Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« Inspiration from reality | Main | New skunks »

BFTP: Rules for Pod People and a Proposal to Ban Pencils

A Saturday Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post: September 28, 2005 This post also morphed into a column.
Rules for Pod People and a Proposal to Ban Pencils
Ex abusu non arguitur in usum. (The abuse of a thing is no argument against its use.)

One of the goals this year of our district tech advisory committee is to formulate guidelines for student-owned technologies. At yesterday’s meeting, I thought we’d start with an “easy” set of rules to create – those for the use of iPods and MP3 players. What possible reason could a school have for banning these things?

Well, I got a list (and earful) from the teachers and librarians on the committee…

  1. They might get stolen.
  2. They make kids who can’t afford them feel bad.
  3. Kids might listen to them instead of the teacher.
  4. Who knows what kinds of lyrics that the kids might be listening to!
  5. Kids might listen to test answers (There’s a stretch.)

Oh, sure, kids might use them to help them study, replay their French vocab lesson, or listen to audio books or an NPR broadcast – but really, what’s the chance of that?

The underlying argument was because of possible misuse, they should be banned - period.

(One of our students on the advisory board had the courage to say that he felt individual teachers should have the right to say whether iPods should be allowed in their classrooms, and added that he concentrates better in study hall and the library when his music drowns out other distractions.)

I gotta say that this “potential misuse” as a reason for banning technologies drives me nuts. If we applied this rationale for not allowing a technology to an old, familiar technology, we’d certainly have to ban pencils from school because:

  1. A student might poke out the eye of another student.
  2.  A student might write a dirty word with one. Or even write a whole harassing note and pass it to another student.
  3. One student might have a mechanical pencil making those with wooden ones feel bad.
  4. The pencil might get stolen or lost.
  5. Kids might be doodling instead of working on their assignments.

Oh, sure, kids might actually use them to take notes or compose a paper - but really, what’s the chance of that?

I cringe whenever I hear a district or school “banning” cell phones, blogging software, e-mail, flash drives, chat, game sites, etc. Each of these technologies has positive educational uses. Each of these technologies is a big part of many kids’ lives outside of school. And yes, each of these technologies has the “potential” for misuse.

One of my biggest worries has always been that by denying access to technologies that students find useful and meaningful within school, we make school less and less relevant to our Net Genners. When are we going to learn to use the kids devices for their benefit rather than invent excuses to outlaw them?

Is there a sensible policy for iPod use?

2010 note: The same tired arguments about "safety" are being applied to Facebook, YouTube, cellphones, and G3 enabled personal computing devices in schools today. Get over it.

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (8)

You make great points. I got frustrated yesterday when on a MATH WEBSITE my 2nd graders couldn't play the math games because they were blocked. Really? Math games?? I think we just have to be sensible about these things. Sure, teachers can't be everywhere at the same time, but is it really necessary to ban all these things that can have lots of educational uses?

I appreciated the comment above about iPods being useful in study hall and the library. I have a friend, who when he needs to concentrate, actually needs music to help him. He has ADD and the extra noise actually helps him focus. If it's too quiet he is actually more distracted. I can understand not allowing them during instruction time, but a full out ban also does not teach students responsible use of the technology and tends to encourage them to sneak around with iPods, cell phones, etc.

October 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

"Kids might listen to test answers..."

So we are assuming that someone has those answers, then they want to record them somehow (and that they have the tools and know how to use them); they are then going to make them available in some format that other students understand; then somehow get them to a web site so others can access and/or download them. And unless there is some kind of incentive (money, friendship, other) we assume they are "just trying to help."

Excuse my cynicism, but I don't think so. Although I know of many organized and structured students, why would they put all that effort into helping someone who is very different (in scheduling, time management and study skills) from them?

As I go through this semester (Fall 2010) I have begun to realize that not only do students like using technology, they really want to learn how to use it better.

I am beginning to form a hypothesis that many high school students have come to a road block - they are able to use their phones, laptops and computers, but they realize that there has to be more...but they don't know how. As soon as I teach them something that for me is intuitive and easy, it seems as if the sky parts and a beam of light crashes through the roof.

October 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

My students have banned pencils from my math class.They come to class without pencils, sometimes textbooks and often lined paper. :)

October 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElona Hartjes

Have you seen the blog Adventures in Pencil Integration?

It's interesting. For example, there are articles about using slates, "pencil natives" as well as "pencil citizenship." He addresses the question of whether students should bring their own pencils here:

October 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJude not HeyJude

Thanks, Lauren.

I've addressed games too.


1. Games keep busy kids who might otherwise be disturbing other kids.
2. Playing games gives teeth to the threat, "If you don't follow the rules you will lose your computer privileges."
3. Games give kids practice with social skills when they work in teams.
4. Games give kids practice learning strategy and logic.
5. Games teach content.
6. Games build reading and math skills.
7. Games build research skills when looking for information about game strategies or solutions to puzzles.
8. Games build intergenerational conversations and relationships. (Four out of ten American adults turn to video games as their primary source of entertainment.)
9. Games get kids into libraries who might not otherwise go there, increasing the likelihood of book check out.
10. Games build a positive association with school that might not otherwise be there for a lot of kids.


1. Kids playing games might be using resources (computers, bandwidth, chairs, oxygen) that other kids might need to do “real” school work.
2. Kids playing games find school fun and we all know life isn't about fun.
3. Playing games is against school rules.


October 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Kenn,

I am guessing you are actually teaching each other!

I did not make the bit about "listening to answers."



Do they forget their cell phones?


Hi Jude,

I love it! Makes me kick myself to not have thought of it first.


October 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Shonda Brisco also does a nice, concise job of explaining the handheld device controversy as it affects eBook use in Sue Polanka's book <No Shelf Required>.

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Mansfield

Great article, i was researching a related issue when i cam across this one.
The reasons for banning them is reasonable.
I'll play devils advocate here.
1.They might get stolen. That is legitimate, considering what an ipod costs. There will always be people with no ethics, and no money.
2. They make kids who can't afford them feel bad. That is also a legitimate reason. It is also the reason that a lot of schools require uniforms for students. You don't want little billy to feel like he is less than the other students do you??
3. Kids might listen to them instead of the teacher. That is just a duh. Like many kids if they don't want to listen to the teacher they will find a distraction.
4. Who knows what kind of lyrics they might be listening to. What if they have the volume up enough to allow somebody next to them to hear them, and they find the music offensive(rap anybody)? What is their recourse? And if they don't have their own mp3 player they are stuck listening to this. And just for an extreme idea, why only headphones, why not have speakers hooked up to it. Then the whole class can listen to the offensive material.
5. They might listen to test answers Actually this is legitimate as an unethical student that obtains the test could easily share the test answers via an audio file. The student simply records the answers in an audio file and then, either via bluetooth or direct download to another unit, via memory card or cable, could provide many persons the answers.

NOW I'll take a more logical approach to the whole issue.
Technology is an integral part of our daily lives, from Mp3 players to computers.
As such it should be utilized for teaching.
For Mp3 players and Ipods. The teacher's lectures/teaching is provided in an audio or video format that the kids can use and review of the material. It does work. I've taken many courses for computer service online and love the convenience of being able to read and listen when ever the opportunity arises.
Ipad, Slates, Epad, ereader. These devices are great for carrying around a huge collection of books and allow the student to add comments and notes directly to the document(love pdf). This reduces the use of physical text books, and costs less in the long term. Instead of purchasing new books every couple years, you only have to update the files. And the units can be very cheap if the research is done to select an applicable unit.
Also they can be used for web research, and with keyboards are just as usable as a standard computer. Just more portable.
With proper software you can write all assignments and not have to use paper and pencil, and for those of us with horrible writing it is awesome.
Also tests could be distributed via a wireless link, further reducing the use of paper. The tests will of course need to be block connections during the test until completed. That'll stop cheating. And then the system grades the test and the teacher has instant results, instead of having to sit there and grade the tests.
The only draw back is a recent study indicates that reading on an ereader is slower than reading a normal book. That is partially the fault of the devices not turning pages quick enough, or not showing the entire text on the page and having to scroll down. Personally i'm almost at my normal reading speed with them now that i'm used to it. Although i can still scan and skim faster, due to touch screens moving as my finger moves across the page. Of course if i don't touch the page it doesn't do that.
Additionally for research, they are kinda useless, as being able to turn to a specific section you remember for something. It is still easier to do that manually.
The main advantage over the normal search method is that most documents are fully searchable, so if a specific word or phrase is needed you can just type it in and there it goes.
Heck this could be a great opportunity for some entrepreneur out there. Just remember me when you make it rich.
hope this opens some eyes on both fronts, for and against tech. have a great day.

November 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchris

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>