"K12 Ed Tech: How What We Once Were Got Us To Where We Are Now!"

SUBTITLED: “A STORY TOLD BY RE@L CHAIRMAN, DALE LAFRENZ, WHO WAS THERE FOR ALL OF IT!”

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It wasn’t so many years ago that technology in the K12 classroom consisted of a 16mm movie projector and a borrowed film, or a clumsy filmstrip project (assuming you could find some relevant filmstrips), or a huge slide-rule hanging above the blackboard (which gratefully was limited only to math classrooms). BLACKBOARD1

This was back when everything notable was written on the blackboard by cautious teachers who had learned how to write without looking at the board, so they could watch for the unruly among us. Unless, of course, you were an effective teacher like this one.

Things began to change for the better when emerging tech businesses back in the late 60’s saw the K12 market for what it could truly become: a billion dollar opportunity to make even more billions creating, testing and selling far more sophisticated learning aids. Some of those new tools were good and some were bad.

Over the next series of RE@L Blogs we will bring you a terse and pithy review of the story of how what we have today came to be. They say you can learn from the mistakes of history if you study history.

So, here’s a series of stories that can help us all determine our new goals and, more importantly, how to get there. DaleRE@L002 imagesOur Co-RE@L Blogmeister and RE@L Chairman, Dale LaFrenz, was there back when a learning aid consisted of scrounging something that would help kids learn more and better. He schlepped a half dozen old, worn tires of different sizes into his classroom to help his more challenged learners discover that no matter the size of the tire, the ratio of the distance around the tire to the distance across the center was always the same!  Clever?  Yes! 

In Part 1 of this series of informative blogs and historical stories, first we address how technology went from pencil and paper to more sophisticated teaching and learning tools. Some of these new tools actually helped a lot, others less so, and far too few did much at all. We are still learning! We won’t address the overhead projector as one of these tools even though it let the teacher face and read the eyeballs of the students, and use prepared slides instead of chalk.

Other tools came along as well, but the epochal changes began when more electronic tools were created to help both teachers teach better and students learn more. We discovered that for us to get smarter our tools needed to get smarter, too. Computers came to our rescue.

So let’s get started with this insightful statement: “Before computers got small, they were still a BIG deal for education.” – Instructional Computing Why?

Teletype days1Students learned how to write programs on a computer to help them solve problems. The power of the computer motivated them to want to solve more. That was great news! But it also required being in a computer lab, until someone discovered that an electric keyboard, called a teletype, could communicate over long distance phone lines to a computer lab miles away.

That discovery was a game changer. The picture of the kids all working together writing a BASIC program, in the graphic to the right, was much like the setting in the janitor’s closet next to my classroom. Yes, computers were huge back then,very huge! But, the teletype allowed us to connect with the computer. Click on the graphic to the right to see the larger photos.

It clattered away at the astounding speed of 30 characters per second, but it took a lot of hard work for kids and teachers writing the program to make that happen. Dale was on a team of teachers at the University of Minnesota High School who authored a series of books called CAMP that were very popular and helpful.

REAL2What really lit the fire of change was when classrooms everywhere started playing a simulation/learning game called “Oregon Trail,” that Don Rawitsch helped write. Millions of kids played this instructive game, and OT fans still exist everywhere. So what was the lesson we learned?

Yes, big computers wouldn’t fit in a classroom, but the teletypes did. It may look clumsy now, but it was game-changing back then: If we flowcharted our problem carefully, and wrote our computer code carefully, we could get the computer to help us solve problems and do things never before thought possible.

Follow us these next few weeks for the rest of the history on how computers came to change the classroom in ways never thought possible.

In this, the 50th year anniversary of educational computing, RE@L has many of the same team who brought MECC’s effective and game-changing programs to K12 classrooms all across the country. That includes the renowned Oregon Trail, the leading educational simulation of all time.

It won’t be long and you’ll see more new go-to RE@L products that will be leaders in the future. Stay tuned!

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.

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