01/06/2014 05:43 pm ET Updated Mar 08, 2014

Reinventing the One-room Schoolhouse

Everywhere educators go these days, someone is talking about standards. Meeting standards has become a prime concern for all educators. Given the new Common Core Standards in PA, educators are attempting to integrate disciplines in order to align standards. It has become evident that we can no longer teach in a compartmentalized, isolated manner where each discipline has no relevance to another.

When thinking about the new standards challenge, for some reason the one-room schoolhouse comes to mind. When I think of a one-room schoolhouse, I think of a range of grade levels in a large room and students learning at various levels. The amazing thing to me about the one-room schoolhouse is that there was only one teacher in the room teaching multiple grade levels and multiple skill levels, all at the same time. Does this sound familiar? Today we call it differentiating instruction.

But, let's think about the one-room schoolhouse from a 21st century point of view.

Many schools today use a period day. Every 40 minutes or so the bell rings, or in the case of an elementary school, the teacher ends one subject and begins a new subject. In the one-room schoolhouse of the future, learning is continual and teachers blend multiple subjects. In the one-room schoolhouse model, interdisciplinary activities are no longer the exception, but the standard. The term "subject" would no longer mean reading or math because students would be taking classes titled problem solving, creativity and collaboration and even these would hardly be recognized as subjects. They would master all of their core standards within these classes.

We already use differentiated instruction today, but in the one-room schoolhouse of the future, it takes on new meaning. Think about how one would differentiate a lesson in the creativity class using the math and science standards, or if you were in the collaboration class using the language arts standards. The differentiation of content, process or product takes on a whole new meaning.

Now let's think about technology. Of course, technology would play a key role in the school day; however, it would not have to play a critical role. What I am saying is that we do not have to assume that we cannot teach effectively if we do not have a classroom full of iPads with a Smartboard in the front of the classroom. Rather, we need to assume that if we use the technology that we have available to us differently, we can meet the standards of the 21st century.

Just the other day I was watching a teacher teach a lesson in her science class (at least it was during the 40 minutes dedicated to science). As I watched I realized that I forgot that it was science class. There were students trying to solve an issue about the lack of growth in their plants while others were journaling their findings. A few students were mathematically trying to figure out what the growth rate should have been in the allotted time, while others were looking for scientific reasons as to why their plant didn't grow as much as the control plant. There was another group of students on computers in the back of the room researching and sharing their data with a classroom overseas. It appeared that there were 6 students in each group. Three were in the classroom and three were online in the overseas class. The one plant was in their classroom while the other was in the overseas classroom. It was a truly amazing lesson. As I watched and thought about the one-room schoolhouse, I realized that successful instruction is all about the teacher. I realized that there are teachers out there who are teaching in the "one-room schoolhouse" futuristic model. They have transformed their classroom into a global one-room schoolhouse. Perhaps others will follow and create a new pathway forward, learning from our past -- one room, a multitude of possibilities with students of unique abilities working creatively and collaboratively.