Replacement without Reinvention

This post is written by guest blogger Michelle Hurst, Physics and AP Biology teacher at Legacy High School in Mansfield, Texas.  

I have thought long and hard to try and identify the number one thing that stands in the way of 21st-century learning and have narrowed it down to one thing:

Expo markers. Yes, Expo markers. Unlike chalk, these markers are constantly drying out, losing their lids and leaving smudges on the board.

Ok, expo markers are not the problem but what they stand for is: replacement without reinvention. Doing the same old things with just newer slightly slicker models.

My first classroom had chalkboards on two walls. I like to think that I am not really that old, I was just the new teacher who got the oldest room and the oldest stuff. Eventually they replaced all the chalkboards with whiteboards. Exceptionally motivated teachers would go to Home Depot and get them cut into small squares for students to write on at their desks. Students love an expo marker. I do not know what is so special or different about them compared to normal pens or makers, but if I give a student an expo marker they will draw all over the desk and board with them. Sometimes even the information I asked for.  Students still love chalk. I have gotten students to solve equations in sidewalk chalk that they would never dream of doing on paper, even while they held their smart phone in the other hand. Sometimes a different medium helps break up the routine. However, a different medium rarely changes the context of learning. Changing mediums will not make 21st century learners. Giving students expo markers, ipads, or whatever the newest gadget is does not change how kids are learning if we do not dramatically use these tools differently.

Chalk was mostly replaced by expo markers. Overheads replaced by projectors and powerpoints but the teaching has remained predominantly the same. Schools keep pushing and training in technology. This is essential because I often need to know how to use my equipment. Many of these applications make my job easier and more accessible to students but do little to address the fact that learning has shifted or how to teach in completely new ways.  The teacher is no longer the sole deliverer of information. Students have more access to information in a few google searches than the teacher can give them in a 45 minute lecture. If we treat technology like many schools treated expo markers we stand in the way of 21st century learning. Devices need to do more than just replace old mediums of learning. They need to completely shift the method, delivery, application and assessment.  Alan November, explains how many schools are moving to 1:1 programs for students and how that is not the solution they are hoping for. “As many schools and districts are now rushing to buy every student a digital device, I’m concerned that most one-to-one implementation strategies are based on the new tool as the focus of the program. Unless we break out of this limited vision that one-to-one computing is about the device, we are doomed to waste our resources. (November 2013). He goes on to suggest that the critical question should not be about what technologies to buy, use and train on but more important questions lie on the design and culture of the teaching, “how much responsibility of learning can we shift to our students? How can we build capacity for all of our teachers to share best practices with colleagues in their school and around the world? How can we engage parents in new ways? How can we give students authentic work from around the world to prepare each of them to expand their personal boundaries of what they can accomplish?” (November, 2013). Applying technology and doing things the same way completely misses the point. Educators need to start asking better questions.  Sir Ken Robinson has similar insight explaining that “the problem is that they are trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past and on they way they are alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in going to school” (RSA, 2010).

Expo markers are not the problem, but tackling completely new futures and problems in the same ways with only slightly different tools is. We do not know what future technology, careers and/or economies are likely to look like. We can not prepare students for those specific things, instead we need to prepare them to find information, to problem solve and think creatively and critically. The tools are not the problem, but using the same old approach is.

The supporting premises the Organizational Transformation in Creating a New Vision for Public Education recognizing the redefined instructional role in the classroom.  

  1. B. The teacher’s most important role is to be a designer of engaging experiences for students, supporting students in their work by incorporating more traditional roles as planner, presented, instructor, and performer.  


November, A.  (2013, February 10).  Why schools must move beyond one to one computing.  November Learning. [Web log]. Retrieved from



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