The $1000 Dollar Pencil: Let’s not Use Laptops This Way

Not all technology use is equal. There are two ways we teachers and administrators may view the one-to-one laptop initiative in our classrooms: as Allen November (2013) terms it in his article, “Why Schools Must Move Beyond One-to-One Computing,” laptops may be viewed either as the new “$1000 pencil” or as a “one-to-world” initiative.

In the $1000 pencil view, or “paper shoved down a wire” view as November says, one sees the laptops being used primarily for typing work, for completing worksheets, taking tests, etc. Thus, instruction doesn’t really have to change, just where the students are inputting their work changes. In my view, the advantages to this are limited: it can save paper, it may allow for computers to grade the tests, and it prepares students more quickly for the 21st-century skills of word processing. While this way of looking at the computers leaves me only mildly enthusiastic, I am forced to recognize its validity when I imagine my students, many of whom struggle to write a paragraph with a pencil, will be expected to quickly type entire essays during the PARCC exam.

While the advantages to the $1000 pencil approach are valid, the “one-to-world” view of the laptop as a link to the world’s information is vitally important in our competitive 21st century world. The internet, the world’s library, the world’s connecting web of communication and ideas, can be at the students’ fingertips. Gone are the days of searching for a library book and utilizing the index to find information. Gone. Now students have limitless access to information—much of which is false, contrived, and ill-researched, although much of which is also fabulous. Powerful and appealing ideas– but where do teachers begin?

During the first weeks of having laptops, my students did begin two laptop projects in my classroom. One was of the $1000 pencil variety and the other was an attempt at one-to-world. For the $1000 pencil project, the students recorded their vocabulary work in a table. The students opened the same Word document we used to print and make copies of, and then they typed in the answers. All this takes much more time than the pencil and paper approach, but at least the students can’t easily lose this document as some would have were it a separate sheet of paper and they were practicing Microsoft Word skills.

The second, more one-to-world project, was an internet research project about early American civilizations for my Social Studies classes.  I had the children make and present PowerPoint presentations in groups of three. I am confident that with more experience with this, I can make such a project an effective learning experience for my students.

As I continue working to maximize the benefits of technology in my classroom, I will keep Allen November’s $1000 pencil idea in mind as I seek to facilitate for my students more one-to-world connections.


November, A. (2010, February 10). Why schools must move beyond one-to-one computing. Educational Resources for Teachers.

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