That one time I hate technology…

It started at a meeting of school division in school administrators when my laptop needed to do an update. Everything was fine until the computer completed the restart, and then absolutely everything was gone from my computer. When I say everything, I mean everything. Unfortunately, I am not that diligent at backing up my computer, but fortunately the IT department was able to recover just south of 90% of the files. They put 754 word files, pdf’s, spreadsheets, and pictures all in one file folder.   I got interested in this computer stuff because it was supposed to make my life easier, and for the most part it has. Just not this week…

Getting Lost with a GPS

I just got home from a family wedding in Calgary, a city that I am vaguely familiar with when driving.  I can usually find the airport and downtown with ease, and my wife knows how to get to a couple of shopping areas. But for this event, we needed to find locations buried in residential areas and in sections of the city I didn’t know existed. In short, we relied on GPS to get to where we needed to be.

Flash-back to 2004. GPS systems were mainly a military application and not widely available to the general population. That summer my wife and I loaded the mini-van with 3 kids, a bunch of luggage, and a small pile of maps for a 17 day road trip to Disneyland and southern California. We only got lost once. With the exception of that short period of time of aimless driving in San Diego, I always felt like I knew where I was, and where I was going because I had studied maps every night, paid attention to landmarks as I drove, and worked as a team with my wife as found our way around. We always had a plan on how to get where we were going, and it was (almost) always successful.  We learned how to get around in unfamiliar territory!

Flash-forward to my weekend in Calgary, and the travel plan was simply to punch in addresses into the Navigation system and then do as I was told by the voice commands. I always got to the exact spot I needed to, but I never felt like I knew where I was. In fact I often felt lost as a certain amount of context was missing. If you ask, I can’t tell you how I got from the hotel to the Bride’s house to deliver the flowers. I can’t tell you how I got to the ceremony or to where the reception was held. If something had gone awry with the GPS system, I would have been screwed because I wasn’t prepared beyond relying on the Navigation System.

So here is the tradeoff; Right now, I give myself a 70% chance that I can drive to Disneyland from here without a GPS.  I give myself a 10% chance I can get back to my nephews house in Calgary without one.

It makes me wonder if bringing new technologies and digital devices into the classroom is being done for solid pedagogical purposes.  Is the use of technology with students really advancing learning, or are students just able to find information and other “stuff” quicker and easier like my ability to find a location in Calgary without much thinking?  I believe the key to good learning is in making sure our student are thinking about the context of their learning, and in knowing how the tools being used are meant to help them. As I write this, it seems like a pretty basic idea, but I am not sure it always happens…


Teaching on a Hutterite Colony F.A.Q

I get a lot of funny looks and comments when people find out I am the Teacher / Principal at a Hutterite Colony School, and I get a lot of questions. To save you the time, I have assembled all the most popular questions (and comments) here, with my response to each.

  1. How big is the school? This year there are 18 students in the school – kindergarten (5), grade one (4), grade two (2) grade three (2) grade four (2) grade six (1), grade seven (1), grade 9 (1). The school building is brand new – we moved in last March –  and there are two large classrooms, plus washrooms, a staffroom, a teacher work room, and an office. 
  2. No grade 10 – 12? Not at my colony. Formal education for Hutterite children ends at the age of 15 at which point they enter one year of vocational training for their future life on the Colony. (some colony schools DO go to grade 12)
  3. Do you follow the same curriculum? Yes and no. The Hutterite Bretheren Church has an agreement with the Ministry of Education that exempts Hutterite Children from participating in any type of sex education, and in discussions surrounding the theory of evolution. Other than that….
  4. Are you the only teacher? No. I have a part time teacher who works at the school 30% of the time (3 mornings per week). The rest of the time it is just me.
  5. How do you teach all those grades at the same time? I’m not really sure…
  6. Are you part of the regular school system? Yes. The Prairie South School Division has four Hutterite Schools. According to the Saskatchewan Hutterian Education Association, there are 70 Hutterite Colony Schools in the Province.
  7. How did you end up teaching there? Two years ago I applied for some Vice-Principal positions that were open in Moose Jaw.  The HR department pitched the idea of me applying for the Principalship at the Colony school instead. The rest is history
  8. Do you like it? Yes.
  9. I bet the kids are well behaved: Kids are kids. A little mischief every now and then makes the day interesting! 
  10. So, what about the technology and the internet? The agreement with the ministry clearly states that Hutterite children are not to be exposed to technology in the school as it may present a future challenge to their “status quo” within society. In other words, they like the way things were. My colony strictly adheres to this policy, as there isn’t even an overhead projector in the school. (not all colonies are as strict…) 
  11. What are the challenges? There are many things within the Hutterian culture that I don’t understand, but it seems to work for them. They expect school to be a very strict, traditional, experience for the students (not my style). When I first arrived, the student desks were literally bolted to the floor in straight rows, boys on one side or the room and girls on the other. The lack of technology has forced me to think differently – no more “hey let’s watch a cool youtube video about the topic”, or “why don’t you just google it?” statements.  I bought a brand new set of Encyclopedia’s for the class last year, but the Colony Elders censor out the parts that go against their beliefs – so stuff like that is like taking a hard stab to the neck with a dull fork. Also, the students really  have a long day, so I have to take that into consideration when students are struggling to stay focused. (Students start each day with German School that runs from 7:30 – 8:30 each morning, and then again from 3:30 – 5:00 every afternoon. Basically, German School consists of learning Bible verses by writing, reciting and memorizing them.) Another challenge is that they are all E.A.L students as German is the language of the colony. They don’t speak English until they start kindergarten. I don’t speak any german…
  12. What are the good parts? They treat me like gold.  I can’t say enough good things about the overall character of the people and the generosity displayed by the Hutterites I have come to know.  Another great thing is that due to the children’s limited experience with the “english world”, they are extremely curious about everything!  Another great thing is the way they sing. They don’t have musical instruments other than their voice, and they sing all the time, boys and girls, men and women, old and young. It is a very pure sound. (example of an adult Hutterite Choir ) Also, because I am “an outsider”  they prefer it if I am not at school  much before 8:30 in the morning and be gone by 3:30 or so. 
  13. Do they feed you?  I get a lot of food from the colony. Monday is fresh bread. Wednesday I get pie, Friday is fresh buns.  I get fresh eggs for $1.00 per dozen (usually huge double-yoke eggs) and I also get fresh cream, chickens the size of small turkeys, and vegetables at various times of the year. It’s a pretty good deal!

So, there it is. If you have any more questions feel free to leave me a comment!

Girls watching the construction of the new school building (2015)
Girls watching the construction of the new school building (2015)

the digital thoughts of an analog teacher…