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Title: Turning On the Lights
Category: Professional Article
Description: Technology

Turning On the Lights 

by Marc Prensky from Educational Leadership

 March 2008 | Volume 65 | Number 6
Reaching the Reluctant Learner    Pages 40-45

Compared with students' technology-infused lives outside of school, the traditional classroom is a somber place.


Power Up or Power Down?

In "Turning On the Lights," Marc Prensky argues that many students today learn more from their technological devices than from teachers who rely on traditional methods. He encourages schools to use technology to engage students in learning and to help them connect with the world.


  • Do you agree with Prensky's notion that requiring students to "power down" in school actually impedes their learning? How might allowing students to use technological devices in class help or hinder their learning? What place do you see in the classroom for laptops, cell phones, mp3 players, social networking sites, Wikipedia, and other technologies?
  • What is our school's policy regarding technology in school? How was this policy developed? What role did teachers, students, and parents have in the creation of your policy? Do you believe your policy meets the needs of your students? If so, why? If not, what changes would you make?

Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at an Alexandria, Virginia, high school, notes in a February 10, 2008, Washington Post article (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/08/AR2008020803271.html) that some teachers, and even students, question the value of their school's many high-tech "gizmos." He writes,


Science and math teachers, for instance, have been told that they can't use traditional overhead projectors to present material to classes, even though the teachers say that in many cases, they're far superior to computers for getting certain concepts across.


When might the traditional method be the best approach to teaching? How can teachers and administrators balance the desire to stay up-to-date with the need to always make sure that teachers can use the techniques and technologies that best suit their students?

Add Comment

Comment Posted by: Mary at 10:36:04 AM on 08/13/2008

One more thought: I loved Prensky's Principles for Principals at the end of the article. I think we need to share it with Mike G. and Anthony G. It is very powerful!

Comment Posted by: Mary at 10:28:48 AM on 08/13/2008

I agree with everyone's comments about the article. It ties in directly with the other article - "The Wounded Student". If technology is the way to engage these students and play to their obvious strengths, then why aren't we doing more. The article mentions that 50-70% of high school students are bored! That may be one reason some students won't do the work. Many teachers (including myself) hesitate to use technology because we don't know enough about it and fear of the unknown is a powerful deterrent. I am at least willing to learn, but will need a lot of help. Let's figure out a way to "power up" with our students. Freshman Academy can lead the way! Let's find ways to teach the skills mentioned in the article using technology. We know we can not assume the kids are coming to us with the ability to think critically or collaborate or are even globally aware. I do agree with a caution of using technology and that is sometimes the kids use sources that are incomplete, biased and just plain wrong. It is our job to help them discern the difference.

Comment Posted by: Kristen at 11:25:55 AM on 08/12/2008

More to add about the myspace thing... With the use of technology in class and out of class comes appropriate boundaries. This is not really addressed in the article and is more of a side note but I was schocked to read article after article of teachers who allow students to actually view their myspace page and becomes 'friends' on myspace. My personal page is set private which means no students are allowed to see anything that I have listed or displayed but after reading many articles today it seems that not all teachers set their pages to private. This has become quite a problem for those teachers as some have been let go from their positions due to what has been posted on their myspace, facebook or other social networking sites. It seems to me that just as we teach students to be responsible with what they put out on the internet that teachers should remember this same rule.

Comment Posted by: Kristen at 11:57:22 AM on 08/11/2008

This is a great article and it made me think of how powerful some of my lessons were last year because of having a Smart Board being in 5 out of my 6 clases. I was constantly using You Tube to add to what was occuring within the classroom. You Tube was one my best resources in making math relevant to the students' daily lives. It is a mixed blessing this year that I will have my own classroom. I am happy to have a place of my own but so sad because I know I will not have the Smart Board technology to use. One of the projects I always hear students rave about is Stephen's movie making project. They love the fact that Stephen is utilizing technology in his assignment but they also love the fact that for most of them it is a new form of technology. Many of the students never used the movie maker program before and are excited to learn how it is used. I think that this article really ties in with the MYP personal project. It is exactly like what some students will be doing to complete their personal project. Many of them will be making videos to post on you tube and using myspace and facebook to discuss with other students their project. I have a myspace page that I actually had to create in one of my grad courses. We were asked to create a Myspace page and a Facebook page so that we would be able to understand some of the technology that the students use. I kept my Myspacepage because just like the students I stay connected with all of my friends outside of the Elmira/Corning area via Myspace. The students every year about die when they realize that a teacher has a Myspace page but then they realize that teachers need to stay connected as well. The best way for us to make meaningful relationships with our students is to try to really understand what interests them and for many it is these technological ideas.

Comment Posted by: Stephen at 12:25:51 PM on 08/09/2008

I love this topic because it is so relevant to our goals as a Freshman Academy. How do we motivate students to learn? A Socratic dialogue could lead us to undiscovered territory in the current model of education. The primary question for me is: Who owns the learning? It seems in so many classrooms that the teachers own the learning and students either get or they don't. This is illustrated by the number of students who arrive and "shut down." I know that I could do a better job of empowering students to use the technology that is relevant in their lives to learn the skills that are mandated by the NYS Standards of Learning and the No Child Left Behind Act. For example, how about allowing students to develop their own homework using technology? Why does every student have to do the same homework at the same time? I wonder how powerful it may be to work with a student to create meaningful homework to achieve a specific goal? Every student could read the same chapter of book, but each student could decide how to show his or her understanding. This is where technology could play a major role.

I don't think that we, as a school or an institution, are doing this effectively. We may throw in a Powerpoint presentation, but I don't think that this is meaningful integration of technological skills. I wonder how many students have the capacity to use video games or other media soft and hardware to create products that we as teachers have never dreamed of (ending with prep for effect).

I heard an interesting speech by Alan November and he compared current school policies that block the "five forbidden containers of knowledge" (blogging, instant messaging, music downloading, video gaming, and YouTubing) to a school that gets rid of paper because someone wrote a improper note. I find this analogy interesting because these five pieces of technology are so integrally woven into the fabric of our students’ lives. And, I know I can speak for myself, these technologies are still very new. They are certainly not integrated as a meaningful methodology. It is my goal to improve in this field and again that’s why I love this topic.

Check out Alan November’s speech on iTunesU. On this site you can find lectures, audiobooks, and all kinds of tools for use in the classroom.

Comment Posted by: Deb at 04:22:03 PM on 08/08/2008

This article was certainly "enlightening"; however, I do not agree with all of its philosophies. I do not think that we ignore the fact that students come into the classroom with a vast knowledge of the world (well, maybe not vast) or that, as educators, we don't stay "plugged in and connected". Without trying to sound too defensive, I believe that we do incorporate technology in classes to exactly combat this issue. In order to maintain a certain level of learning, we must make our lessons as relevant to the student's lives as possible. This includes using many forms of technology that are appropriate to the lesson.

Comment Posted by: Kim at 01:44:25 PM on 08/07/2008

This article fits very well with our IB program. I agree that kids know so much about technology and yet they cannot use much of that knowledge in the classroom. I asked my seniors last year if they would be interested in providing training to teachers on how to use cell phones, IPODS, and other technology and they thought that was a great idea- they would love to show teachers how knowledgable they are with technology. Only, they said they would not do it for free. It would be helpful if we had more technology supplies available, but I know I could better use what we have currently. I was blown away by the course offerings suggested in the article. I have heard of the courses, but honestly don't know what some of them involve. I do know that Holly had tried for a few years to get a Science Fiction course going, but it never did. Even if we can't change the courses, we can look into applying more interesting learning methods, at least I know I can. I agree that we should get feedback from the kids to see how they want to learn.

Comment Posted by: Michelle at 01:37:22 PM on 08/06/2008

One of the greatest thoughts in this article is that of letting students take some control. As a teacher, this is a very difficult task because we come from the mind set that the way we are sharing information is the correct way to share information. One of the most difficult things for me me as a teacher and now as an administrator is letting go of the "way things should be done". The Oscars idea is phenominal and the ability to do this accessible. I think a great goal for the teachers in FA would be to incorporate a technology piece into one assignment (and I am not talking about another powerpoint). Maybe having kids come up with some ideas to incorporate technology is the first step even though our lessonplan books may get a little off track. Great article!