Edtech Myth: Students Breaking Tech

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Many educators are reluctant to put technology into the hands of young children because they believe that they will just break it. They don't think that 9 year-olds are responsible enough to have handheld technology like cameras, tablets, and smart phones. While it is true that some technology will be broken by your students, it is not what you think.

Let me explain...

When I teach digital photography, which by the way starts in second grade, I start with training all about the camera itself. I show them what every little thing does, you must solve their curiosity or they could damage it accidentally by just trying to figure out what something does. I let them press every button, take out the batteries and SD card, plug in the USB cable -- everything. Now that they know that how everything works and what everything does, you won't catch them trying to pry open the battery compartment with a pencil because you've taught them to “press down, then slide to open.” For example, they all now know that the USB cable has one way it plugs in and if it doesn't go in, you just turn it over and try the other way, this keeps them from trying to force it in the wrong way. I repeat this lesson a lot so that I know that they know what everything does on the camera.

While I am teaching them about all the parts of the camera and how it works, they are also learning how to handle it, they are taught to use the wrist strap, and to only open the battery compartment with the camera on their desk, etc. By the time they are finished with this part, they are now ready to take some photos. Also by this time their excitement of using a camera has worn off a bit and they are much more calm about taking photos than if I was to just hand them cameras and set them loose on the world. They would be dropping cameras left and right because they get so excited about just taking a picture that they forget about how to handle the technology responsibly. By the time I finally let them take pictures they self-correct, or they are peer corrected, “Mr. Flick, Timmy isn't using the wrist strap!” One student will tattle on another.

The truth is that they do drop cameras, I have to replace about two or three a year of the 15 cameras I have for student use. But with each case, the broken camera has happened on my watch, and it was truly just an accident. In every case the child is heart-broken when bringing me the camera -- lesson learned.

While it is true that there is the risk of students damaging technology, the return on investment is far greater. We can't teach them 21st Century Skills without breaking a few pieces of hardware, and with the right precautions the risk can be mitigated. By my students learning proper photography skills starting in second grade, they become greater videographers in fifth grade. I addition, by trusting them with a $90 camera when they are 7 years-old, I can trust them with a $800 laptop when they are 10.

We can't throw our students into the ocean of technology without first teaching them to swim, start with floaties on their arms and then move them slowly towards swimming independence. You can do it, and when the first piece of technology breaks, chalk it up as the cost of doing business -- the business of kids and tech -- a worthwhile investment for all of us.