Students Often Prefer Low Tech Learning

cheryl-m-08-15By Cheryl Mizerny

Today’s students have never known a time when computers didn’t exist. What’s more, they have the ability to carry a ridiculously powerful computer in their jeans pocket. Funny enough, even while having an electronic appendage with instant access to the world, I am noticing more and more that students appreciate being exposed to low-tech experiences.

pastel kitchen implements 270I introduced the concept of Genius Hour (which I call Passion Projects) to my sixth grade students last month. They were given the option to learn a skill, create something new, or find a way to help others.

I was quite surprised that, when given completely free reign, less than 15% of my students chose anything that involved technology. Instead, they wanted to learn how to do handicrafts such as knitting, cooking, cake decorating, and sewing. Also popular were model building, robotics and creative writing. Over a quarter of them are designing fundraisers to help charities close to their hearts.

cogs 250I did not expect that they would eschew technology. When I thought about this a little more, I realized it is because technology isn’t new for them. It’s completely integrated into their daily lives so when given the task of choosing something new to learn, they opted to stray from their beloved technology.

Then I saw it happen outside my classroom. The middle school where I teach has an advisory period, and a couple of days a month this time is devoted to teacher-led clubs from which the students may choose. As each of the teachers introduced his or her club, the ear-splitting cheers were for clubs such as board games, knitting, eco-art, brainteasers, and the like.


Although there were several clubs involving technology that will no doubt be equally as popular, I was again struck that students were also excited to learn hands-on skills or participate in low or no-tech activities.

Why the interest in hands-on and screen-free?

old-fash_samplerAs a PD junkie, I come across dozens of articles each month lauding the use of technology in the classroom and detailing the myriad ways that technology can replace the old-fashioned classroom assignments. Don’t get me wrong—I am in no way anti-technology. I am as addicted to my devices as the next girl. However, I don’t find that students are nearly as engaged in most educational uses of technology as adults would hope.

I’ve even heard students complain about too much screen time in school. Perhaps this is because some of the crafty, not necessarily pedagogically sound, projects that teachers are enamored of have merely been replaced by digital versions of equally dubious merit.

multiple grey robots 250I think that perhaps one of the reasons so many teachers of all ages have jumped on the digital bandwagon is that we feel it is something that defines us as current or means we are teaching 21st Century Skills. It could also be that the use of technology is exciting for the teachers themselves because many weren’t exposed to much when they were in school.

My point is not that technology doesn’t belong in the classroom; it does. But we may be overestimating the amount of engagement bang for our buck that tech provides. Not everything in our classrooms needs to be digitized, and our students will appreciate the chance to experience the excitement of analog learning in a digital world.

Excuse me while I go read my book (on paper, of course!).

Meanwhile, feel free to share in the comments some ways you are engaging your kids with low-tech learning opportunities. Anyone doing cross-stitch?

Cheryl Mizerny is a veteran educator with over 20 years experience–primarily at the middle school level. She began her career in special education, became a teacher consultant and adjunct professor of Educational Psychology, and currently teaches sixth grade English in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Her teaching is guided by her belief in reaching every student and teaching the whole child: socially, emotionally, and cognitively. She writes a blog about student motivation and engagement at



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3 Responses

  1. professorjvg says:

    Great post. It seems so important to use tech when it makes sense to use tech and not just to replicate “dubious” paper assignments or in pursuit of some vague “21st century skills” that in too many classrooms means PowerPoint.

    I love that in your school kids have opportunities for making choices and learning to use their hands and to raise funds.

    I have one question for you. Some teachers that I know struggle with just a few old computers in the back of the room and teach children who have access perhaps to a smart phone but limited broadband and limited access to updated computers at home. They tell me that their students often love opportunities to learn to create videos or blog with peers or edit images or other things that are new to them.

    Is it your experience that students in different sorts of schools are also beginning to shift away from tech? Maybe there’s a novelty effect?

    Thanks for complicating questions about tech – so important now when there are so many schools just buying equipment and only later wondering how it might be used.

  2. Parker says:

    Re “Today’s students have never known a time when computers didn’t exist.”

    My 67-year-old friend who just got a certificate in medical information management would disagree!

  3. Debbie says:

    Thank you, Cheryl, I agree with the students and you. Good job! Keep up the good work. I’m sure your students appreciate it and you for caring about them.

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