We were not really surprised that the winner by a wide margin is the computer. Way back in the 1980s, Time magazine named the computer Man of the Year, so by now it's not news that computers are as basic in schools as whiteboards and PB&J sandwiches. The wrinkle this year is that most of the readers who extolled the computer specified laptops, as portable as textbooks but far more abundant in content.
Other reader choices show that when computers are a given, more novel tech becomes standard: interactive whiteboards, digital cameras, iPods, and word processing (which won't by itself make kids better writers but can make them more willing ones). It's heartwarming to note that more than a few respondents still made the case for the pencil, with an eraser -- a classic blessing at both ends. Not one educator, by the way, nominated the cell phone.
Computers are so embedded in business and private life that we hardly notice how much we depend on them. Let's put them on the essential commodity shelf, then, along with the refrigerator and the radio. The new sine qua non of modern life -- and modern learning -- is the Internet. Well, not new, because the smart young brainiacs at Netscape gave us regular folks the chance to trade Pez dispensers (hello, eBay!) or tell the world about our favorite color (MySpace is your space) years ago. But let a third grader "fly" to his or her home address on the magic carpet of Google Earth, and you may pique an interest in geography in a way no textbook map can.
NEXT PAGE OF READERS' SURVEY: Hottest topic in the teachers' lounge