When they ask for creative, just not computer creative


Teaching | Thursday, January 29, 2015

When they ask for creative, just not computer creative


A student told me she wanted to be creative, just “not computer creative.” It was a reality check, reminding me that not every lesson has to be technology-rich to have impact. (Flickr / Navy Hale Keiki School)

It hit me a couple days ago. It hit me on a day when things were going really well in all of my classes.

I was finding new ways to give my students choice, from choosing vocabulary for their lists in Spanish class to helping pick activities for lesson plans that week. (Recently, I decided that my one-word mission statement for the rest of the school year would be “voice” or “choice” for my students.)

I was finally hitting my stride after winter break.

(Side note: For some reason, on breaks longer than a week, I dread returning to school in fear that I’ve forgotten how to teach well. I’m not sure why this happens, but after summer break and winter break every year, I’m nervous that I’ve lost it for the first week or so of class. After that, I can feel that I’m back and life is back to normal.)

I had just finished a great class of conversations completely in Spanish during my Advanced Placement Spanish class. And just before the bell rang, I overheard one of my students talking about what she wanted to do in my class.

She said, “I want to be creative, just not computer creative.”

Boom. There it was.

“Not computer creative.”

I’m a guy who loves incorporating technology. I embrace creating a classroom that turns the previously inconceivable into the totally possible.

I mean, I kind of wanted to cuddle with the Chromebooks I got this school year for my classroom. (For the record, I did not.)

I pride myself on hosting a technology-rich, efficient class environment.

And then a student drops that bomb as she’s walking out of class … she wants to be “not computer creative.”

I really grappled with this one for a couple days. At first, I wanted to dismiss this student’s comment. “It was just an casually dropped line to friends,” I rationalized. “Maybe she didn’t mean it. Maybe she didn’t mean it like that.”

“Plus, it’s only one student. What kind of representative sample is that of the entire student population?”

This one passing comment made me go back to some fundamentals of teaching. Students learn in different ways, and it’s our job to help our students find them and learn with them as best as we can.

Some of my students love using technology. In fact, today — on the first day of my school’s “bring your own technology” rollout — one student was doing some multi-device work, looking up information on one device and entering data with another. Those guys can’t get enough. They’re probably in the minority, though.

Also in the minority — the ones that hate all technology. One girl that took Spanish from me for three years took every opportunity to tell me that she didn’t like using our computers and thought that all technology hated her, even her cell phone.

Those two groups may be in the minority, but they deserve to be represented.

A favorite catch phrase of many educators in online spaces and at conferences today is this: “Technology is a tool, not a learning outcome.”

My thoughts exactly. It’s a tool. More importantly, it’s not the only tool.

So, what am I going to do about this reality check? I’m going back to the drawing board. I’m going to find ways to help this specific girl be “not computer creative.” Plus, I’m going to find ways to let my other classes be “not computer creative” as well.

Why? It’s my classroom after all, right?

Well, not exactly. It may be my classroom, but it’s their education. If I’m investing in my students’ future (which is what we really do as teachers), I need to find what connects with them.

I’m not going to blow this comment off or let it slide off my back.

This student’s comment was a gift. A gift that she gave me that she didn’t even realize that she gave me.

She gave me a glimpse … a glimpse into what motivates her and what she wants her education to look like.

And shame on me if I take that gift for granted.

Let’s do some more “not computer creative.”

[reminder]What place does “not computer creative” have in classrooms? How do we manage the balance between it and incorporating game-changing technology?[/reminder]

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  • Joan Brown says:

    This is a great comment from a student and as we are all humans, it should not be a surprise. We have so many students picking up crochet, woodworking, sculpture, sewing and more because they are tactile. As humans, we want to experience creativity in all our senses. There is nothing like the smell of paper mache or sawdust. There is nothing like the feel of well sanded wood or a soft yarn. Kids are more than ever drawn to these arts because of the senses. Computers only give us visual and sound, nothing more.
    There were two weeks in my teaching that I termed “no tech” weeks. In one, my students created a scale model with clay and rulers to represent the Panama Canal. We did all the research the week prior and then – no tech, none. They had to use paper and pencil for their math, rulers and yes, their hands in the clay. The other week was devoted to a poster which required drawing only. I found these two weeks really challenging because I had to teach without tech as well. (I followed my own rules.) We did skits, read aloud, looked at evidence and debated, but I never projected anything.
    Try it. You will find it liberating and it puts a true perspective on what is best with tech and what is best suited to our human senses.

  • Betsy Parson says:

    I agree that “not computer creative” is an important part of what kids need to be able to do. Hands on creations are also a way to show what a student has learned.

  • I just love your heart as a teacher, Matt. You inspire and challenge me, dear friend. You are exactly right- it’s about balance and variety. We are a 1:1 laptop school, and the first year we pushed the digital envelope and tried to go as paperless as possible, doing everything with technology. The past 2 years we have embraced E-Learning, more technology. But I’m finding myself going “unplugged” for a few days here and there with students to let them embrace other sides of their learning- hands on, creative, experiences, simulations, games. I love my technology, but even I had to unplug (I got a little too into winning on Trivia Crack and Quiz Up- the competition always at my fingertips was stressing me out). It’s fun for me to create a learning situation and to jump in with the class- to just “play” with the students (in 6th grade, we so miss our recess time) and embed learning into it- that “not computer creativity” your student mentioned- truly a gift. You are such a wise, wise teacher to realize and accept her suggestion! (Even in a world technology rich and without textbooks, I love your quote- “technology is a tool, not a learning outcome.”)

  • Hey Matt, I get reminded of this every year. There are always a few kids each year who mention to me their discomfort, unease, or downright dislike of using, working with or learning with technology. There are also a few, like you mentioned, who love the ways I integrate technology or just plain have technology for them to work with. The rest of the kids end up somewhere in between the two extremes but really it’s those who don’t like technology that keep me up at night.

    What I have to keep reminding myself to help me feel better is that in Science we do have times where we don’t need technology. When we do labs, unless we need a stop watch or timer app, we do hands-on work with no tech. I used to try and go paperless but have found that some tasks, formative assessments, and even surveys are much easier done on paper (I’m trying not to use Google Forms for everything!). Those kids who don’t like tech remind me that if it’s easier to do with paper, use the paper! I also use our Science textbook because it’s mostly a lab manual and some kids feel more at ease with a book. And for Scientific drawings notebooks are the way to go because not everybody like drawing apps. For those that do, I have them so they can use them. As much as I like kids putting their drawings on their blogs it’s just as easy to take a photo of a notebook drawing as it is to upload a computer drawn drawing.

    I also remind myself and sometimes remind those students who complain about all the tech we use that I’m the only teacher using all this tech so they still get all their other classes to work in with little to no tech. Some students have complained that they like Science but can’t do well because of all the tech we use. That I find disturbing and handle it a different way. I work with those students to convince them they just need training on how to use the tools, tools they will most likely be asked to use in the future, so they can show what they are learning and not be hindered. I put on my salesman hat and show videos and share data explaining how technology is used to connect, collaborate, communicate, create and get work done. I’ve been showing my students that we’re learning valuable skills when we use technology and that we’re not just using tech for tech’s sake. It’s always for a purpose even if that purpose is to be more efficient (like me taking my laptop home to read student work instead of 80 Science notebooks).

  • Tracy Rosen says:

    Yes. Not everything is technology. When we focus only on technology tools, we limit ourselves (and, ultimately, our students).

    I try to ask myself and the teachers I work with – why am I choosing to use tech (or not) in any particular instance? I focus on starting from the competency we are developing and what kind of evidence I need to see that it is being developed, then I brainstorm or choose a number of tools that will help to spotlight that evidence. Then I let my students choose – the focus is on the learning not the tool. If I find that students are choosing the same methods over and over again, I have a conversation with them about it. An alternative could also be to have *some* choice – for example, you can choose how to demonstrate your knowledge/skills but at least x amount of times must be with tech.

    Basically, your student led you back to your mission!

  • Elizabeth Finney says:

    Would be interesting to talk to her to find out what she meant by it… Sometimes students say a thing but they’re struggling to express themselves and it doesn’t come out quite right. But you raise a great point – many ways to learn and reach students.

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