Two recent events I witnessed this week while in fourth grade classrooms have made me think of the year 1993. The first was a commercial campaign ran by AT&T that year that was titled “You Will” and the second was how much was known about the brain in 1993 while I was studying psychology in college. If you go on You Tube and put in AT&T and “You Will,” you can probably view this old commercial. Tom Selleck does the narration and the listener hears a series of questions such as:
“-Have you ever borrowed a book from thousands of miles away?
-Crossed the country without ever asking for directions?
-Sent someone a fax from the beach?
-Have you ever paid a toll without slowing down?
-Bought concert tickets from a cash machine (touch screen-technology)?
-Or tucked your baby in from a phone booth (video screen)?
-Attended a meeting in you bare feet?
-Ever watched a movie you wanted to the minute you wanted to?”
Tom goes on to say that “You will and the company that will bring it to you is AT&T.” It is funny to think that the cell phone wasn’t even mentioned in this commercial as a way to do a lot of these things. In fact, there is a scene where a mom goes into a phone booth to use a videoconference to talk to her baby. Many of these things that appeared to be science fiction in 1993 are now common in 2011 - i.e. eBooks, GPS’s, iPads/lap-tops, Fast-Lane transponders, Skype/Facetime (video conferencing) and On-Demand television.
When I walked into a fourth grade classroom this week I witnessed the students using a Skpe connection and the interactive white board to talk to a classroom in Arizona. Students study regions of the United States in the fourth grade curriculum and the students were at that time studying the South East. The Pine Glen students were directly asking other students what it was like to live in that area of the country and vice-versa. To me this was science fiction in 1993 but to students in fourth grade in 2011 this normal.
Last night my first grade daughter asked that instead of my wife or I reading her a bedtime story she could read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to her two-year old sister. While reading the story, she would stop at appropriate places and ask her sister to make predication questions and any connections (to herself, other books she has heard, or the world). My first grade daughter was clearly modeling her teacher showing a “best-practice.” While in another fourth grade classroom this week, I witnessed a guided reading group and the teacher was asking predicting questions, having students make connections and many other great “best-practices.” This likewise made me reflect that in 1993 we didn’t have the brain research to show empirical proof that some teacher strategies or “best-practices” actually had an effect on the brain. I remember finding it incredibly thrilling and rewarding 6 years ago when four of my former students had brain scans done prior to me delivering reading instruction at the beginning of the year and then the same scans done at the end of the school year. We could see actually physical growth and a change in their brains. These “best practices” are so commonly understood now that across the country and at all grade levels teachers are utilizing them.
This is an incredible time to be in the field of education. When I come back to my office, after doing walk-throughs in classrooms or an observation, several people have asked me, “Why do you have such a big smile on your face?”. I frequently respond I that I just saw students learning. Maybe I should include that I just time traveled into the future. In the words of Christopher Lloyd as “Doc” Brown from the 1985 movie Back to the Future “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”