Educators from throughout the Rock Hill school district learned Tuesday that banning students' cell phones, iPods and laptops from today's classrooms could be among the worst mistakes they can make as teachers.
So said Marc Prensky, this year's keynote speaker at the fourth annual Student Engagement Conference for more than 400 district teachers and administrators.
The conference, which wraps up this afternoon at South Pointe High School, is a chance for educators to retool for the new school year. Teachers are invited each summer to share ideas for the classroom. This year, they are working with Prensky to learn ways to engage students he says are bored with old ways of teaching.
Prensky is a game developer, author, international speaker and former teacher from New York. His 3-year-old son's first word was "fish," because that was the main character on an educational computer game he began playing as early as age 1.
Prensky said in order to educate today's "digital natives" -- kids who were born into technology and live with it every day -- teachers have to think about learning from the students' point of view.
These students are of a generation that downloads 2 billion ringtones every year, sends 6 billion text messages each day and spends only about 5,000 hours maximum engaged in books by the time they're 21. Prensky calls teachers, including himself, "digital immigrants."
Many educators agreed before Tuesday's conference that it's tough to keep up with technology while still meeting state standards for education. That's true, Prensky said, but teachers don't have to learn technology in order to offer it to students. They don't have to, he said, because students can do it, and they want to.
Prensky isn't talking about creating PowerPoint presentations. That's just like writing on the blackboard, he said. He and the thousands of students he's spoken with around the world want teachers to offer a classroom where students can design entries on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, use instant messengers and make videos for millions of users to watch on YouTube.
Prensky also suggested deleting cursive handwriting, long division and multiplication tables from the curriculum and adding keyboard shortcuts, calculator usage and programming macros.
"If we got rid of some of these things and replaced them with the others, how much elementary school could we save?" Prensky asked the roomful of adults who taught math, English, social studies and more.
One teacher, Laura Ball, said her children, ages 11, 8 and 6, could do more with technology than she could when she graduated from college. But she said students still need to know the basics.
Ball is an administrative intern at Dutchman Creek Middle School in Rock Hill, which opens this fall. Her co-worker, Marek Marshall, agreed but said something has to be done to bridge the gap between teacher and student generations.
The conversation between Ball and Marshall lasted only a couple of minutes, but Christopher Smith, director of staff development for the Rock Hill school district, hopes it will continue today and throughout the year.
"When teachers go into the classroom, they close the door," Smith said. "It's not often they're able to talk with their colleagues, but this conference allows them to do that."