54/365 Remember Pencil Labs?

Where was your school’s pencil lab?

Think hard on the question. Where was the room set aside with rows upon rows of desks equipped with freshly sharpened #2s and a teacher whose express objective was to help you learn the proper implementation of pencil-based technology so that your math teacher, say, could attempt to integrate pencils into her lesson.

When did your English teacher announce that he’d reserved the school’s pencil lab so that you could go down and do some word processing using your school’s new install of graphite?

Point clear yet?

Computer labs should be as ridiculous sounding and backwards as the image of a pencil lab.

The pencil hit the market and, with the exception of a few lessons on handwriting, we never really looked back. This technology appeared inherently appropriate for classrooms. There was nothing natural about it from an ergonomical standpoint. Hand cramps, the hook or the slant of left-handedness – no, this was not a technology designed with the natural human body in mind. Still, we foisted it upon students because we saw potential in it.

Thinking of the dangers implicit in putting these technologies in the hands of students, it boggles the mind pencils and pencil 2.0 (pens) weren’t banned outright by school boards across the country. From the first moments, they were surely being put to all sorts of nefarious purposes. Social networking must have skyrocketed with the instant messages passed around class with their “yes,” “no” checkboxes and the read-write access allowing for user creation of “maybe.” How did teachers manage?

This is to say nothing of honest damage these tools caused allowing students to scribe hurtful, harmful, and hateful memes to and about one another that were passed around classrooms and schools with only serendipitous interception by a teacher as hope for protecting students.

That’s only when teachers were allowed to interact with students in pencil-based environments as outlined in what I’m sure were severe appropriate use policies keeping teachers (trained professional adults) from connecting with students and helping to model appropriate citizenship in a penciled environment.

I would have liked to be in on the professional development organized by schools and districts to help teachers get on board with pencils. Everyone groggily sitting in the cafeteria, sucking down industrial-strength coffee, mumbling to one another how the pendulum had swung once again to another edu-fad.

How many schools were kept from doing really interesting things by cadres of teachers who sidestepped their own learning by admitting freely that they were “pencil-illiterate” or “pencil-phobic?”

And when the pencils had worn down to the nubs by early adopters who saw these technologies for the freedoms they represented, who crowded the pencil labs before and after school so that they might push these pencils to their furthest limits, what happened then? Surely, we fretted about having to spend money on pencil upgrades – again. I wonder how we answered the administrator who questioned why students and teachers couldn’t just make do with the pencils we’d bought a few years ago.

That’s how it happened, right?

2 thoughts on “54/365 Remember Pencil Labs?

  1. Great post. I typically lead off my PD sessions with a short bit I call “lessons from the Pencil” that communicates the same point.

    Have you ever considered a BYOP (Bring Your Own Pencil) program? = )

  2. Pingback: STEM: just a bunch of letters | Another Think Coming

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