ThinkEd: Not just a toy for the boy

Stuart Middleton
EdTalkNZ
3 September 2010

When I started school the teacher had a view that we should be taught to read and write. Putting aside reading for the moment, we certainly got on with writing. Around the classroom on the wall would be blackboards – I think they were about A3 in size – cheek by jowl, all thirty of them. We would have our name written indelibly at the top of our particular space (does anyone remember the old trick of soaking a stick of chalk in sugar and water to make it resist the duster?) and lines for us to write on were etched into the surface of the board.

And so we progressively learned to write each letter of the alphabet. It was printing really but each letter had a little flick at the end – oh yes they were cunning for that little flick would be needed later. This was all done in accordance with the Handbook for the Teaching of Writing.

Well, to cut a two year story into a few words, we progressed from printing into cursive handwriting, joining a letter from that flick onto the next one and learning the cursive forms of letters like K and T and H. Learning this at our blackboards was akin to an old-fashioned aerobics class – thirty little ones with arms scribing ovals when we got to the letter O and so on. We did line after line of repeated movement until we had that letter in the memory of our muscles.

Later, it might have been Standard One, I really forget, we graduated to ink and the little ceramic inkwells and the dip pens. It must have been Standard One because something tells me that was the first year we had desks with the holes for those little white ceramic pots. We continued in this vein until the end of primary school.

Arriving at intermediate school, Day 1, produced something of a crisis. We were expected to have a fountain pen! Our Mum was in hospital at the time and we were staying with our Aunty. She knew what to do and off we went to the McKenzies Department Store in Hamilton and purchased our first fountain pen, an Osmiroid with rubber bladder, squeezing levers for emptying said bladder and a cap with a slide for wearing this implement in a pocket just like grown-ups. Writing just had to be an exciting thing now!

And so it continued. Ball point pens came along and all those other sorts of pens that are available now. But my early school experience saw me fall deeply in love with the fountain pen which I continue to use to this day. My implement of second choice for writing is a pencil – it must be a 4B with nice soft lead. The joy of hand writing is partly the traction of the pen or pencil on the paper rather than the sliding and mistrustful behaviour of the ballpoint pen.

I could spin a similar story about learning to read (and probably will one day!).

But dear readers, I have been unfaithful. I have been seduced by the Apple iPad (no, I have no connection with Apple and this was a gift to me by my most-loved-and-dear). It is a whole new experience not only in writing but also in having this wonderful book, for it is no thicker nor heavier than a slim volume. It has in it everything you need. Ways of writing, information of every conceivable kind, services that are more useful than you might imagine, but more importantly, a real opportunity at last to be paperless.

The papers required for a day’s meeting are loaded in an instant and at the meeting the iPad sits on the table and is no more intrusive than a piece of paper. No longer the slightly embarrassing mini-wall that is erected by opening the laptop behind which you hide and in some cases have to hide behind in order to see the screen through the correct part of the bifocals.

But it is interesting how new technologies do not leave completely behind the experience of previous technologies. Reading a book by electronic means is a close simulation of reading the real thing. Page after page, touch the arrow to turn to the next page, place the bookmark when you realise that you have fallen asleep – it’s just like reading an old-fashioned book. In fact it is interesting that the marketing of these electronic devices often promotes the promise that it really is “just like reading a book”. Touch screens are seeing the development of better and better handwriting recognition.

We have come a long way in one lifetime – a journey which saw the apple for the teacher morph into the Apple as the teacher. What next, you might well ask?

2 comments

  1. Helen says:

    Ha! love the last line of your article Dr Stuart!

    When writing personalised fathers day cards with a metallic pen, I was in fact reflecting on my days at primary learning to handwrite with the flick just in the weekend. I’m truly grateful for those teachers!

    By the way – our senior Pastor was absolutely ecstatic when he opened his ipad gift from his spiritual family – obviously for the reasons you’ve just mentioned. He’ll be able to continue his travels around the world a lot lighter – and who knows? perhaps Apple can release a new model with an extendable stand in place of the pulpit?

    cheers
    Helen

  2. A. Ross says:

    Hi Stuart, I have been landed with an iPad and I am interested in knowing what app(s) you use for your writing, do you use something that does handwriting recognition, do you use something that uses the iPad’s keyboard, or do you use something which you can write with your fingers?

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