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Should Schools Go Back to 1983 Technology?

A class of suburban Chicago sixth graders gives up the internet, cable TV, and cell phones for a week—and survives.

Could you survive for a week without your smartphone, your iPod, or your new Michael Jackson Experience video game? If not, trust me, I understand. I'm ashamed to admit that my BlackBerry sleeps under my pillow. However, a classroom of suburban Chicago sixth graders managed to give up all the gadgets and technology that make our modern world go around, and guess what? They're still alive.

Inspired by a language arts unit on the "human condition," one of the students, Kelley Powell, came up with the tech abstinence experiment. Powell's teacher, Jennifer Coombs, told the Beacon-News, "Kelley e-mailed me with the suggestion that we go technology-free for a week. I asked the rest of the kids what they thought, and it sparked a great deal of enthusiasm. Over 90 percent of my students opted to take part in this.”

The class quickly realized how difficult to would be to eliminate all forms of technology. So Coombs modified the original idea by having her students only be able to use the technology she had access to in 1983—the year she was in sixth grade.

As expected, smart phones were confiscated, and the internet and laptops were completely off limits. Cable TV was banned because, as Coombs told the class, back in 1983, no household had 300 channels to surf. Every student in class owns a hand held gaming device, but they were put into hibernation for the week. However, one savvy student still got in his gaming fix by digging up an old Atari gaming console.

At the end of the week both parents and students applauded the tech-free time. Eleven year-old Kavya Anjur said the experience made her, "realize how much time I waste playing games on the computer and watching TV instead of doing fun things that I enjoy. I was able to spend more time with my family and get back to my old hobbies like reading and drawing.”

The experiment—and the enthusiastic student and parent response to it—raises an interesting question: Unless modern students participate in voluntary tech reductions—like pretending they're back in 1983—will they ever be able to turn off technology completely?

The thing is, in pursuit of student achievement, schools across the nation are increasingly clamoring for more technology. SmartBoards, iPads, and one-to-one laptops are all becoming ubiquitous in classrooms. Even instant messaging between students and teachers during class is picking up steam.

But if these Illinois students felt better and also engaged in more creative activities after taking a tech breather, maybe this increased techization of our classrooms isn't all it's cracked up to be.

photo (cc) via Flickr user Holtsman

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