Owatonna's model for the 21st century
25 Apr 2008

Owatonna's model for the 21st century

At yesterday’s Horizon Forum meeting at the

25 Apr 2008

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!

Jeff Cagle from Owatonna People’s Press joined the conversation in Owatonna, and wrote:

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.

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  1. Tom Tapper April 25th, 2008 8:58AM

    Our fifth grade students in Mr. McCartney’s class waited eagerly to tell their story to the many guests attending the Horizon Forum. They waited patiently for more than 15 minutes sitting on mats, chairs, the floor, and medicine balls until the call from the University came through. I can tell you as an observer in the classroom, their enthusiasm was genuine and their desire to share their stories very real. They easily were able to demonstrate an entirely new skill set; digital literacy. Our testing data (comparative NWEA scores) indicate that they are performing as a class, at least as well as their peers in more traditional classrooms. The class was chosen at random. Our biggest challenge moving forward is two-fold. First, we already have a demand from other teachers in our District to replicate the work in Matt’s classroom; something that limited resources will find us hard to meet. Second, we don’t have a similar classroom ‘ready’ for those students in Matt’s classroom as they move into the sixth grade. We will continue to watch and monitor this group of students in subsequent years, both in achievement as well as in school attitudes.

  2. Matt McCartney May 2nd, 2008 6:29PM

    Our classroom had an amazing time sharing their insight with the participates at the U of M. I wanted to share that the balls that we are using are actually exercise, or therapy balls, not medicine balls.

    I have found it very exciting to see how much more collaboration occurs during class time when the students are not confined to a desk. They are very quick to team up and work with their fellow classmates. This is great in most circumstances, but becomes difficult during situations that require sustained individual work, similar to MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment)testing that we just finished. I will be very curious to see how my students fair on these tests.

    My students have shown strong progress this year, but the biggest growth they show are in areas that are not tested. Things like public speaking, interacting with adults, technology skills on the computers, problem solving on the computer and working together with others.

    It has been an amazing year! I will periodically check back on this website if others choose to write questions.

  3. Matt McCartney May 2nd, 2008 6:29PM

    Our classroom had an amazing time sharing their insight with the participates at the U of M. I wanted to share that the balls that we are using are actually exercise, or therapy balls, not medicine balls.

    I have found it very exciting to see how much more collaboration occurs during class time when the students are not confined to a desk. They are very quick to team up and work with their fellow classmates. This is great in most circumstances, but becomes difficult during situations that require sustained individual work, similar to MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment)testing that we just finished. I will be very curious to see how my students fair on these tests.

    My students have shown strong progress this year, but the biggest growth they show are in areas that are not tested. Things like public speaking, interacting with adults, technology skills on the computers, problem solving on the computer and working together with others.

    It has been an amazing year! I will periodically check back on this website if others choose to write questions.

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