New York’s School of One: good or evil?

I met Christina Jenkins at a Futurelab event last week, and she pointed me to the School of One pilot project:

School of One encapsulates a lot of the stuff I’ve been ranting about for years – freeing teachers up to actually teach, breaking out of the class-of-30 mindset, using computers to do what they are good at. So thumbs up, right?

Well, mabye not. Christina, who is certainly no Luddite, strongly disagrees with the programme. She told me

The trouble I have with [School of One] is that it seems to me to be an extremely efficient way of delivering math worksheets. It doesn’t have much in common with authentic problem solving, mathematical thinking, etc; I don’t know that it possibly can, given the algorithm’s need for very precise, measurable indicators of understanding. I did a program called Kumon when I was growing up because my parents wanted me to have a more solid foundation in math; I can now multiply very quickly, but I’m not sure that it did anything else for me.

I think the So1 is great for certain things (perhaps multiplying quickly, or converting fractions to decimals), but I think it places the computer/algorithm at the center of a student’s learning, and in so doing 1) limits his/her possibilities (what if he/she wants/needs to go further than the program allows?) and 2) kind of ‘solidifies’ this idea that math instruction should look like worksheets instead of building/making things, as I think students in all subjects ought to be doing.

It seems that Christina and So1’s progentinors are starting from different formulations of the issue. Is our aim to to have a society in which a high level of numeracy (and other core skills) can be taken for granted, or one in which we maximise the number of creative problem-solvers?

Would you welcome School of One in your school?


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