This was/is a “catalyst” KINDERGARTEN classroom in Mentor, Ohio (pic from 2014). This picture truly gives me the chills. It is void of anything vibrant, enticing, or living. It is so deathly dismal grey. It is so opposite of how my 4-5s classroom looks— gratefully! The above appears to me like children have been implanted into some unnatural, doldrum business office setting. It looks like kinders sitting in on some corporate board (bored) meeting.
This is Tom Vander Ark’s ‘branchild.’ He ultimately sees classrooms just like this, with minimal amounts of teachers who would be translated into “facilitators.” Their jobs would be to guide the children towards online programs which would suit children’s individualized learning plans. The teachers are to become robotic sales clerks essentially for all of the products Vander Ark has for sale related to online learning. Information in turn would be documented at each and every keystroke, into the students’ “digital portfolio backpacks.”
I defy this “disruptive innovation,” though I do think the ‘disruptive’ part of the name is very apropos. Children, and their love for learning has been my life since I was a 13 years old, when I began teaching cooking and craft classes for our local YWCA. I am a half a century (plus two) years old and have taught hundreds of children of all ages, in a variety of settings over four decades. The learning pictured above (and discussed in this accompanying article) is, to say the least, lackluster. To me it is outright nightmarish, and sends shivers down my spine when I think of this being spread everywhere. It is all being packaged and sold with all of these alluring word pictures that paint it as though it is education ultimate utopia. But, I know literally hundreds of teachers who would agree with me in a heartbeat, that this is cold and lifeless; not at all conducive to how the whole child learns and develops. It is a sterile environment that strips away and stifles multi-faceted, dynamic, dimensional learning.
I could fill this blog with citation after reference after article link with research, but I do not think all of that is necessary. I think the opinions I am about to share are obvious and observable anywhere really, with any age group. But for the sake of this blog we will stay with the early learners.
The greatest contrast I can offer from just the other day, in my own PreK class, was that my 4s and 5s were able to play MahJonng on my tablet. We have had the real game in the class since the beginning of the year. I bought it at a garage sale years ago for $4. (I believe the tiles might be real ivory.) The kids mastered the smooth fingering and sliding of the tablet in seconds really. Their bodies grow very still while they play the online game (I think their minds do also.) After two days, they grew bored of it all, even with 16 set ups for the play, 8 designs of tiles, and choices of background music. The actual game itself, has been a hit in my classroom for months. Some children enjoy just building with the tiles. Some actually set up the game which in and of itself is intellectually challenging, and many more than one or two can play simultaneously. Some children love the sounds those tiles make when they are poured out or clacked together (which is why I do believe they are possibly ivory because they do not sound at all like plastic). Some children made a weighing game and compared them with other toys. Some like running their fingers on the engravings and one little gal traced them on paper. Some do a domino line with them. Some count them. Some match them in a memory game. They play and play and play with those MahJonng tiles in a very engaged educational manner.
I could go on for hours truly about all of the reasons I am so against all of this “technology” being impelled into our young children’s lives. But, for all of the specific examples I could give, it all seems to boil down to this main notion: I have never seen a child not be able to work a computer once such was made available. Their age or prior experience did not seem to matter. But, I have seen far, far too many children (unto teens and even young adults) who could not do some of the most simple of tasks. Tasks that play into every day life on many levels. Like, using scissors for one example.
The ‘press and play’ results that come about via video games, in front of computer screens or on any hand-held devices, remind me of the pop-up boxes we put in front of crawling babies. The tot presses the blue button and the duck pops up; the green button produces a dog. The baby closes the 4 lids and then can do the same thing all over again. That to me is how much thinking is required to use computers. You press this and this happens. You click on this and this appears. Close the laptop and open it and you can do the same thing all over again. It is all very one-dimensional.
For the project pictured above, they choose a teacher and a class and stick them into a one-way mirrored glass classroom (interrogation room look, or what?) and give them a bunch of “free” technology. Everyone is invited to watch how ‘innovating’ they are. Then the teacher is given $10,000 to spend in his/her classroom on equipment.
As a PreK teacher in NE Ohio, I make $9 an hour, so just a bit more annually than the ‘barbed-hook-sales-pitch’ the “Catalyst”program offers. I would give my eye teeth without Novocaine for folks to view what all “innovation” occurred in my classroom yesterday and then reward me ten thousand dollars for classroom equipment and I assure you it would not be on software.
We have been for two weeks doing a unit theme on “shoes.” Our house center was converted into a Shoe Shop with 4 of the actual clunky metal foot measuring rulers. We had a variety of stickers, signs and price tags from actual shoe stores. Our little drawer-opening cash register took toy debit/credit cards, that made beeping noises when scanned. Shoes of all types and sizes were “for sale.” There were name badges which had super strong magnets in order for the children to be able to clip them onto their shirts. The children on their own rearranged it all so that doll strollers could be pushed in. They also came up with some kind of PA system to announce sales, created this elaborate price scanning system, and invented a phone system.
Our sensory table (since I could not really think of one that matched our shoe theme) held salt, and sprinklings of other herbs and spices. I had super cleaned out my spice cupboard and gave them all of those different size empty containers (unwashed, so they were still very aromatic). They spent hours on end, fitting the different lids on and off, and cooking a ton of recipes they were making up. The table for the entire two weeks ALWAYS had three children around it, interacting, sharing, weighing, pouring, sorting, sifting, categorizing, smelling, discussing, dividing, stacking, matching, measuring, feeling, and THINKING. Seriously, I should have videoed all of the ways they played when it first was opened to them.
Just yesterday alone, the supplies in the art center that were used by the children were staplers, liquid glue, glue sticks, 3 kinds of tape, hole punchers, scissors (all kinds of scissors actually), playdough, rolling pins, cookie cutters, plastic knives, quilling strips and tools, wax sticks (Benderoos), 7 kinds (textures) of paper, tempera paints, watercolor paints, finger paints, crayons, markers, pencils, chalk, stamps and ink pads, easel, 4 kinds of paintbrushes, Q-tips, popsicle sticks, rulers, straws, paperclips, and several other miscellaneous items I am sure I am forgetting to list. Talk about innovation—the things they thought to make and do were so creative, useful, fun, big, little, colorful, symmetric, asymmetric, spontaneous, planned, and surprising. Individual, and collaborative efforts occurred.
Out of our window, we watched birds and squirrels with their spring antics. We were quiet and still for the longest of time, schnuggling and just watching. They plunked logs into puddles during one of our THREE recess times outside. The childlings of their own volition, made some kind of splash/balancing board and in some innocent competition, measured whose arc of mud went the highest or the widest, easily creating 5 foot mud rainbows, dependent on how they landed on the board when they jumped. A block tower inside was built taller than I am (5’4″) and that was, of course, without them being able to stand on chairs. How did they get the last ones on top? I’ll never tell their cooperative trade secrets. Perhaps one could search for the answers online using a flat, smooth surface.
Truly, who thinks GREY is a kindergarten color anyways? That is likely last on my list.