Information Age Education
   Issue Number 78
November, 2011   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education project. See and the end of this newsletter. All back issues of this newsletter are available free online at

This is the fourth of a series of IAE Newsletters exploring educational aspects of the current cognitive neuroscience and technological revolution. Bob Sylwester (Newsletter # 75) and Dave Moursund (Newsletter # 76) provide two introductory articles. Newsletter #77 and subsequent newsletters are written by guests.

For the most part, these guest articles will focus on cognitive neuroscience. However, Dave Moursund will provide Information and Communication Technology follow-up commentary to the articles. In addition, readers are invited to send their comments using the Reader Comments directions near the end of this newsletter.

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Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education:
Have Schools Become Historical Museums?

Kathie F Nunley, EdD

My son takes trombone lessons from a man who lives 20 miles away. It’s a bit far to trek every Monday afternoon, but I do it because my son very much enjoys playing trombone in his high school jazz band and Mr. Bailey was the closest trombone teacher we could find.

Mr. Bailey has been teaching trombone and trumpet for many years, but most of his income comes from his musical instrument repair business. If you need your clarinet re-corked, or an ultrasonic cleaning of your flugelhorn, he’s your guy. The area band teachers refer their students to Mr. Bailey and he has had a steady business for decades.

On our drive home last Monday, I pondered whether Mr. Bailey would still have a viable business if schools disappeared off the planet tomorrow. Were it not for school bands, how many clarinets, trumpets, flutes and flugelhorns would there be in our section of southern New Hampshire? A hundred years ago, when town bands were quite popular, perhaps Mr. Bailey could have survived without the school band programs. But today, I highly doubt there would be enough to support Mr. Bailey’s instrument repair business.

How many other industries today would be nearly extinct if not for our school system? Our schools have now become museums of sorts for many things once commonplace in our daily lives. Sadly, the world inside school has become so far removed today from the world outside of school, that it has become a foreign land that young people find increasingly difficult to participant in successfully and enthusiastically.

A Contemporary Classroom

To get a sense of this, we need only look at this year’s school supply list for a local elementary school:

30 number two pencils small bottle of Elmer's glue
pencil cap erasers one packet of Post-it notes
one box of Kleenex one box of colored pencils
one package assorted colored construction paper one ruler
one package: manila drawing paper one pencil case
one Mead cursive writing tablet three spiral notebooks
one black-and-white composition book for science one red pen
one package of lined 3 x 5 index cards a pair of safety scissors
five pocket folders with brads loose leaf 3- ring notebook
three packages wide ruled notebook paper 2 boxes of 24 crayons

It amazes me to note that with the exception of the Post-it notes and maybe the missing Big Chief tablet, the list is almost identical to the one I had when I attended elementary school, way back in the 1960s.

When I walk into an elementary school today, I also recognize the physical environment of the classroom. There is a large analog clock on the wall, colorful bulletin boards constructed out of butcher paper and cut-out construction paper, individual laminated student desks with work storage areas in them, wooden chairs, sitting on a linoleum floor, a whiteboard with the alphabet written in cursive running across the top, a wooden teacher desk in the corner with a computer on it, bookshelves lining one wall filled with a variety of children's books, a large basket in the corner with playground equipment such as rubber balls and ropes.

Other than the fact that the chalkboard has been replaced by the whiteboard and the teacher’s desk now has a computer, the classroom looks very much like it did when I was in elementary school all those many decades ago.

How is it that schools have managed to remain somewhat fixed-in-time, while the rest of society kept moving? Possibly because schools have always been centered around literature and the printed word, while society has moved on to the use of alternate narrative forms.

The written word was valuable for hundreds of years because it was the most stable and durable format we had available for recording ideas and information. Today though, we have alternate narrative forms that equal, if not surpass, the advantages of printed literature. Unfortunately, the concept of integrating alternative literary devices has instilled fear rather than excitement in many educators. Thus we cling to our old dogma.

The Chasm Between School and Home

If I reminisce back to my early grade-school years, I recall that anticipating the first day of school was an exciting time. I would eagerly gather my school supplies together. I would carefully arrange my pencils in my pencil case, insert it along with the lined notebook paper into my 3-ring binder, and it all made me feel part of the grown-up, real world.

For I saw all these objects used by the adults in my world. My father used a pencil and slide-rule to calculate loan rates and noted them in a spiral notebook. My mother wrote lists and letters on lined paper using a ballpoint pen. Our house was full of often-used hard cover books such as encyclopedias, cookbooks, science books and an assortment of reference books. The teller at the bank would carefully write my small deposits into the paper passbook I carried in and out with me. I would often accompany my father to the main Chicago public library where he would peruse the stacks while doing research for one of his projects. In other words, the tools used inside my school matched the tools I saw used outside my school.

My choices for amusement back then were simple too, and what little disparity existed between school and home favored school. Our house had one color television set which sat in the living room on a TV cart. We had our choice of three channels to watch -- game shows in the morning, soap operas in the afternoon, the nightly news at 6 PM, and a variety of different programs in the evening. Once a year, a channel ran The Wizard of Oz, which was always a much-anticipated event. If I wanted to talk to a friend in town, I could call her on the corded telephone attached to the kitchen wall. If I wanted to visit with a friend who had moved away, I wrote a letter.

Obviously our lives and homes today are very, very different. Nearly all of our students have their own personal laptop, iPad, or at least share a family computer. The majority of them stay in touch with their friends either through social networking sites or by texting on their personal cell phones. The idea of going to the library to do research would seem ludicrous. In fact, it is the opinion of most students that if it cannot be found on the Internet, it is not worth looking for. Most of us rarely pick up a pencil and paper and the idea of using them to write a letter is a distant memory.

Television networks now run programs 24 hours a day with seemingly thousands of channels. Visual and auditory entertainment is available within seconds with the touch of a button. Access to information and entertainment is almost unlimited and instantaneous.

Close the Chasm

Forty years ago schools were an exciting place to be. It was the place that we could go to meet and chat with our friends. Books filled with information were stored in a library just down the hall. Technology meant that if you were lucky, there would be a filmstrip to watch during social studies class. And if you were really lucky, you got to be the chosen student who would sit beside the projector and flip the filmstrip to the next frame when the record player sounded the tone.

Teachers were a wonderful and appreciated source of information. The pictures in the textbooks provided us with a way to see our world, and even a brand-new box of 64-count crayons was an exciting possession.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that a box of 64-count crayons or a teacher’s lecture can no longer compete with the excitement of video gaming, graphic-arts software, and media technology.

And yet somehow we feel justified in expecting students to be excited about signing off of their computer games, leaving their media-filled home, taking the music ear-buds out, pocket their cell phone for the next hour, and sit at the same laminated desk used by their grandparents. Then pick up a pencil, get out a piece of lined notebook paper and listen to a teacher talk in front of the room while the big analog clock stares down to remind them how long it will be until they can leave and go back home, where the amusements and information are now kept.


Our challenge as educators is to embrace our shifting role from sage-on-the-stage to coach-on- the-sidelines. We need to accept the value of alternative ways of communication and the fact that we are no longer the sole, nor perhaps even the best source, of information. We need to rethink how to utilize the variety of media available today, which equal or exceed traditional ways to communicate the ideas of a culture and the knowledge of a society.

We must let go of the old dogma, lest we go the way of the dinosaurs.

Resources and Further Reading

DeAngellis, T. (2011). Is technology ruining our kids? Not according to public health researcher Michele Ybarra, who outlined why, in general, there is little cause for alarm. Monitor on Psychology, Vol 42(9), pg 62.

Gabriel, T. (2011). More Pupils Are Learning Online, Fueling Debate on Quality. New York Times. April 5.

Keengwe, J. (2007). Faculty Integration of Technology into Instruction and Students’ Perceptions of Computer Technology to Improve Student Learning. Journal of Information Technology Education, Vol 6. pg 169 - 180.

Kolpfer, E. et al. (2009). Using the Techology of Today, in the Classroom Today: The Instructional Power of Digital Games, Social Networking Simulations and How Teachers Can Leverage Them. The Education Arcade, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Available in pdf at:

Markey, P. & Markey C. (2010). Vulnerability to violent video games: A review and integration of personality research. Review of General Psychology, Vol 14(2), 82-91.

Quillen, I. (2010). Tracking E-Learning Growth. Education Week’s Digital Education Blog. Available at:

Rosen, L. (2011) Poke Me: How Social Networks can Both Help and Harm our Kids. Presented August 6, 2011 American Psychological Association National Convention, Washington, DC.

Kathie F. Nunley

Kathie F Nunley is an educational psychologist who delights teachers from around the world with her practical and inspirational solutions to the challenges of today's diverse classrooms. Her popular seminars and workshops combine classroom experience with her current research. A noted speaker at state, national and international conferences, Dr. Nunley is the author of many books and articles on teaching in mixed-ability classrooms including “Differentiating the High School Classroom” (Corwin Press). Her work has been used by institutions and publications around the globe, including Family Circle magazine, ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Canada Living, and the Washington Post. She is the developer of the Layered Curriculum® method of instruction ( and the founder of She has spent over 15 years as a classroom teacher in both urban and suburban schools. Her website:

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