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Lost opportunities to take notes

Posted on: June 1, 2017

Over the last two days, I have been reflecting on my son’s journeys during his school’s week-long end of term programme and his vacation homework.

He and his school mates enjoyed a week of adventure in the form of rope course challenges, a farm visit, and preparing simple meals. Other events like geo-caching or boat racing either did not happen or were cancelled due to the weather.

Depending on the activity, the rule was either no phones or its use was not encouraged. I thought this was a shame because it was a lost learning opportunity.

If you think like most adults, you might argue that you want students to live in and enjoy the moments. Who would not? But if you think only like that, then you are missing the opportunity to teach them how to manage themselves.

Teachers need to reconsider the balance between being in the moment and capturing meaningful moments. A phone ban is tilted all the way to the left; ill-disciplined use to the right.

Phones today are the equivalent of notebooks and pencils. They are an important way, perhaps the only way, for students to first capture what is happening and what they are experiencing, and then to think about it.

We do not learn from experiences. We learn from reflecting on experiences. -- John Dewey.

When students are in the moment, they are not necessarily thinking about the experience, considering what they are learning, making connections with prior knowledge, and so on. Furthermore, if they are not given the opportunity to record their thoughts and feelings, there is little, if anything, to reflect on.

There is another lost opportunity if students cannot take notes. They are not able to share their experiences with another set of important people in their lives — their parents.

Thankfully kids who could not participate could capture one particular moment on the last day of son’s series of experiences. The original photos were a bit blurry, but I created a simple montage with the mobile app, Layout [iOS] [Android], anyway.

Ropes course.

My wife and I enjoyed seeing our son have fun. Thanks to these and other photos, we could share in his experiences and discuss what challenges he faced and how he felt. We could observe his growth and shape his learning.

My son and his friends take photos and videos all the time and they do not realise that they are doing the equivalent of “taking notes”. They also share and comment on these artefacts in WhatsApp shortly after. The immediacy is important because moments are fleeting. But with WhatsApp they have both the evidence and their thoughts recorded for as long as they want.

Banning or discouraging phones (and any other technology for that matter) is a net loss for capturing moments and reflecting on them. They are the modern equivalent of taking notes and referring to them later. We would not prevent students from taking paper notes then, so why prevent them from taking moderns notes now?

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