Technology integration, looking forward to the past

by | Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tom Johnson’s Adventures in Pencil Integration is the smartest, sassiest blog I have come across in a long time. This is how the sidebar describes the blog/author.

The year is 1897 and Tom Johnson works for a small school district. This is the story of the journey to move into the twentieth century with paper and pencil integration initiatives.

Yes, this is entirely fictional and any relation to “real life” is entirely coincidental.

What is amazing about API is not just how funny it is (it can be absolutely hilarious), or how intelligent it is (we’re talking IQ and EQ!), how scathing it can be (Ooh! that must have hurt) but how it manages to still have a strong humanistic core. At the end the teacher’s voice rings true, speaking to us across the decades. The blog is written tongue firmly in cheek, inspired by  current discussions about technology integration.

But API is not a one trick pony. If it would have been just that (replace computer with pencil and repeat) this blog would get boring very fast. But API is much more than a simple one-note satire. What I have come to appreciate and love about this blog is that I often find it difficult to pinpoint the exact position the author will take next. For instance, if you read “Sorry but you need to learn to use the sharpner” I took it to be a biting piece of satire poking fun of non-tech teachers. This is how it starts

“Hey Techno-Tommy, when you’re on prep I need you to come by and sharpen my pencils,” a math teacher mentions.  She turns to another teacher and says, “I know he loves working with pencils.”

Wrong.  I love to write with pencils, because I love words.  I love to draw with pencils, because I love creativity.  I take good care of my pencils, not because I have a special affinity for pencils, but because they are my tools.  It’s called stewardship.

What I want to say is, “Sorry, but you need to figure out how to use the sharpener.  I know it looks dangerous and it’s made out of metal, but I assure you that you can figure it out.  I’ll walk you through it the first time and then you do it on your own the next time. You have to run an update on each pencil and keep them sharp or eventually they won’t work. It’s a simple crank.  You can do it!”

Now if every post were along the same lines it would get predictable and boring. But just after you have snickered over that one, comes this, sensitive, ruminative post about what we lose to technology: Do we need a phonograph in my classroom? This is how it ends:

A century from now, we’ll probably have moving pictures at the palm of our hands.  We’ll have instant messaging and we’ll probably have a way to plug a tiny phonograph into our ears to hear thousands of songs. Life will be so compressed that people won’t even have a reason to stare out into the stars or watch the son fall into the horizon or sit around a fire and tell stories.

And there is this two part story regarding a little dust-up between the author and another teacher, that again, refuses to let the reader slide into an easy pat answer, demonizing one teacher (or perspective) over another.

But more than anything else read the blog for just the pleasure of it. Here is the ending of a post titled Trouble makers still need pencils.

Sometimes trouble-makers don’t even get a chance.  A teacher will say, “Timmy’s just not mature enough for a pencil yet,” meaning “I don’t trust him and I’m scared he’ll snap one in half.”    If spoken with just the right calm, condescending voice, even Timmy begins to believe that he is not entitled to use a tool designed for his own education.

Nor should we reward a student who is done with slate-work to go to another table to “play with the pencils.”  As long as teachers use this approach they will perpetuate a myth that pencils are toys rather than tools and are meant for amusement rather than learning.

USB Pencil image credit LivBit | Pencil iPhone stand image credit Geeky Gadget

A few randomly selected blog posts…

Keynote at MITE 2019, Sydney (video)

Keynote at MITE 2019, Sydney (video)

I was recently invited to present a Keynote at the Mobile Technology in Teacher Education (MITE) 2019 Conference hosted by The University of Technology, Sydney. This was the fifth edition of the conference, and as it turns out, I had given a keynote at the first...

Amusings & other creations (from the early web)

Amusings & other creations (from the early web)

I have been blogging for 15 years now, but I have had a website for much longer than that. I built my first website back in 1998 just as I was graduating from UIUC and entering the academic job market. I still remember the URL ( I designed a...

Teaching an old dog new tricks

Teaching an old dog new tricks

I have been playing with Photoshop Beta, a version of Photoshop with a range of AI-powered tools that let you add, extend, or remove content from your images using simple text prompts. This is similar to Adobe Firefly, a web-based image manipulation / generation tool,...

Happy New Year, from the College of Education, MSU

The college of Education at Michigan State University just came out with a video titled Year in Review. You can see the video below. I would like to point out that a couple of projects I am involved with made it into the video. They include the project with the Azim...

Leigh’s awesome acceptance speech at AACTE

As I had written earlier, the EPET Program received the 2013 Best Practice Award for the Innovative Use of Technology, awarded by the  American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education  (AACTE).  This is an incredible honor and makes all of us (faculty, staff, and...

The benefits of doodling!

Finally science has proved what I knew all along, doodling is a sign of an alert mind and may actually help memory!! Another justification for this, I guess.

Join our amazing team

Join our amazing team

Over the past year the Office of Scholarship and Innovation at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, ASU has taken on a wide array of projects – everything from re-thinking how we support faculty research to reimagining what a computer labs can be; from building cool...

TPCK, in the news

The TPCK work by Matt Koehler & myself is featured in the Winter 2008 issue of the New Educator, the magazine published by the College of Education at Michigan State University. You can download the full issue here [pdf], or just the article here [pdf]. Glen Bull,...

An Euclidean coincidence

An Euclidean coincidence

FYI, this is a somewhat pointless blog post around a somewhat funny coincidence that popped into my life the other day. I was reading a recent article in the NYTimes with the provocative title: Microsoft Says New A.I. Shows Signs of Human Reasoning, clearly a topic of...

1 Comment

  1. James Leveling Guide

    Great information about adventures in pencil integration. Was somethnig that I was looking for.

    Thank you!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *