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Three futures: Duncan Middle School

I am working on the last chapter of my technology "survival" book for classoom teachers. Its focus is on the future and how it is up to each of us to help create the future we desire for ourselves and our students. The chapter will start with three possible scenarios for "high tech schools," based on trends I see today. I'll be sharing the drafts of these scenarios over the next few days. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

 Duncan Middle School

Predicting the future is easy. It's trying to figure out what's going on now that's hard. Fritz Dressler


Carl watches carefully as his language arts teacher uses the interactive white board to show the relationship between a subject and its pronoun. Carl knows that he may be expected to demonstrate his mastery of the concept at the IWB himself. While the subject itself is not that exciting, Carl watches carefully and believes he has grasped the concept.

A few of Carl’s teachers are using technology in the classroom in interesting ways at Duncan Middle School - the only 7-9 building in this rural district. In social studies last year, his class adopted a sister school in Singapore and did a joint on-line problem-solving exercise that included a Skype video call; Carl still has a couple Singaporean students as Facebook friends from the experience. Math class uses calculators that are networked with the IWB.  The same math teacher regularly records lessons so they can be viewed multiple times on a video streaming site. In health class, the teacher spiced things up in the human sexuality unit by having students answer questions using a response system.

Now and then, the principal or another strange-looking person (who Carl later finds out is the technology director) brings visitors into classrooms to watch these technology-infused lessons. On its website, the school touts a “cutting-edge, high tech environment that builds 21st century skills.”  

When students use technology in school, it is more often doing writing in the lab attached to the library or doing research using the school’s one set of aging laptops that travel in a cart - at least when those computers aren’t being used during the six formal testing periods each school year. Last year a teacher wrote a grant and received funding for small touch-screen devices that the kids used for a couple weeks to complete a science activity.

More often though his teachers lecture accompanied by bad slideshows, his school still uses out-dated print textbooks, and photocopied worksheet completion is a daily exercise. Carl’s backpack weights 30 pounds and he uses it to carry home messages from school to his parents. While there is no school-wide ban on personal mobile use, most of Carl’s teachers will confiscate personal devices if they see students using them during class. State-wide budget cuts and unpassed operating levies, however, have resulted in average class sizes of over 40 students, so texting during class usually goes undetected.* Most kids use their own mobiles in school since the most popular social networking sites are blocked by the school’s filter.

When Carl starts a class, he really doesn’t know how or if the teacher will be using technology, or if so how or how often – there are no common expectations except that all teachers will use the district’s electronic gradebook and attendance program. Carl doesn't know it but technology use is not a part of the district’s strategic plan, its curriculum development, or staff development efforts. 

Despite large sums of dollars being spent on hardware, infrastructure and support, technology seems to be having no impact on either test scores (just good enough to avoid sanctions) or the other goals of the school. In this way, the Duncan Middle School has changed very over the past ten twenty thirty years. 

* While the local community will not pass a referendum for operating funds or technology enhancements, it still expects all students to be in school six hours a day, five days a week and a full slate of extra curricular offerings be offered. This has led to larger class sizes, fewer elective classes, aging textbooks, library books and computers, and deferred building maintenance. And a loss of students through open enrollment to neighboring districts and to charter schools.

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Reader Comments (5)

This sounds like real life unfortunately.

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Posey

This sounds EXACTLY like my district. :-(

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsClark

Kelly and Ms Clark,

Yup - and unfortunately, I think, our most likely future.


February 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson


Backpack Reference, iPod Touch Grant, students with the names Carl, Carlos, and Carla, different visions of schools where the clash between ideology and reality meet and all somehow miss the mark. Hmmm. Have you been reading my blog lately?

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Anderson

Hi Carl,

I can't say I read every post with the care it deserves, but yeah, you're in my reader. I'm guessing your writing has had a great impact on my subconscious!


February 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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