At yesterday’s Horizon Forum meeting at the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Steve O’Conner, Director of Instructional Services for Owatonna Public Schools, presented an overview of an initiative in a classroom in Washington Elementary School where a fifth grade classroom has gone mostly paperless. Desks are replaced with medicine balls and music stands, and textbooks, papers and pens are replaced with laptop computers. We then connected to the classroom by videoconference, and spoke with the students and their teacher, Matt McCartney.
What do the kids think? They love it!
Megan Andrist said she found the laptops helpful because she was able to access a number of kid-friendly Web sites for research.
Cam Muchow enjoyed using technology and adding other elements such as digital photography to his assignments.
By removing desks from the classroom, the students are able to instantly reconfigure their learning and work settings. In theory, the instant physical reorganization and software-enhanced environment allows for more individualized instruction. One kinesiologist at the University of Minnesota wondered if the medicine balls could help reduce the need to medicate children diagnosed with neurobehavioral development disorders (i.e., ADHD). Others saw instant potential in the cost savings that can be realized by eliminating traditional desks. Again, we asked: what do the kids think? They love the medicine balls. Cagle wrote:
Most students, including Brady Steinhorst, enjoyed sitting on the therapy balls.
“Usually when you’re sitting in a chair, you have nothing to do,” he said, “and then you talk to a friend.”
Despite the excitement and hope the classroom is generating, a troubling question looms: What will happen to these kids when they graduate from the 5th grade and enter a middle school with desks, and where computers and other resources are restricted to tightly-controlled laboratories?
Special thanks goes to Superintendent Dr. Tom Tapper, principal Mary Baier, and Matt McCartney for their collaboration on this event.