Ananth Pai is an elementary school teacher who has two decades of experience in using technology to improve business operations. He has worked in India, Singapore and the United States and is now in his fourth year as a teacher at Matoska International in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.
“Mr. Pai, I have a petition and all the students in our class have signed it,” declared Sabrina as she approached me with a document in one had and flexing the other like Rosie the Riveter. This was my student last year, in third grade, who was agitated over a provocative social studies unit I had started two days before. The petition seeks to replicate the data-driven, scalable, game-based classroom environment that helps our class achieve nearly two years of learning growth at a cost of less than cents per student a day.
The social studies unit was about Rights and Responsibilities. Jeremiah, one of my students, commented, “All classrooms should have technology like our class.” In his opinion, since the future was guaranteed to have more technology, students had a ‘right’ to learn using such tools. Through personal saving and with some grants, I had acquired the computers, Nintendo DS, learning games, voice recorders to build reading fluency, and other tools we now use in the classroom. The computers allow us to access online sites like iCivics and many other online games for reading and math.
His comment opened an opportunity to teach a lesson about Rights and Responsibilities through experience. Realizing that such a right was not in the actual law, and no one ever acquired or appreciated a right they didn’t struggle for, I proceeded to remove all of the technology in the room.
The rest of the afternoon sank into pandemonium. Students were aghast at the fact that I had removed the essential tools they needed to achieve their mission: to finish the year at the fifth grade level. A protest song was written and chanted all the way out of the building. Sabrina saw an opportunity when I was out of school the next day. Based on her knowledge from playing iCivics games and other reading we had done, she decided to start a petition. She wrote it with the help of her parents, edited it with input from other students, and delivered it to me. The technology was restored!
Because the goals of the petition go beyond our classroom, it remains on our website. The petition seeks to make it a law that all classrooms have technology that students can use. It became newsworthy and two television crews have done local stories about it. The videos and the petition are continuing to draw a good deal of attention online.
Many have signed the petition online. Most recently, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor heard about the students’ petition. Her recorded message of support and the offer to help students can be heard on our website. Justice O’Connor is the inspiration behind the www.iCivics.org site which uses games to teach children and adults about all aspects of government.
Additionally, state legislators, state wide education and business leaders have visited our room. Students eagerly share how all students learn at their individual level with the scalable, data-driven, game based curriculum. Students tell them that learning without computers and the other tools in the classroom at all times is like expecting a school bus to move without wheels.
Standardized test results show the class has grown from a starting third grade average to fifth grade level in reading and math. The lost instructional time, behavior management staffing and the set backs the students suffer in the long term when they are unengaged are costs we are currently incurring. At ten cents per student a day, if we can redirect the course for our youngsters by engaging them in their learning, shouldn’t we start acting on Sabrina’s petition today?
Visit our website for the petition and news videos of our game based classroom.