Sometimes teachers and administrators need a kick in the pants to see what they perceive as problems re-framed in a different way. Adam S. Bellow, author of The Tech Commandments, and founder of eduTecher, spoke to a roomful of receptive teachers at the recent ISTE 2011 conference, and demonstrated some of the ironies and contradictions the education system is mired in. And he had some advice.

1) DON’T TRAP TECHNOLOGY IN A ROOM. “When I went to school, computers were put in a room called The Lab,” Bellow said. “‘What are they experimenting with in there, I thought.’ Technology wasn’t built into what we were doing. It was farmed off in a room, like it was special. Like we were learning how to code, and in case the Russians came, we’d know what to do.” Technology should be like oxygen, Bellow said, quoting Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of Science Leadership Academy: Ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.

2) TECHNOLOGY IS WORTHLESS WITHOUT PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. Bellow emphasized the importance of making professional development a priority, the importance of time and money being spent to educate teachers on not just an hour-long how-to session, but ways to integrate technology creatively into educators’ daily teaching practice in meaningful ways. He told the story of an interactive-whiteboard training guide who made one quick appearance at a school, never to return, leaving teachers still unsure of how to use the technology. There’s a world of professional development on YouTube and on Twitter, ironically sites that most schools block (see Number 4.)

3) MOBILE TECHNOLOGY STRETCHES A LONG WAY. “You can get much more out of mobile tech than out of most other technology,” Bellow said. Kids bring it to class everyday, but we tell them to turn it off as soon as they walk in. In New York City, Bellow said he watched as an agonizingly long queue of students waited for 45 minutes to pass through a metal detector and hand over their cell phones, which were then placed in individually labeled manila envelopes. “Can we do something better with those 45 minutes?” he asked. Cell phones can replace expensive reference books, Flip cameras, old calculators, and the list goes on. “Instead of buying those tools, buy an iPod Touch and it’ll be all of those things,” he said.

4) THE NEW ‘F WORD’ IS FEAR. Not Facebook, and not the other expletive you might have expected. Schools fear everything from being replaced by gadgets (“Any teacher who can be replaced by a robot should be,” he said), to kids knowing more about subjects than they do, to collaborative Web tools that are blocked because of a slew of acronyms that haunt administrators. On one hand, “teachers are frustrated because they feel like they’re being handcuffed,” Bellow said, due to crude filters that block out all kinds of useful websites. On the other hand, kids already come to school with phones that have access to everything. “We could block Facebook, but who are we kidding? They’re already on it,” he said. “The world is not a sterile place. Kids need to learn how to deal with it.” And because kids have access to every kind of information at any time, they need to learn about things like Creative Commons and copyright rules. “We’re doing them a major disservice if we don’t teach them good digital citizenship,” he said.

5) TECH TOOLS ARE NOT JUST A PASSING FAD. Bellow said he’s heard countless times from those who don’t want to take risks by finding and investing in new tools. And even when they do, they use only a fraction of the tools’ potential purposes because they haven’t invested enough time to figure it out (see Number 2). Bellow told the story of a school administrator who was able to buy iPads for his teachers, but is only using them to take attendance. He showed a video of a 100-year-old woman learning how to use the iPad to browse the Web, to read books, to watch videos, and how excited she was about it. “We are natural lifelong learners,” he said.

6) MONEY IS NOT THE PROBLEM. Teachers have access to thousands of free Web tools. And even if the free ones do decide to start charging, others will crop up to replace it. The point is not to be afraid of diving in (see Number 4).

7) INVITE EVERY STAKEHOLDER TO THE CONVERSATION. “Who’s at the table?” Bellow asked. “Mostly administrators, some ask teachers. But here’s a novel idea. Let’s have students come to the table, and parents too!”

MindShift readers are familiar with these concepts, but it’s great to have a tidy recap. Thanks, Mr. Bellow.


  • in talking about professional development it is important for school sites to develop a vision of how they see technology – and it better be a fluid vision because the tech is always changing – i really prefer a BYOtech model but so many schools are terrified (#4) of students getting around filters etc – my response has always been – “Heard of the personal hot spot – yea your filter means less than nothing but thank you for spending $50K a year to maintain that.

  • Inscho

    Great synopsis. Thank you for putting this out there so succinctly.

  • Ian Lynch

    We have been supporting a shift t these principles for the last 6 years
    It’s not easy but then probably anything worth having in life needs a bit of effort 😉

  • We and our children are missing out on so much because of this ‘fear factor.’ Your title of ‘Don’t Trap Technology in a Room’ is the epitome of the education system’s dilemma: a fractured view of the information age. Another difficult mindset not easily broken is the stereotype of all gadgets being merely toys, not useful learning tools and relationship building devices. So much ground remains to be covered for all institutions to embrace these golden rules, but at some point, I believe, it will be imperative. Schools reluctant to make these changes will be forced to close their doors. 

  • Caroljcarter

    You make excellent points.  Students and teachers need to collaborate together on learning and both will grow and improve.   Instead of fighting technology, we need to embrace and be creative with ways in which it can be used to engage, challenge and inspire students.

  • Great article! Fear is an excellent point. I have found that educators tend to”fear” the unknown, the unlearned and change. Students in my middle school are fearless. They want to try – succeed or fail. Isn’t that learning – trying something and learning from the success or the failure of the attempt? Eduction needs to reward/recognize the risk takers.

  • Anonymous

    My favorite was his slide with the cartoon by Hugh: “But what if I fail?”  “We all get to laugh at you”. Bellow said, “If you don’t fail, you don’t learn. be like the kids, be stubborn”. Great advice.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for adding that, Justin. A very important point, indeed.

  • I agree with all of this and deal with these issues on a daily basis in my role as an external e-learning consultant to schools.  What really pains me is that we have been saying the same stuff for years and years and change is still so slow within the profession.  I read recently that “Education is the only industry sector that commissions its own research and then ignores the findings.”  This is a damning  statement but illustrates the systemic issues related to technology integration into the education system.  Great post, will reference it in my follow up post later.

  • On-going PD is crucial. How many times have we been shown technology and all the bells and whistles then when left to ourselves, we shelve it. Accountability is a must…if you want to own a SMARTboard, then you must use it. 

  • rdavis

    Thank you for posting this synopsis from the ISTE conference. Very relevant points.  I especially agree with teaching students how to be good digital citizens.  We need to instruct and model responsible digital behavior rather than banning technology from the classroom. It’s the new medium for learning and communication, let’s learn and teach how best to use the tools.

  • Mikey0042

    I have found that in the past the reason websites are blocked, or kids can’t go on playground equipment or a plethora of other things we stop kids from doing, is because of fear.  Not the fear of using these things but the fear of a lawsuit.  All it takes is one parent to sue the school system because their kid visited a site that they did not approve.  Or, their kid tripped on an uneven part of the ground and all of a sudden the school system is being sued.  So rather than deal with the 1 in a million lawsuit, it is easier to just ban it all together.  Also, insurance is another reason.  I know kids cannot go on playground equipment in the winter because insurance will not cover it.  This is the world we live in.  You spill coffee on yourself and it’s someone else’s fault.  Your child does something wrong, and rather than teach them what they did was wrong and move on, blame the school system.

  • Stephen Midgley

    These are some really great examples of things to consider, especially as more and more schools and districts look to implement more devices into the classroom. One thing I noticed that wasn’t mentioned, but really should be remembered, is the importance of how the IT department will manage these expensive devices.
    Having tools in place so the IT department can make sure all the devices are secured will keep the investment in the devices safe. And with the amount of funds that mobile devices, like tablets and cell phones, can require, having a way to keep the devices secure will allow for easier use and a longer life-span. And that’s important, assuring the taxpayer’s money isn’t wasted and that our students get more educational value from using these new tools.
    Stephen Midgley, Absolute Software

  • Julieajohnson

    Any thoughts on the legal issues that might arise from this direction of increasingly opening internet access to students (& teachers)? 

    Personally I agree with everything you wrote here, and think this is the exact direction things are currently heading (and needs to be heading) but the question has been raised to me about parent complaints & lawsuits…is this something we need to be thinking of? Will it work itself out in the process? Or is this just playing into the ‘F word’ you mention (fear)?!

    I’d love to channel my students use of/interest in their own mobile devices within the classroom (which is Gr. 7/8), though I can’t quite see how I can do that as of yet…its frowned upon currently, usually ipods and such are ‘banned’–and that primarily relates to lack of control of content/access. Is the 13 year old student in my class using their device to listen to/watch my assigned content or are they surreptitiously watching the rated R movie ‘The Hangover’? I’d like to set up Facebook for the classroom and have students text in comments & ideas…but what if while on there they link off into ‘inappropriate’ areas?

    Yes, I can monitor it to the best of my ability…but there’s always that ‘what if’ factor lingering over my head. This is such uncharted territory & I feel quite like a pioneer….and as such left to sink or swim on my own…Thoughts? Comments?Julie

    • Gardnerlc

      I think your “what ifs” are the issues being used to control what students can access. The problems not addressed are (1) they already access anything and everything everywhere else other than school; and (2) shouldn’t school be one of the locations for teaching/instructing students about appropriate and inappropriate venues as well as accountability and responsibility for using a tool, any tool, appropriately.

      • Tom

        Although I am a fan of technology and work in a school with a forward-thinking attitude towards embedding technology into what we do, schools do need to both integrate and regulate the use of technology.  For someone to say that  students can access Facebook and other sites anywhere except school is no reason to have schools encourage and allow its’ use in school.  There are all kinds of technology usage that are appropriate for schools, but many more that are not appropriate.  Schools are still held to a greater standard of accountability and appropriateness than any other institutions in our society.  If you don’t think some parents would take legal actions on behalf of their children, you are naive.

        • Adam Bellow

          If I may chime in on the comment – I write and speak about the fact that we must teach students how to use tools responsibly and not just complain that they don’t – or worse – pretend the tools don’t exist.  Sure there are some tools that we may feel don’t need to be brought into the classroom.  That is a point that can argued on a tool-by-tool basis.  But something as important, powerful, and wide-spread as social media (including but not limited to Facebook) is something that I personally believe we can either address from an educational standpoint or incorporate.  Parents are part of the equation as you said and to avoid having them “take legal actions on behalf of their children” – I say we need to have all of these parties at the discussion table.

    • Chambersound

      Julia… I like to find web tools that are user friendly and are not blocked by schools! Try for your class. It looks exactly like facebook and you can set up separate classes with a registration code. They can only talk to those in the class and yourself. It’s pretty cool! You just need to monitor what is being written as entries are made. If there is anything inappropriate, you can delete it but you’ll need to catch it before the rest of the class reads it. The message does get sent to your email. I get mine on my smartphone for a quick preview and then I move on. Good Luck.

  • Having all stakeholders at the table, including parents, means that we can teach and reinforce with them, the digital citizenship lessons that their children need as well.  It is imperative that the community at large understand the concepts of technology integration, BYOD and supporting learning with applications and devices that are ubiquitous among students.  We need to do a better job of  sharing openly and often about what all of this means to instruction and how students will be affected as learners now and in the future.  Open communication, publicity, opportunities for parents and community members to ask questions f2f and electronically can only enhance their support for technology in schools.  

    There will always be naysayers and those that belittle anything that is different than “when I went to school….” and those who will sue simply because they have need for a very public audience in which to display their dedication to the well-being of students. (These are the same folks who walked 10 miles up hill in the snow to and from school). There is nothing that can be done about this type of person except meet their challenges head on and be prepared with data and solid information to ameliorate their issues. Think of St. George and the dragon-in the end, he does prevail!

  • Ibiboboca

    I absolutely agree that we should allow students to use their own devices in the classroom. We don’t have metal detectors and cell phone confiscation at the school doors but I do waste time pausing to have a student put away their cell phone or confiscating it. Why engage in a confrontation when they can be used to differentiate instruction. I only have two student computers in my classroom. Finding it difficult give each student adequate time at the computer for research, etc. I started to encourage the use of ipods and phones.  As long as expectations and procedures are in place, this is one strategy that can save time and engage students.

  • its only a matter of time before school administrators are from the digital age, most of these issues will get resolved when “fear”-less people are making the tech decisions.

  • Good article! Rule #3 always catches my attention. How do you think this will change teaching models? I discussed this in my recent blog post here:

  • Abdulkadir Mohamed

    Agree totally with it. they are, indeed, Golden Rules but should be more than 7. How, it is your task.

  • nperez

    Just because you don’t give a kid access to his/her tech tools during school hours doesn’t mean they won’t have access to them as soon as they leave the school grounds. So why deny them something that would probably make their day to day research a lot easier and accessible to them? I don’t think we should deny kids productive tools to be used in their schoolwork because of a fear of something they MIGHT do or look up with it. 

  • Jshade

    This blog posting is motivational. I’m going to look into i-pod touches as multi-purpose educational tools.

  • Professional Development is huge when it comes to using technology as it can assuage the “f word”. Some people just won’t touch it because it’s different than the way they’ve “always taught”. That’s not going to keep kids interested. It also helps to have supportive administration to allow for the professional development and even promote it!

  • Rebecca Newburn

    #4 caught my attention the most. Teaching students to responsibly use the technology by incorporating good digital citizenship education is essential.

  • Joell Marchese

    Two points really hit home with me:
    #1 Knowing how to USE technology is not the sames as knowing how to INTEGRATE technology.  Successful integration of technology requires staff development and collaboration.  If this is lacking, the technology often just collects dust.
    #2 Kids come to school with technology and skills that could be utilized as a great educational tools.  I think educators really need to explore innovative uses of the abundant cell phones and iPods that are brought to school each day.

  • Kim Stiving

    I definitely agree with all of the 7 golden rules. I have seen so many teachers who are afraid to learn about and incorporate technology in their classroom. But it’s the few teachers on the brink of retirement who are taking the time and energy to learn about new ways to implement this technology who really inspire me the most. As a teacher, you have to be willing to learn right along with the students. Right now technology is continually advancing, and students are keeping up…teachers should be too. Technology offers a huge learning advantage in the classroom, so let’s take the time to learn how to use it and integrate it into our lessons so that it benefits our students. 

  • Cmaybury

    I really support the final point, which states that students should be invited to the table.  I couldn’t agree more.  Great points all around.

  • Art Nelson

    This proves to me, we need to keep up with the times and we need to teach with that in mind.

  • Dirvin42

    At the moment, rule 2 resonates with me.  I’ve had that experience more than once!

  • Courtney Rudd

    These are seven great points and offers a fantastic summary of our challenges with integrating technology in education. I completely agree with point #1 that technology must be everpresent – yet the challenge is how to balance the integration of this technology with our education goals.

  • mrteacher

    Very interesting article.  It is very frustrating knowing what great resources are out there, such as YouTube, that schools block because they don’t want to be responsible for teaching the kids “digital citizenship”.

  • Laurel

    The points made in number 2 are essential. There is resistance to getting smart boards at some schools, as they are said to be simply being warehoused in other schools due to lack of training. Ongoing professional development is key to using technology in education, rather than one-hour how-to workshops.

  • Francis Taroc

    By recognizing and honoring the immense pool of knowledge that our students possess, as in rules 4 and 7, we can not only expand our collective knowledge but also get buy-in from those students. If they see themselves as peers with their teachers, they will take more ownership over the education.

  • Chanmony

    I think it is a great idea to use this kind of technology in the classroom; however there is still the fear factor around the usage ipods, iphone, …etc.   how much, for what, and is it accessible to all?

  • Dougkern

    I like the idea of creating a way for students to give instant feedback via their phones on recent lessons.

  • Great post.  I love number one and number three

  • Diverden2005

    I agree with the fact that technology without training is worthless. I was the director of technology after having taught for 10 years. Due to budget issues and the fact that the administration and school board felt that the position was unnecessary because new teachers all knew how to text message which means that they also knew how to integrate technology into their classrooms. I am back in the classroom doing my own technology integration but without any opportunity to help other teachers and the kids are the ones who suffer in classrooms that are not enriched with technology. If they have a teacher who uses technology on a daily  basis then they benefit and if not, then they are left behind. As for social media like Facebook, to me it is no different than passing notes in class, only they are electronic notes/pictures/videos and they can be passed to all of their “friends” at once. With my students spending hours every night on Facebook or other social sites, I don’t see the need for  them using it in the classroom too unless there is a specific resaon, just because they can. If we give them better products to use with educational content so they can create, learn and help other students to learn, then they will be further ahead.

  • Trummer Randy

    Excellent article – succinct and well stated.  I have one perspective to add regarding #4 (fear, filtering, etc):  Here in western Oregon we have scores of very small districts – often with 275 total students k through 12.  As a countywide Technology Director, I regularly see situations where site filtering is imposed not by boards, parents, principals, supts or technical staff, but by actual teachers – who feel they are simply overwhelmed and cannot adequately supervise student online access.
    The #7 Stakeholders commandment is 101% on target !!

  • Tech in the classroom is so incredibly important.  There is nothing like watching students understand a concept and be excited about their understanding because you used an otherwise simply tech tool.  Discussions are better.  Writing improves.  What more could we want?

  • Lsandii2

    Technology is useless without someone to maintain the technology. My school district pushes the use of new technology and then gets rid of all the tech people who maintained the computer systems, software, etc. A computer that doesn’t work is just a very large paper weight!

  • Frank

    Nobody here has mentioned the two big elephants in the classroom when technology is in the hands of every student:  cheating and distraction.  WIth a wealth of entertaining content on the internet, not to mention texting, it is common today for students to not pay attention in class at all.  Teachers cannot tell if a student in the back is looking at the textbook online, or texting their girlfriend.  Second, cheating is a huge problem (read about the cheating scandals in Atlanta for one) and electronic devices only add to the opportunity for cheating.  Lastly, students are not allowed to use cell phones during SAT, ACT or state tests, therefore students need to be familar with, and comfortable using, acceptable calculators – therefore no cell phones as calculators.

    That said, I love technology.  I suggest that the best use of electonic devices is to shield classrooms so no cell signals enter, to offer IPads or laptops that have preloaded texts, use electronic handheld devices such as smart response for in class interaction, but to keep the internet and texting out of the classroom.  Internet research is best done outside of the classroom.

    • I read this and had to reply. With respect – I can’t see how keeping internet and cell phones out of the classroom entirely does students any justice. Yes there is a time and place where they shouldn’t be used, but that’s easily managed.

      I don’t condone smartphone usage in most classes – yes, due to texting. But, I invite students to bring them in as cameras, or when an app is useful for class. The most useful reason is for camera use. Outside of the class, they must keep these devices in the front office for check in & out.

      My bigger issue is keeping internet research outside of the classroom. How else can we teach students to research properly, and what research tools are appropriate? If we don’t do this – well, it’s a huge disservice to any student.

      Digital classroom management doesn’t have to be that difficult. Responsible use of devices, research methods via internet, and use of the internet in general, starts in the classroom.

  • Anonymous

    it’s just a matter of time before you baby boomers die off and get out of our way. we’re an up and coming generation and we’re sick of the conservatives holding us back with their ‘old world’ ways of thinking. either get with the program or get out of the way, this is why most of us voted for obama. we’re sick and tired of dirt crap teachers and administrations holding us back because they’re not able to get with the times.

    the most tragic part about this whole thing is you make it seem like teachers matter. at this point in the game teachers and administrations are so far behind that the students are teaching other students. it’s just a matter of time before we replace your entire education system. my generation will soon rule the world, and they sure as hell won’t be technologically deficient. that’s one trait you will not pass down to us, hopefully alongside greed, corruption and homicidal ideation. your generation is a fallacy. please die off and make room for those of us who make differences every day in the form of 1’s and 0’s.


    • Katherine Bolman

      Well said and now put some action to your ideas. Rather than die, create a new plan for the school your younger sib should be able to go to to learn with real passion!

      Talk is not enough if you really care. There is a lot of work for you all to do!
      Katherine Bolman

    • lmb

      hate to say it but you sound like any teen ager in the last 50 years. Your view in not only terribly inaccurate but obvioulsy one of someone in their rebellious youth. If you are a bit older- then grow up! If your not, join the conversation in a few
      years when you grow up.

  • Netfam58

    Good ideas in this article. Technology should be as ubiquous as,pencil and paper in the classroom. Compiters, IPads and iPhones,should all be welcome.

  • As I read through many of the comments I sometimes wonder if maybe we don’t have the entirely wrong point of view.  If a student can find an answer to a question using their cell phone how is that a bad thing?  After all if the doctor can determine what is wrong with me by consulting his sources, perhaps using the Internet on his cell phone, isn’t that a good thing?  Perhaps the fundamental problem is the question is flawed.  Maybe instead of asking students simple fact questions we should be requiring them to think much deeper thoughts and to do more things such as compare and contrast.  Students we are teaching today will always have access to this body of information we call the Internet.  Its time for us as teachers to teach them how to access it and use it.  I think it was Henry Ford who said something like it wasn’t his job to know everything, that’s why he hired smart people.  I’m not sure anymore if it’s the students job to memorize facts.  Instead we need to teach them what to do with those facts.

    You can check out my blog at

  • awesome post! I also find there are some other things to consider (the 5 rights of using technology:

  • Ansie Peens

    What a great article.

    Sunward Park High School in Boksburg South Africa have empowered 1200 previously disadvantaged learners of color with Android tablets. The learners are currently downloading their textbooks on the tablets. The educators from Sunward Park High School are not scared to learn from their kids. For the first time we will be co-learners. They will teach us about technology and we will teach them content. Together we will blow education and boring textbooks into the next dimension.

    Principal from Sunward Park High School

  • SumnerL

    I completely agree that technology needs to be embraced in
    our schools. We live in a world where almost everything is computer based. Not
    teaching our students how to utilize or access this information would be a
    disservice to them.

    My problem is only with the overuse
    of calculators. I do not believe second and third graders should be using
    calculators on their standardized tests or any other tests for that matter. In
    Memphis City schools it is mandatory for our students to be given access to
    calculators during testing. We are no longer forcing them to learn
    multiplication tables or how to divide. They now have the option to use
    calculators instead of their brains. I think this is wrong, and that students
    should first learn how to do this math and why it is important. Without this
    knowledge, when they grow up, they will not be able to balance a check book or
    go shopping without carrying a calculator around. This should be stopped.

  • alucash

    (Please know that I did not read all the comments before writing this post, so excuse redundancy).

    I love technology, teach technology, practically breath technology at home and in my school/work environment. My simple question is this: If technology is so incorporated in to the classroom, how do we employ classroom management techniques including ‘taking away’ the technology when rules are broken? In other words, my students know the rules, break them but still are required to use the tools in the classroom because that’s how we are teaching them now.

    I am in a elementary environment so one consequence is ‘Computer is taken away’ (it’s the 4th step in a 6 step process). But in my case, “Tech” is a special area class and not core curriculum. What happens in a core class when the lesson is based so heavily on using the tech but we have to enforce the rules including removing devices?

    This is more out of curiosity in case I ever make the leap to middle or high school and can then utilize more personal technology like tablets and smartphones.

  • Hallie

    Very good article. There were some very good points that really hit home. For example, the point you made about receiving training on the technology, not just a quick how to. Sometimes, I feel as teachers were are just introduced to all these new programs and tools and told how great they are. We then get a one day session on how to teach it or use it and then we are expected to implement it with fidelity. I think trainers need to spend more time like you said, showing us how to implement them and use them in creative manners in our classrooms because by doing that we are getting more out of the programs and tools and we are not wasting money on things that eventually “sit on the shelf” because we do not know how to use them.

  • Sam

    Some great points here particularly highlighting the deathtrap that is the ICT room which we can access once a week for 1 hour! More and more teachers are exploring & seeking online support now as inschool training remains non-existent. 2 hrs to experience a specialist to never return in an academic year is exactly the scenario we face. Learning together here online seems to be the way forward but its gonna be on your own time at home with your own Ipad. Geat professional attitude for those that are interested! Im new to blogging & figuring this all out myself. Anyone out there willing to share and connect with me would be great.

    You can find me on: The Staff Room- Teachers only @

  • anony mouse

    Money IS the problem – web tools may be free, but computers are not!

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