand that students can use them inappropriately and they can be disruptive to the learning process. I understand that we’re just trying to be clear and up-front about our expectations that this is a learning environment and that students should be focused on the learning. I also understand that there was no evil intent behind creating or posting the sign, and that the folks that posted it are interested in what’s best for our students.

Having said that, you won’t be surprised that I was disappointed by those signs. I think there were better ways to address these issues with our students (like talking with them), instead of posting an over-generalized and impersonal “thou shalt not” declaration. I think we can talk with our students about these issues – explain why we feel this way – and the vast majority of them will agree with us and not use these devices inappropriately.

By posting these signs, we not only setup an “us versus them” mentality, but we force not only our students but our teachers to violate the rule. We already have teachers and students using iPods in classes – appropriately (background music, music for presentations, video presentations on iPods played through an LCD projector) – not to mention that they can also be used as portable hard drives. Are they supposed to stop now?

And what about cell phones? We give all of our students a student calendar and tell them it is a crucial tool to help them keep track of their assignments and be successful at AHS. What if a student wants to use the calendar program built into many of their cell phones to help them keep track of stuff? Or what if they want to text message themselves – or their email accounts – with a reminder or some notes about an assignment? Or what if they want to use the calculator or memo features built into a lot of cell phones? Should we tell them not to?

And “electronic devices?” Can we agree that’s a little bit of an overreach? Does that mean they – and their teachers – can’t use the computer and LCD Projector in each classroom? What about the VCR or overhead projector? What about their watches? Or probes in science? Or other equipment in Tech Ed? What if the Vice President comes to visit (as has happened before at AHS) – is he supposed to leave his pacemaker at the door? I know, I know, they didn’t mean those things (and I’m guessing we’d make an exception for the Vice President if he did come to visit), but we need to be careful about the words we use. If we’re going to make a blanket statement about something, we better make sure it’s accurate and says what we mean. This does not.

Instead of posting those signs, could we not have a discussion with our students and staff about appropriate use of technology? There are very real issues that we as teachers are struggling with that are much more deserving of our attention than a sign that I don’t think actually accomplishes anything – at least not anything good. As we’ve seen on numerous other blogs, many of our students are more than willing to spend time thinking and discussing important issues, why not involve them instead of dismissing them?

As I was thinking about whether to blog about this or not, it reminded me of something I had read previously. I finally tracked down the book I was thinking of by David Thornburg. It had a section on resistance to technological change in education that I remembered liking, so I used some of those items, as well as some of my own experiences, to create another presentation for my staff.
The intent of this is not to disparage folks who put up the signs or have concerns over the impact technology is having in education, but to spur more discussion and conversation about these issues.

Like the Did You Know presentation, it’s another example of David Warlick’s Telling the New Story - although, in this case, it’s more like telling the same ‘ole story. I wanted to share this story with them so we can have an open and honest conversation about how to deal with these issues in a time of rapid change. I don’t think that change is going to stop occurring, in fact, I believe it is going to accelerate – so how do we deal with that? I think one way to deal with that is to talk about it and to leverage the tools however we can to help students learn, not issue blanket statements banning their use.

So the following presentation is intended to start those conversations among my staff – our next staff development session is this Friday. I hope they take it in the way it’s intended (and I hope I’ve made it clear how it’s intended), but we’ll see. Because it’s out here on the blog, I know some other folks will probably take a look as well. As with Did You Know, you are welcome to use it or modify it in any way you see fit if you think it will help with conversations in your schools – or elsewhere. I don’t think it will generate as much interest as the previous presentation, but then again I didn’t think Did You Know would either. If you have thoughts to share, please comment or, if you do use it or modify it, I’d love to hear how you modified it or how it went.

As before, there is a PowerPoint and an mp3 file – you’ll want to download them to the same folder to have the music play correctly in the PowerPoint. Having learned my lesson from the last time, I’m also posting a Windows Media Player version and a list of my sources. On a Windows machine, right-click and choose Save Target As. On a Mac with a one-button mouse, ctrl-click and choose Save Target As.

What If (PowerPoint)
What If (mp3)
What If Sources (Word, PDF)

Google Video is no more, so here it is on YouTube:


  1. Karl,
    Maybe not as powerful....until the last line. You have an incredible gift for digital story telling for educators and I am so grateful that you share it. And thank you for sharing the sources as well because I did wonder where you obtained your information.
    (On another note that you addressed in your post, my son listens to assigned reading on his iPod which has transformed his life - he struggled with keeping up with the assignments before he started using his iPod. But, he does use it in the Learning Center and not in his English classroom.)

  2. I totally agree with the blanket statements. Most students have found ways to use our technology in very useful ways. It sort of reminds me of the calculators. Should they be banned just because students can play games on them? I think not. I use my mp3 player in plenty of ways, and I don't think they're hindering the learning process. I think that the only thing hindering the learning process is a refusal to embrace new methods or ideas to teach. I can store an image or document onto my mp3 and then upload it to a computer for an assignment or presentation. Also, I never go to theatre without it. It makes testing sound equipment much easier. Plus, I think that we students would certainly take the message more seriously if teachers actually told us and explained their own expectations rather than just placing the posters everywhere. Now that they're everywhere, they almost seem propaganda-esque, and I doubt you could think of a more effective way to get students to dismiss it than that. Maybe if some of the teachers would just ask some of us to show them how we use our cell phones and mp3's, they could see some new ways of getting their lessons to us. A new idea never hurt anyone.

  3. Oh, Karl...I have a big smile on my face and the PowerPoint never ceases to leave me speechless. Well said and something I will have my students think about.

  4. Wow, what a great presentation. It should be blatantly obvious that technology resrictions have not worked in the past. The best part of that is the fact that we live in a better world because of it. Imagine what will be the next out-of-this-world idea that comes true sooner than we think...

  5. The whole time I was watching the presentation, I was thinking instead of "what if"..."and now look!" This one really made me think...As did the last one. Great job at what we are learning about most with 21st Century...How to teach constructively.

    The thought about the signs definitely crossed my mind...They actually made me feel like we were all on an airplane.

  6. Excellent work and timely. Our high schools have recently had to clamp down on cellphones. I'm not sure they resorted to the big signs but I'm going to send the administrators this link to consider.

    Thanks for putting it in video format. Much more usable. Also consider adding it to our Youtube site:

    I took the one Tom Woodward did based on your original work and posted it their with his permission.

    Well done.

    Dean Shareski

  7. Karl, you have done it again. Thank you! Elementary schools are also dealing with this.

  8. Brilliant! I found this one every bit as powerful as the last. It is important that we be reminded, shown a mirror to see what is human nature. We're comfortable walking to the end of the board. But jumping off takes courage. Being a teacher is being courageous.


    -- dave --

  9. Thank you once again for being a champion for many teachers. The slides were excellent. I have passed them on to my administration and have had positive comments.

    You always provide an enjoyable read and powerful content.

    Chris Harbeck
    Sargent Park School

  10. Good job Mr. Fisch. We started this conversation during our last CIT class, and you've continued it in a much more eloquent (not to mention global) way. I think what we need to remind ourselves of is how often we as teachers use cell phones, mp3 players and electronic LCD projector is on every single day, and most teachers I know have their cell phones attached to their belts as they teach. It seems we need to talk to students about how and when to use these tools appropriately rather than dismissing their use altogether.

  11. Excellent Karl,

    Your question "What if the Vice President comes to visit (as has happened before at AHS) – is he supposed to leave his pacemaker at the door?" left me laughing and then I began to think ... but this is not the place to get into politics. :-)

    Thank you for sharing!

  12. My jaw dropped open a little more with every new slide in this power point. How crazy is hind sight? It gave me a lot to think about and rethink about. Just when I have my thougths about teaching and education straight you come along. I guess that means your doing your job huh?!?

  13. Karl's post is so interesting to me because I have always said, "no cell phones in class," yet last year was the first time I had ever encountered a student wanting to use a cell phone (and having the guts to ask) to schedule the upcoming dates I had written on the overhead. The student who asked was Grant Reeder, and if you know Grant Reeder, you also know he is harmless as a fly and one of the nicest and most polite kids to pass through AHS. He was hesitant to ask, but he did, and I let him do it. I have thought about that ever since (cell phones, good or bad?), and Karl's post addressed just that! It made me think about the "old fashioned" things that my mom does that baffle me, (and she's a pretty hip lady) like write things on a calendar that hangs in the kitchen, and I compared it to what I do, which is keep everything in my outlook calendar, an I wondered if any one was better than the other? Was there anything wrong with Grant wanting to put an upcoming date in his phone rather than write things down in a student calendar? My answer...different does not equal bad. It is what it is, different.

  14. Just to show you how long I've been around, I remember when one of our English teachers learned that one of her students had a computer at home that would CHECK HIS SPELLING AND GRAMMAR FOR HIM, and how could that possibly be fair? The other students didn't have such advanced equipment. Should this student be allowed to use his computer? It gave him an unfair advantage. I also remember reading Howard Gardner years ago, regarding multiple intelligences; he commented that one's intelligence could also be measured by the scope of information one had access to. In other words, perhaps our students' intelligence decreases if we take away their cell phones, or increases when we give them a laptop in class.

  15. Thanks for putting together this presentation! Two days ago I was in Biology lab and the students needed a timer to check on an experiment every five minutes. They asked, "can we set our cell phone as an alarm?" My instinct was to say no, but I said yes. It's an easy way to keep track of time, why shouldn't they use it? I knew there was at leeast one student per group that had a phone on them! I feel that students are responsive to us when we ask them to put away their i-pods and cell phones, and occasionally a phone plays me a tune in class, but it's always followed by an apology and a quick push of the off button.

  16. Karl:
    As a high school administrator at Grandview HS ( Dare I admit that to all of you Warriors?) I have with great interest read and followed the comments surrounding your debate over cell phones and e- devices. As a response, I wanted to share how we are dealing with this issue at GHS. Two years ago, we decided as a leadership team to use the phrase " Responsible Freedoms" with our students and allow them to carry and use cell phones in the non academic areas of school. Using the guidance of history and knowing that prohibition did not work in the 20's, we knew that even if we banned cellphones, most students would carry them anyway, and in fact most parents would EXPECT to be able to contact their students during the day using the cellphones.... thus a losing proposition to school folks. Instead, we decided to appeal to our students as adults. We spoke to them about "Responsible Freedoms."As an adult, you must accept the responsibility of freedoms by controlling your own use of the phones. IN class they are not allowed. In the hallway and common areas of the school students may use them freely. As you suggested Karl, the dialogue has been good. We have been able to talk about why cellphone use in the class room can lead to cheating, picture taking, interuption of the academic setting et al.
    Has it workled well. In general, yes. Clearly , we still deal with students who attempt to use phonesin class. But we have decided to deal with those who violate our expectations rather than to punish all, many who have accepted the "Responsible Freeedoms." The larger benefit, however, is what we gain by treating our students as adults, and engaging them in adult conversations. Don't most of us carry our cellphones? Don't we appreciate it when we are treated with respect? Creating rules for school that we know we can't possibly enforce is not our idea of good leadership. Helping students to begin acting like adults is. Best to you as you work through this cunundrum.
    Bruce Jansen ( C. Syers, proud Dad)

  17. In response to Mr. Jansen:
    We ARE allowed to carry our cell phones in the non-academic areas of the school. The cafeteria and the halls are not off-limits for cell phones. What Mr. Fisch is proposing is the possibility of allowing students to utilize their phones and other electronic devices in class, for educational purposes. If done responsibly, this could be a great tool for the classroom. Since many students own a cell phone or an iPod, this could be another opportunity to integrate technology into education.

  18. It was at NECC that I began to see the error of our ways. Less than a year ago, I had 18 cell phones in my jacket and pants pockets as the Colorado Supreme Court held hearings at Arapahoe...and they were vibrating nonstop. I assumed each was being used to simply text friends. One young lady said, "But we were using them to talk about the case." I responded with a "Nice try." Then she showed me. But I was till skeptical of what the others were doing.

    At NECC, I began to see the potential for positive uses - especially for iPods and yes, even cell phones. I have yet to try some of the ideas I have due to learning how to use the laptops first. No the signs haven't impacted my thinking.

    By the way, nice job, again, Karl!

  19. Well, once again you blew me away, Karl. I must admit that I posted that sign in my classroom. Last year I was annoyed by the constant text-messaging that went on during classes. My own sons spend class time socializing with their friends via text messages, and I've often reprimanded them for spending valuable learning time in such foolish ways. It just seemed "right" to forbid the phones. Your power point makes me realize that the phones can be useful and that they aren't necessarily anathema to education....Amazing.........

  20. You really should have been an English teacher, Karl--you understand the power of words and your creative powerpoints "break the frozen sea" (Kafka) inside of your audience.

    I never did post the sign about cell phones, etc., and now that I've read your post, I'm glad I didn't. Every once in a while a cell phone will ring, and the owner quickly turns it off, giving me a sheepish grin. I've seen the same expression on adult faces in the theater, restaurants, or other public places. We always talk about teaching our students respect by showing them respect--and I'm even bothered by teachers who drink coffee or water in front of students when we don't allow them to do the same. I was always taught it was impolite to eat and drink in front of others if they didn't have the same opportunity. So thank you for your clear, but diplomatic reminder that we allow our students the same technological advantages as we have. And thank you for another impressive powerpoint!

  21. To Michelle S:
    Michelle: Thanks for the clarification about what is accepted at AHS. Obviously, I had some false preconceptions based upon what I had read. Your correction was appropriate and respectful, but clearly proud of the discourse you are having at AHS. And that, after all is where we should be moving in schools. Stiggins, Wiggins, Mc Tyghe, Marzano, all talk about the need for students to engage in and even take charge of their own learning. When students, teachers and administrators are talking about learning and things that affect learning ( cell phones etc.)) that is awesome! Thanks again for your comments and clarification.

  22. I love your blog and have referred to it a few times. Thank you for sharing your powerful ability to communicate so effectively. We need a lot more educators like you!

  23. Thanks Karl for sharing your experiences and views once again!

    I have shared some comments and experiences as well on my blog

    Julie Lindsay

  24. Just read this. There's a related conversation going on at Bruce Schauble's blog which you might find interesting, as it starts with a parent's input, something that is missing from your discussion here.

    Great music, by the way. I first heard this when I was a teenager, and was shocked that someone could write music that could move me so. It's just music, man! But it seems to carry the pathos of the entire human race in it, at least to this listener.

  25. Ah, yes, well what IS the music?

  26. There are signs posted? I didn't even notice them. I don't think that this rule is entirely fair because of how strict it is. I do agree that cellphones, and ipods are distractions although its the students decision weather they use them or listen in class. It could be the difference in them passing or failing the class. But afterall that is there choice and overtime students will realize what is more important but they have to learn that on their own.

  27. Excellent article. I totally agree with Karl. I think that electronic devices plays an important role in our life so we can't issue blanket statements banning their use.

  28. I really enjoyed the "what if" powerpoint. It made me start to think about all the changes that have been made in education since I began teaching in the 80's.
    I have a grandchild that will begin kindergarten in the fall and it totally blows my mind to think about all the new technology, he will encounter. I really appreciate the statement by David Thornburg, "prepare students for the future not the past."

  29. It looks like the video on Google's video service will be taken down at the end of the month as they take down that service. Are you planning to load the video onto YouTube? Thanks in advance

  30. This is outstanding. I am a technology coordinator for a school and I have been asked to provide some PD for my faculty and visiting faculty regarding integrating technology into the curriculum, easing fears, etc. I am going to start with this "what if" presentation (I may modify for my own needs) but it is outstanding.

    I have always loved David Thornburg's works. I was just curious which of his books you found this information in, as I would like to read it.

    Be well!


  31. John Wick - Thornburg, David. Edutrends 2010: Restructuring, Technology, and the Future of Education. Starsong Publications, 1992.

  32. Dear Mr. Fisch
    I really like this post and I think that you made some really good points on the use of technology in classrooms. I agree that a more personal discussion from a teacher would be more effective than just reading a sign that says not to. Just the sign makes people feel that they are just blindly following with no real reason. There would be much more reason behind it if it actually came from another human being. Not every student uses cell phones to cheat, and that being said I don't think that it is fair to deprive every student of the great things that cell phones or ipods can do for us. Since when has man invented something this great and then limited the heights at which we could take it? Just because pencil and paper is the way things have been done that doesn't mean that its the best way. I don't know if other countries allow students to utilize these tools but it would be interesting to find out if it is a negative or positive influence. Something tells me it will be for the good of the students.

  33. Dear Mr. Fisch
    I really like this post and I think that you made some really good points on the use of technology in classrooms. I agree that a more personal discussion from a teacher would be more effective than just reading a sign that says not to. Just the sign makes people feel that they are just blindly following with no real reason. There would be much more reason behind it if it actually came from another human being. Not every student uses cell phones to cheat, and that being said I don't think that it is fair to deprive every student of the great things that cell phones or ipods can do for us. Since when has man invented something this great and then limited the heights at which we could take it? Just because pencil and paper is the way things have been done that doesn't mean that its the best way. I don't know if other countries allow students to utilize these tools but it would be interesting to find out if it is a negative or positive influence. Something tells me it will be for the good of the students.

  34. Karl, I'd like to show both the video and have teacher read the blog and then respond to you. Some of my teachers have never responded to a blog... Please let me know if you are ok with this. Thanks, Caz (

  35. Caz - Sure, go right ahead. Keep in mind the video is a bit dated now. Also keep in mind that for older posts like this comments are moderated so they won't show up right away until I approve them.

  36. Technology can a good and a bad in the classroom. This seems to be a more of a problem at the second education level, than primary, where I teach and have experience. At our school, we are told to put our cell phones away and silence them in order not to disturb the class. I do this daily. The only time I take out my cell phone is to check the time during recess duty in order to line up students for lunch.
    I consider myself old fashion and not big on students having cell phones or other hand held technologies in the classroom, unless part of the curriculum. This is an adminstrative decision and will go along with their choice. My elementary students are not allowed to have cell phones in the classroom, unless it is in their backpack. They are allowed the last minute of the day to check messages. If a parent wants to get a hold of them, they can do it through the office. In my opinion, Karl is correct. I hate cell phones in any public area.