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EdTech Update





What one room schools can teach - Guest post by Ron Smallwood

I made an off-off-the-cuff observation about the negatives of "good old days" schooling in a recent blog post.  But reader Ron Smallwood from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan Polytechnic, sent a wonderful reminder of just what these institutions might teach today's classroom teacher. He writes:

As both student & teacher, I must say that one room schools were heaven: personalized self-paced instruction with lots of multi-level group problem solving projects. I can remember the "Johnny can't read" problem brought on by publishers who thought that full page pictures behind the text Johnny was supposed to be reading looked nice. Test everything old or new. We should be researching textbooks & ebooks, blackboards & interactive whiteboards. Everything has its place & use but that place & use will change over time.

I miss my one room teaching days and it is too bad no one researched the advantages of one room schools.  It seemed to me that the mixed age levels had the huge advantage of younger students being exposed to teaching directed at older students and older students could be given remedial help by having them tutor younger students.  Science & social studies were taught as whole school problem solving projects with everyone doing what they did best.  They were a learning community.

The proof of that came when I & my wife got sick and had to be medivaced out.  When I got back 2 weeks later, the students hadn’t missed a day of classes.  Without any adult supervision, they had come to school and worked together to keep school going.  Older students knew how to use the teachers guides to figure out what to do next.  My 2 oldest students were 16 year old boys who were in their last year so I had them rebuild a small diesel engine instead of the traditional math & science.  They did science lessons on gears and levers and did a social studies project on the transportation of parts need for the engine.  Even Jake, grade 1 male, had done his language arts.  When I complimented him on it, he informed me that it was “her fault”.  Eva, grade 1 female, smiles ever so sweetly and said, “I wouldn’t let him help me with my math until I helped him with his language arts.”

It is a heck of a note when you get to your highest goal, independent learners, in your second year of teaching.

An old belief of mine was that we made a mistake when creating multi-classroom schools that we separated students by age rather than ability. But perhaps our error has been in not recognizing the power of students teaching each other, using the differences so leverage fluid teacher/learner relationships among our students.

Thanks, Ron, for a great look at what we might learn from some educational history.

BTW, the township one room school near where I grew up was not used as a school, but will still used for social functions in my childhood. And I have warm memories of it and the events it hosted.


The LMS and SAMR

My new district (still feels new since I've been in the position for about seven months) is actively planning the adoption and formal implementation of a Learning Management System. While it has made Moodle available for sometime, I am told the entire district only has a single teacher using it. In various schools we have pockets of wow with teachers using tools such as Edmodo, Schoology, and GoogleClassroom without a real plan or district-level support in place.

But as we start seriously considering how we will be using the funds from our recently passed $2.5M per annum technology operating levy, the identification of and training in a district-wide LMS becomes urgent. This, I believe, will be our foot in the door for changing instructional practices in the classroom for the benefit of all students.

A formal process for evaluation and selection has begun. Training dates have been set up. Our social studies department will be our pilot in placing curriculum, standards, and outcomes in the system (with help of the Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum). The superintendent added this project to his list of exciting developments in his most recent newsletter. It's feeling like this will really happen.

The district instructional technology coordinator has been giving short presentations answering the question "What is an LMS?" It's a pretty good question. As I think about how Moodle or Schoology or It'sLearning or any of the other popular systems can be used, I always come back to Puentedura's SAMR model.


Graphic ource: Retrieved from RubenR. Puentedura's blogat

Like any technology, the LMS can be used for a variety of purposes, at varying levels of sophistication. For example:

Substitution: The LMS is used as a substitute for a textbook, curriculum guide, and assignment sheet.

Augmentation: The LMS is used to organize content materials from a variety of sources in a variety of formats.

Modification: The LMS contributes to the "flipped classroom" model of instruction, allowing class time to be used for discussion, problem-solving and other activities.

Redefinition: The LMS facilitates truly differentiated instruction by providing self-leveling assessments and activities and resources for a variety of reading abilities and learning styles.

The question I always ask when introducing a new technology or tool is "At what level do we start?"

Start at too low a set of expectations, some teachers may never progress beyond the Substitution and Augmentation work. Start too high and the change is so radical that some teachers will simply reject the plan.

The pundits who often don't actually work in schools with real teachers advocate for the most disruptive approach possible. I suppose there are some situations in which that has worked, but I can't identify any locally. The old "you can't jump the chasm in two leaps" too often results in educators just retreating from the chasm as fast as possible. 

I've always believed we should build a bridge across the chasm, linking new practices to old; providing great PD and support; and articulating a clear road map and timeline for reaching the far side of the gulf of the reinvented classroom. 

This will be exciting and careful work.


BFTP: Snappy rejoinders - short term pleasure, long term pain?

I once sent this out to our optional, informal school mailing list:

Hi folks,

Very interesting article on the NYTimes blog:
Do School Libraries Need Books?

5 different perspectives on the question.


A short time later I received this response from a high school teacher:

Blogs are for the self-obsessed & self-absorbed

have a nice day
So I fired back:

Hi _______ ,

Rather a blanket condemnation of a format, I hope you taught my son when he was your student to judge the content of the writing rather than the container in which it comes.

Have a nice day to you as well,


Zing! Felt pretty good sending that out. At the time.

But I wonder now if I've made an enemy. Or created a relationship in which neither of us will now listen to the other? Were I to do it again, I would have gone over and had a visit with the teacher, F2F. Or ignored the comment completely.

I'm not having second thoughts about what I said. I believe format bigotry serves no one well and that good teachers should not model it. (Although I will admit many bloggers, including this one, are self-obsessed and self-absorbed.)

But I am wondering how I might have handled this better as a human being.


I got a chuckle from the way James Likeks opened a column ina  Valentine's Day morning's Star Tribune:

Here's some Valentine's Day advice: If you need it now, from a newspaper, you're already in trouble.


Original post Feburary 14, 2010