Monday, September 08, 2008

Bag it

We have all seen those little kids toddling off to school under the crushing weight of a backpack laden with books. Apparently, those spine-bending burdens have become something of a public health concern. Well, help is at hand -- if you want it.

A group of 18 secondary school children in Dublin, Ireland, have become the first students worldwide (according to the Irish Times) to replace their 13 pounds of texts with a one pound e-book. The Kindle-like device, manufactured in the Netherlands, is preloaded with all of the kids' textbooks, plus workbooks, a dictionary, and 50 classic novels, including Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice and Oliver Twist. Moreover, the device also serves as a copy book, enabling the students to take notes (or doodle) with a stylus on electronic pages.

Is this the future? Probably. I've written here before about electronic technology in the classroom. In that earlier Musing I wrote: "When I walk into a classroom and see 30 students sitting at computers, I groan. When I walk into a classroom and see every wall and surface covered with maps, posters, books, models, plants, and even some things I never would have expected, I know some real education is going on." I guess that makes me something of a sentimentalist, but I believe education is a sensual as well as an intellectual experience. We learn through all five senses, not just our eyes. Kids already spend most of their home time in front of a screen -- visiting FaceBook, playing computer games, or texting on their cell phones. Give me a classroom full of provocative clutter, book spilling from shelves, maps sagging from the walls. Give me stuff that grows and crawls and hatches. Give me color, sound, and tactile sensations. Give me kids sitting in the grass sketching a grasshopper.

OK, OK. Let the kids do their homework with e-books. But in my classroom, they'll keep the damn thing in their bookbag.

(In transit tomorrow. Back on Wednesday, from my cozy corner of a library full of real books.)