April 2013

Good tools are important. Expensive ones are not.

“Readin’, writin’ and Arithmetic” is a phrase people often use when discussing education. When you read the phrase, do you think “tools”? I think it might be a good idea to think that way.

Traditional writing is a pen and paper skill, but has also become a computerized, digital skill. Students read from electronic devices at least as much as they do from materials printed on paper. Arithmetic reaches a point at which a pocket calculator replaces tedious paper processes like multi-digit multiplication and long division.

Digital tools are available to help children develop the basics and beyond, too. With the computerized options now available, children can, in a practical way, become familiar with tools for audio, and video creativity. It is common to hear “digital literacy” as part of the curriculum discussion.

Now, you might be thinking, “I’m a modern teacher. I know all this.” But the real issue is that I’m not talking about the computer or tablet itself. I’m talking about the software. It isn’t the computer that is the tool. The software is the tool.

Writing on a computer, the writing part, is accomplished by a piece of software, not by the computer hardware. Commonly, we use a word processing program to write. Commonly, schools use a very expensive word processor to get the writing job done.

Now, do you recommend a $400 Mont Blanc pen to your students when you suggest a pen? Does a $400 pen make their skill improve when compared to a 29 cent Papermate?

I’m recommending that you make digital-age writing more approachable. Recommend a wordprocessing program like LibreOffice to them. Put it on your computers at school. Let them know how to get it on their computer at home. LibreOffice is open source software. By itself, LibreOffice, by itself, won’t make better writers of your students. However, LibreOffice will be a better choice for the majority, just the way that a Bic or Papermate  a more practical choice of pen. The tool is relatively more accessible to everyone. (You could even help your students install the software if their home computer can visit school. You’d lend a Bic pen to a student, wouldn’t you? Adding, or teaching how to add software is common generosity.)

I’m recommending that adults learn these tools, too. Children emulate adults. Then they try to exceed the adults. Hooray.

I’m recommending that you look beyond the core/basics, too. Look for accessible, open source tools that children can use create the next great works of writing, math, science and art. Embrace the tools. Rejoice that they are available and accessible. Launch your children, your students into a creative tool-rich future.

Maybe even get them started making their own tools. Learning to code is like learning any other second language. The sooner you start and the more practice you put in, the better your skill will become.

Those of you with rich students may find some are using expensive pens or expensive word processors. Let that be a personal or family choice. Give everyone in your classes an equal opportunity. Show that good writing is the combination of careful thought and effective tools, not just expensive ones.

By the way, the graphic of tools at the top is a product of Inkscape, another great software freedom tool.

Thanks to Carolyn Fox over at OpenSource.com for a great list of good sources for Open Educational Resources for all grade levels.




This post is really a quick reach out to Macintosh and PC users.

I’m learning about video, and am mainly using a non-linear editor called OpenShot. It is a GNU/Linux tool.


There’s big news. You can contribute to the OpenShot Kickstarter project to get the video editor out to everyone, not just the Linux folks, but Mac and PC users, too.

Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing method. You pledge to support a project, and your money gets to the project if it reaches its goal by the end of a set period of time.

The exciting thing is that students will have the chance to do video editing with the same tool, no matter which kind of operating system they have on their computer. That’s a tool for learning!

Support if you can.