Thursday, January 31, 2013

Giving Kids Ferraris

I grew up in a family that had a car. 

This is not earth-shattering news.

I also sat in the car, rode in the car, watched my parents drive the car, read books in the car, ate ice cream in the car, had too many fights in the car with my brother.  Heck, I even washed the car.  To this day, if you asked me about our little Volkswagen, I could tell you an awful lot about it because we spent a lot of time in the car.

But when I began to drive, my father didn't simply hand me a set of keys to a Ferrari and tell me to be careful.

With the proliferation of social media and technology, students, teachers and administrators are being bombarded with a mind-bending array of tweets, Facebook status changes, apps, and hardware choices that have the ability to distract and engage us, depending on how we use them.  Yet one of the common misconceptions around our students and technology is that they are ‘digital natives’:  that they have grown up with technology and thus are able to seamlessly use technology and social media in their day-to-day lives.  But what we know now is that students do not have an innate ability to use technology to learn, and the highly public nature of social media demands a great deal of responsibility that we cannot simply assume that our students have.  Further complicating matters is the fact that many of the people who are charged with the responsibility to guide students to use technology to learn in a productive, efficient and safe manner are educators who have a wide range of technological interests and capabilities.  These abilities range from those who consistently and effectively using web applications, social media and technology to engage their students in acquiring skills for the 21st century, all the way to those whose technological experiences begin and end with the jiggling of a computer power cable, and everywhere in between.  

Given the enormous potential for both positive and negative with technology, web applications and social media, one can only think of lessons being given to a brand new driver by an instructor who may or may not have ever driven a car themselves.  

Enter the Ferrari.

Or in this case, the Smartphone, tablet, iPad, netbook, or whatever piece of technology that we put into students hands today.  Much like the Ferrari, technology is a very powerful tool, able to go very quickly and get an inexperienced operator into a great deal of difficulty in a hurry.

And yet 80-90% of our students have these pocket-sized Ferraris.


As educators, we need to get out front of this.  We need to be comfortable using technology and web tools.  We need to model positive use of social media.  And if we choose not to, we need to stop blaming kids for irresponsible behaviour when using technology because we are giving them keys to the Ferrari and expecting them not to go fast, not to push limits.  

Have you sat in a Ferrari?  Could you resist stomping the gas pedal at that age?

At our school, we are hoping to create responsible 'drivers' with a two-pronged approach.  

1.  Digital Dinners:  With our staff, we are going to create a critical mass of teachers that will excel at using technology to engage learners in their classes and role model its effective use.  We will seek out teachers to come to five evening sessions with outstanding technology leaders from around BC and North America in workshops that will be designed to increase their capacity to engage students in higher order thinking using technology in their classrooms.  And as a thanks for participating in these sessions, each volunteer will receive their choice of a laptop, tablet, or device that they can use to continue to model this technology leadership.  

2. Digital Citizenship 101:  We are going to look to bring in Darren Laur to speak to our students, staff, and parents about being a responsible digital citizen.  I have heard rave reviews about the program presented by this active police officer, and found this video clip which makes the presentation look pretty compelling:

We cannot just assume that students have all of the tools that they need to use technology effectively and responsibly just because they are growing up with technology all around them.  And while these steps for our school are just taking us farther along the pathway to make us better 'driving instructors', once we have completed this project, I will feel more confident in our students 'driving their Ferraris'. 

If you have other suggestions or ideas on how to move schools forward with the effective and responsible use of technology, please add them in the comments!


  1. Hey Pal,

    I love the Driver's Ed analogy because you're right: A parent would NEVER let their child learn how to drive from someone who doesn't have a driver's license -- so why should we hope our children learn to "drive the digital highway" from people who aren't traveling there themselves?

    That's a neat twist that I hadn't ever considered -- and I'm jealous that y'all are actually doing something specific about it!

    There aren't a lot of schools and districts that understand that developing TEACHERS as digital learners is the right first step to take. We spend all our time thinking about students and students only.


    Hope you're well,

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