Country mice visit Big Apple cousins

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on January 27, 2015

Cartoon mouse staring at computer screenYou know the story. The city mouse goes to visit his country cousin. When the country mouse offers him a meal of simple country food, he sneers at it and invites his cousin to the city for a taste of the good life. But their feast in the city goes wrong when a couple of hungry cats move in and they barely escape with their lives. The country mouse returns home, preferring a life of simplicity to a life of risk and its rewards.

According to Wikipedia, the story can be traced back to Classical Greece literature. Many of the assumptions of country life such as the simplicity and lack of opportunities can still be found in 2015. In October, I had the opportunity to travel with a group of Arkansas educators to visit four schools in New York City. What we observed blurs the lines of country and city education.

We visited four schools including an elementary, middle school, high school and a technical high school. In each setting we saw great things happening but also observed a common theme. As we asked what technology they used in their daily instructions, each principal pointed out the interactive white boards recently installed in all rooms. Each principal also acknowledged that they were working on teacher training to make the technology more student centered and not so teacher centered. That is a problem we in Arkansas could relate to, but that was an issue for the majority of our state educators five to ten years ago. Our NYC counterparts were surprised when we mentioned we have schools moving from the boards to large flat screen TVs that mirror the devices the students have in their hands.

We did not see buildings that had any one-to-one classrooms (or 2-to-1, not even 5-to-1). The schools did have labs, but in most classrooms there was a teacher computer and the interactive whiteboard.

In the high school we visited, we saw a program that is similar to the EAST Initiative we have in Arkansas. It was VEI (Virtual Enterprise International.) VEI replicates all the functions of real businesses in both structure and practice. Under the guidance of a teacher-facilitator and business mentors, students create and manage their virtual businesses from product development, production and distribution to marketing, sales, human resources, accounting/finance and web design. VEI firms offer diverse products and services—from banking, insurance, and technology to publishing, advertising, app creation, tourism, and fashion. The specific program we visited was TSquared, which has only been in existence for a couple of years but is already award winning.

Classroom technology in Arkansas is far from perfect but it has shown growth and development over the past two decades. When lawmakers and educators discuss technology in the classroom today, computers are only one element of the equation. SMART boards, compressed video, Internet access, and a wide array of software tools are just a few examples of the educational technologies currently at our disposal.

In the November 2014 election, New York Bonds for School Technology passed. The investment of the two billion dollar bonds will focus on school technology upgrades including purchasing educational technology equipment and facilities, such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, desktop and laptop computers, tablets and high-speed broadband or wireless internet.

The same tools should be able to drive networks of innovation in cities as well as in our rural areas. And it is happening. It is happening in the country, it is happening in the city, and it will hopefully continue throughout this decade. We share many of the same issues; dealing with students in poverty, single family homes, long transportation routes (ours are on a school bus and not a subway), all while implementing new programs and educating students. When the country mouse and the city mouse get together in 2020, they will find they have more in common than they expect.

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Phoebe Bailey

Phoebe Bailey is director of the Southwest Arkansas Education Cooperative in Hope, Arkansas and a member of the Arkansas TICAL cadre.

One thought on “Country mice visit Big Apple cousins”

  1. I have said before and will say again, the state of Arkansas is a leader in ed tech (and no, I don’t live there)! Based on my observations, part of that can be attributed to leaders from the school site to the State Department of Education who have made instructional technology a priority. Part of it is teachers who are open to trying new approaches to instruction. And I think part of it also rests with the fact that as a smaller state, there’s less red tape to cut through than in other places where multiple layers of bureaucracy impede most innovations. Don’t rest on your laurels, but do give yourselves a pat on the back. It’s richly deserved!

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