A pleasure of my 50’s era childhood was getting to visit “all by myself” with my Grandmother on her farm in South Georgia. I remember watching her come across the lane from the garden wearing her floppy garden boots and her apron filled with field peas; shelling them together on the open porch connecting the kitchen to the house. During her daily after-lunch nap, I sat rocking on the shady front porch reading Tom Swift. (Okay, sometimes Mickey Spillane books from my uncles’ supposedly hidden library!) But the best part of my visit was sleeping in the second double bed in her room and listening to her voice as we drifted toward sleep. “I never intended to get old. It just happened day by day as I lived my life.” Or a conversation about all the wonderful developments and discoveries during her lifetime such as automobiles, flight, electricity, phones, television, antibiotics, space exploring. “Law, child, I guess my time has seen more changes and happenings than most any time in history.” Given two World Wars and the Great Depression plus many inventions, I understood her words. Granny Carter was born in 1895.
Maybe it’s just the aging that’s happening to me, but I think her lament may apply even more strongly to my time. Computers came out of World War II with an early commercial computer in 1951 but did not start their meteoric rise until the invention of transistors later in the 50’s. The internet was needed to allow computers to communicate with each other and became the ubiquitous part of our lives it is only after internet protocols were standardized in 1981. By 2007 over 97% of all telecommunications were carried by internet. (Of course, this information came from Wikipedia. Where else?)
All children now in school through university have available computer games, cell phones, personal computers, MP3 players, E books and most of all, instant access to the whole world through Internet. When was the last time you pulled out a bound volume of the dictionary, an encyclopedia, a folding paper map, or any of the resources we used to depend on? A very relevant question is how well our public schools are adapting to the way children take in information today. How well do our classrooms reflect the world children experience outside of school and the job skills they will need to have?
One Rock Hill classroom using the tools of today to bring success both now and future is Derek McQuiston’s fifth grade pilot program called The Quest: No Walls, No Limits which is based out of York Road Elementary. His twenty four students have iPads rather than only textbooks. They use these computers to seek information, complete homework, take tests, and are able to “FaceTime” Derek when they need extra help after school. Their iPads are used in a variety of ways including applications involving math, Evernote for note taking, rhyming dictionaries, digital guided reading books, and Edmodo, a program to communicate and network with group members, parents, and the teacher. When the students post on Edmodo, messages are sent to Derek’s mobile phone so he can reply almost instantly. In addition, the other features of the iPad allow students to record voice notes, make videos and take pictures as data collection tools.
Recognizing the tremendous importance of collaboration as a job skill for 21st Century Learners, Derek provides chances for them to complete math problems working together in problem-based, project-based scenarios. A recent math problem involved figuring most economical versus most long lasting solutions to re-shingling roofs damaged in our summer storms. On a recent trip to the Riverwalk they were given problems along the walk to complete (and which elicited help from fellow walkers passing by). They use old fashioned paper and pencil for the daily journal writing and reflections they complete, but use a rhyming dictionary application when working on poetry as well as a downloaded dictionary on their devices. Also old fashioned, but no less important, is their daily Class Meeting which they call a morning tailgate to discuss relationships and community.
You might assume these are specially chosen students but the only requirement, though a very important one, was that parents agree to meet monthly with Derek for updates. His class includes 13 boys, 11 girls, and a range of past achievement levels including a few with special needs. Interested to learn more? Or to get clarification of some of the above described activities follow their activities this year through a WordPress blog, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube postings by Jason Broadwater’s RevenFlow http://classwithoutwalls.com/ .