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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Right Technology May Be a Pencil

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

As a tech integration specialist and a computer lab teacher, one can imagine that I have a special place in my heart for bringing current technologies into the classroom. At the same time, I find that sometimes pencil and paper do just as good of a job.

It's important to remember that sometimes just because we have access to new technologies does not mean that older technologies won't suffice. Too often we get so excited by the fancy gadgets that we have access to that we forget that sometimes a pencil and paper will suffice.

For example, my friend Karen McMillan teaches blogging with her middle schoolers by having them write using pencil and paper first. Karen has her students write paper blog posts and then has them leave comments in analog format in preparation for their "real" blogging experiences using Google Sites. As Karen told me on Twitter, "It helps them visualize blogging in a medium that they are more comfortable with. Plus... it's fun!"

In my lab, students receive a folder for each project with a project overview, rubric and templates. Technically I could host all of that online, but when managing a project, having the paper there really is just more functional and effective. Perhaps if I was in a 1:1 setting things might be different, but with 45 minutes twice a week, paper is just the easiest way to share an make information easily accessible. In addition, I often have students plan their ideas out on paper before they attempt it on the computer. Often, when transferring skills, this makes it easier for students to successfully complete a complex project.

Paper and pencil also lends itself to exit slips, as Jen Roberts suggested to me on Twitter. While I sometimes have the exit ticket completed online, I also use checklists as a form of exit ticket. Other teachers in my building use exit tickets to quickly assess who feels comfortable with the material from the class period or from a particular lesson. Sometimes, too, having students fill out a paper and pencil Venn Diagram to compare and contrast and then discuss a topic is powerful and requires only the technologies of pencil and paper.

This is important to remember: At one time, pencils and paper were a kind of technology. My friend John Spencer's brilliantly funny and poignant book, Pencil Me In, follows that trajectory. His main character is a "pencil integrator" and is working hard to give his students access to this new technology, often to the chagrin of his colleagues. Through this metaphor, Spencer describes the journey that Tom takes and how he discovers that as much as he loves the bright and shiny new pencils, sometimes chalk slates do the trick just fine.

It is not so much about the tool and what it can do, but more about the purpose for using the tool. Obviously, if students want to share pictures of a project they are working on, a digital camera and a blog make a lot more sense than a flipbook. Still, don't count out older technologies just because you are trying to be a "21st Century Educator." Sometimes a dry erase marker and a wipe-off slate will do the job just fine.

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