I have consistently struggled with the idea of the modern vs. traditional classroom in my teaching. In my personal life, I am someone who finds great comfort and pleasantness in tradition. I shave with a traditional safety razor, rather than a modern cartridge. I grind my coffee in a hand crank, rather than an electric grinder. I write and track most things on pen and paper, rather than digitally. It’s not that I’m a luddite, quite the opposite, actually. Technology has accelerated my life and made me more productive than I ever could have been in the past. Still, though, there’s something to be had in embracing some traditions. You feel connected to a shared human experience. There are cases where tradition is limiting, as has been the case in North Carolina, but there are also cases where tradition creates an inter-generational gap.
Having listened to the debates this week, it became more clear to me than ever that schools are becoming increasingly focused on the new. The new is shiny, the new is exciting, the new makes stakeholders feel like they are getting their money’s worth. We pursue the new, but it’s an impossible goal. We become like greyhounds on a racetrack, chasing a rabbit that gets faster as we get closer to it.
Last year, I did a literature review on school design, and found that open concept schools, like Arcola in Regina were already tried in the 70s. And they failed. Miserably. Most of the facilities had walls installed, and reverted to a more traditional model. I struggled to make sense of it. Why go back to a model that was completely abandoned once already?
We have a a pretty good sense of what works in schools. John Hattie’s seminal work, Visible Learning lays out in quite clear terms what does and doesn’t work, based on an enormous meta-analysis. The Hattie Scale shows that tech rates quite low. Meaningful teacher-student interaction, on the other hand, fills out the top of the list.
Why bring up Hattie? Well, because I think the resolution to this google-able vs. not google-able debate boils down to a question of old vs. new. Tradition vs. modernity. Somewhere in this discussion, it seems to me that the students get lost. Teachers get excited about shiny gizmos, and exciting software, and forget that at the end of the day, the student determines what works best.
That being said, I recently had the experience of getting an enormous rubbermaid box from my parents. They were moving, and said that I needed to start storing it. I opened it up, and inside was literally every piece of work I made from kindergarten through undergrad. Everything. Journals, worksheets, art projects, all of it. It was a portrait of the young mind of a kid obsessed with video games, snow forts, and Star Wars. I received a piece of my own history. Something tangible, something powerful, and something that simply could not happen in the age of google drive, and cloud-based learning. Modernization has a value, but at the end of the day, I think not only should we be teaching things that can be googled, but that we should be reducing, not increasing tech’s presence in the classroom. Give students something tangible, something that roots them in a world bigger than themselves, but in a meaningful, tactile way, rather than seeing floating text on a computer screen that claims to be from some far-flung place in the world. The solution is not more or less google in the classroom, the solution is more reality.