education and technology

Images I went to Lake Normandy Elementary School for 5 and 6th grades.  Although a public school, the mission was new and modern and the curriculum was designed to let the students learn at their own pace. 

Each classroom was a bit different depending on the grade and teacher.  The school was physically designed like a pentagon.  In the middle was the library and off the back end was the gym and lunch room.  The other hallways entered into a round hang out area and open classrooms with small pods that had different projects.  Each pod had about 4 chairs so you could do your project independently or with a friend.  The teachers monitored your work with the hope that you would complete the options available for learning every four weeks.  That is basically what I remember.  For me, those two years were a complete wasteland. 

I was the supreme tether-ball and spit (the card game) champion.  I also got into gymnastics and enjoyed doing cartwheels.  On occasion, a project grabbed my interest and I actually do recall doing a research project on cancer.  The teachers were probably surprised that I could put a sentence together.  When my mother went in for the parent/teacher conference, she was a bit concerned as the teacher spent more time discussing her than me.  Many of the teachers were a bunch of stoners from the 60's and were into this new educational concept. 

Fast forward, I get to seventh grade in an old fashioned structured school where you move from class to class every 50 minutes and culture shock sets in.  My parents weren't exactly paying attention to my education because when I didn't know what a verb, noun, adverb, adjective or proper sentence was.  My math skills weren't exactly riveting either and Science was a blur.  They sent me to the dumbest class of the grade for English.  It took me about 3 months of ramping up before they sent me up to the classroom with the smarties but those basic English principles still haunt me today.  What would have happened if I actually had a decent education in 5 and 6th grade?  In reality I learned absolutely nothing those two years except social skills and of course card playing skills.  I obviously ended up fine but learning is a life long gift and the system basically took two precious years away from me. 

Today there is an article in the NYTimes about a district in Atlanta that has taken a high-tech gamble by filling the classrooms with technology.  The students each learn at their own pace by embracing the minds of the youth and how they think these days using facebook, blogging, hip-hop and more.  As I read between the lines, what I see is Lake Normandy Elementary School on technology.  Digital devices might let kids learn at their own pace and that might be a good thing if the system is seriously managed. 

I am a big believer in progressive education.  Learn how to break something down and put it back together stays with you forever whereas rote memorization can fly out the window the next day. I love that there are a variety of disruptive educational start-ups happening in the world from online learning to group classrooms with students all over the world.  Yet, when it comes to grades K-10th grade (I do believe that 11 and 12th grade can be looked at differently) there needs to be serious monitoring to insure that each of these kids are learning basic fundamentals be it reading certain books, knowing their math tables, understanding the basics of the English language, how to write and research a paper.  We can't just let kids educate themselves as they see fit within a classroom.  At the college level, the new generation of teachers should be learning how to incorporate technology into the classroom to get great results instead of sticking them in a random district where they are set up to fail because the curriculum they are creating around technology is a learning curve for them too. 

Lake Normandy was a learning curve and although the teachers probably walked away with an interesting experience, kids like me walked away as the losers.  If we are going to use technology which I am all for, lets make sure the people teaching it are taught how to use it before they walk in as the leaders of a classroom. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. ellen

    amen, one of my stepson’s is sending his girls to the Waldorf School.  Personally, I feel that they will not be well equipped in the basics.  They are too young for a “progressive and self motivational educational  experience.” elementary school.I spent my junior and senior year at ” Murray Road.”  Newton’s foray into a more progressive  experience.  For our 2 years, it was very good because we and the teachers were responsible for creating the experience.  We were creating a school and concept.  After we graduated,  it all went totally downhill.  No one was was creating anything.  It became a place to escape high school

    1. Gotham Gal

      Just because we are using technology doesn’t mean we can’t learn from past educational mistakes where the students (k-10) were running their own curriculum.

  2. leigh

    I really struggle with this one.  I went to an alternative Jewish day school (socialist progressive where we called our teachers by their first names and were taught to respect pple not authority- yep – hippy school) in Toronto.  I have to say, my fundamentals aren’t all that great.  I count with my fingers and i can’t spell to save my life.  My father, a conservative Doctor was always horrified and regretted sending me there. However, it was one of the most important learning experiences of my life.  What they taught was critical and creative thinking.  While my high school numbers weren’t that stellar, i ended up with a 3.7 GPA at the University of Toronto and like you, have done just fine.  Similarly, the school itself has produced a staggering number of successful people including award winning writers, successful entrepreneurs and lots of wonderfully outspoken men and women.  Is that a good tradeoff?  Looking back my answer is yes but ultimately i wish the two ways of teaching weren’t mutually exclusive.  

  3. Rebecca Stees

    I’m following a new charter school with interest that is based around “design thinking”It just started this week.http://www.realmcharterscho…—-i didn’t realize that i’ve been reading a tether-ball champ!  (that made me smile)

    1. Gotham Gal

      interesting mission. i was never a fan of the concept of charter schools as i want to believe in our public school system. it appears that the charter schools might be the schools that end up taking over the public school system at one point. so incredibly disappointing to watch the decline of the public school system.

  4. Robert Thuston

    I like Sal Khan’s approach. Allow the kids to view lessons at home, and do homework at school. This way the teacher is freed for an entire class period walk around and tutor the students. The approach is highly monitored as well.As a devil’s advocate, I heard a presentation from Astra Taylor (?), a film director, who never had formal education or any monitoring growing up… Her parents allowed her and her brothers to self direct everything they did. She eventually was accepted to Brown. She argues, we as kids are naturally curious, and if we are provided an environment with educational resources kids will use them… she believes, it would have been a limitation to be stuck in a framework of 50 minute lectures when she could spend a whole day on one thing…

    1. Gotham Gal

      interesting. each kid is so completely different. allowing the concept of free thinking and working at your own pace is a good one but there must be teacher monitoring to be success.

  5. R_marlow_1967

    I totally agree with making sure that teachers are taught the technology before teaching our children