Why School?

I teach at a school that’s part of our Board’s 1:1 iPad initiative for Grades 4-8 students. Between our Board blogging platform, Google Apps for Education, and a variety of different applications and websites accessible through the iPads, students could (in theory) learn and share completely from their devices. The iPads can, and often are, used for accessing information, writing and recording notes, organizing assignments, submitting work, and reflecting on work. And if everything can be accessed, shared, and reflected on through a device, I have to then ask the question of why do we have school?

I’m not 1:1 in Grade 1, but our class and all of our learning are available online. Through our classroom blog and Daily Shoot Blog Posts, you can see all of our mini-lessons, examples of student work, video and audio responses and reflections, and follow-up activities to do at home. If a child was ever away, a look at the nightly blog post would allow even this six-year-old to “learn from home.” So again, why do I think that school is so important?

First of all, some learning is richer without a device. I think back to Friday afternoon. We’re working on creating four murals as settings for an upcoming play. Students worked in small groups to measure the where they are going to hang their mural, so that they could cut their preferred paper the correct length. This activity was not about technology at all. Students needed to find non-standard units to measure length. Then they had to figure out how to use their measurements to cut the paper. Some students cut the paper the wrong length, and they had to problem solve to fix this. I was determined not to cut any paper, and I didn’t. I was determined not to measure any lengths, and I didn’t. I was determined to let the students try, struggle, problem solve, and try again, and this is exactly what I did. And in the end, every group met with success. Was all of this learning captured on a device? Yes. But the learning wasn’t done online, and became even more of a challenge due to folding paper, difficulty in manipulating large paper rolls, and the challenge in cutting straight lines. A virtual world with straight blocks and no paper or scissors, might be easier, but would the students have learned as much? 

And then there is the social interaction and collaborative learning that takes place through face-to-face interactions. I know that this type of learning can happen online. When I taught Grade 6, students even FaceTimed into my mini-lessons and to join group projects when away on vacation or home sick. I didn’t require this. Students made this happen. There are slightly different interactions though that happen when students are sharing spaces and materials in a non-digital world. They are constantly negotiating and problem solving. They are getting more regular feedback from me: sometimes in the form of suggestions and sometimes in the form of questions. Yes, I offered feedback through FaceTime, but with a small screen to look at, it was harder to see all of the details in the work, which I can easily observe in real life. There’s something to be said for learning together in a shared space, and this is what school allows. 

And so, technology makes teaching and learning accessible like it wasn’t before. But as we look more closely at 1:1 initiatives, I can’t help but think about what we’re doing to move the learning beyond these devices. How are we making “school” meaningful? Why is it important to do so? For all of the time we spend talking about how the students use technology, I wonder if we should also be spending just as much time looking at when they don’t and why this time is so beneficial. What do you think?


4 thoughts on “Why School?

  1. I think that recording lessons and being able to skype or FaceTime in are great uses of technology. My son finished a project at school with a friend who was out sick and my daughter’s class once sang her happy birthday over a Skype call when we were on vacation. (Not academic but extending the classroom community). I also like the ability to record things as my hands don’t write faster enough to get all student’s ideas down. Asking them to pause, slow down, or repeat disrupts their flow and sometimes things are lost. That said, I worry that the constant recording of students instead of actually watching can be a disservice to them. I believe this is true as a parent and also as a teacher. Having a camera up and focusing on the screen does not allow students to see the same facial expressions as it would if we were merely watching and listening. This non-verbal expression and feedback can help students understand emotions and is a step to teaching empathy. Do we lose some of that with our desire to record so many moments? Does the benefit of recording outweigh the cost? As a phys. Ed teacher, I would rather be engaged in the moment and not recording for assessment and planning. Sometimes, it means I lose some of where the student is as, even with notes, I cannot capture exactly what was happening. It is something I struggle with balancing. I know I went slightly off topic but the recording piece is what resonated most with me

    • Thanks for the comment, Heather! I know that this wasn’t exactly the point of the post, but I think it’s a great one to discuss. I think a lot about this too. I’ve taken to recording more podcasts in the classroom. I find that when just recording oral discussions, I can put the iPad down and focus more on the students. Then I don’t lose what sometimes does get lost when staring at a screen. If a student also says something that I wish I captured, I’ve also grabbed the iPad and we’ve had the conversation again. It’s not exactly the same the second time around, but I have at least documented some of the discussion, and I haven’t missed the original conversation either. I’ve also taken to getting students to do video recordings. This is especially true during full-class discussions/congresses. Then I can focus on the students and the conversation, and the student can work the technology. I wonder if any of these options would work in phys-ed. What do you think? Have you tweeted out this question to #PEGeeks? I know that there are many phys-ed teachers that share on Twitter. I wonder what they do. I’d love to know what you find out.


      • Great ideas. I like the idea of a student recorder. This could work if they switch up the job. I would like a mount for an iPod/iPad but I often don’t know what I want to focus on until we are in the lesson as it changes so much. I will look at other ways around this. On your original topic, I think schools also allow students to work with people they may not otherwise work with. Students with different strengths and needs, different backgrounds, and different personalities. This type of Interaction can be lost with technology. I think it makes us better people to have Interactions beyond those with people that are very similar to us

        • Thanks for the reply, Heather! Yes, a mount would be great, but it is difficult when you don’t know your focus until in the middle of the lesson. I hope that a student recorder works. My Grade 1’s take this job very seriously, and this has been a huge help to me. Then I can really stay focused on the discussion, and not worry so much about the technology.

          You also make a great point about “working with different students” thanks to school. It’s good to get to know how to get along with others (especially those with varying strengths, needs, and interests). It’s a skill that students will continue to need as they grow up. I was actually thinking about this on the weekend. I went to visit my dad at a retirement home. He just switched rooms and has three new roommates. He spoke about how it’s been a learning curve to get along with three people that are so different from him. To think that the development of these skills — useful for a lifetime — begin happening in the youngest of grades …


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