Hopefully, Microsoft’s involvement doesn’t become too heavy handed, but in general, I say about time. We’ve been stuck too long with teaching methods and classes designed with 1906 in mind instead of 2006+. Interdisciplinary methods are what are needed for the world the kids are going into and for them to become and stay motivated to learn.

Philadelphia opens high-tech school of the future

Philadelphia on Thursday opened a public high school where students work on wireless laptops, teachers eschew traditional subjects for real-world topics and parents can track their child’s work on the Internet.

Called ‘The School of the Future’ and created with help from software giant Microsoft, it is believed to be the first in the world to combine innovative teaching methods with the latest technology, all housed in an environmentally friendly building.

Traditional education is obsolete and fails to teach students the skills of problem-solving, critical thinking and effective communication, which they need to succeed in the 21st century, principal Shirley Grover said in an interview.

‘It’s not about memorizing certain algebraic equations and then regurgitating them in a test,’ Grover said. ‘It’s about thinking how math might be used to solve a quality-of-water problem or how it might be used to determine whether or not we are safe in Philadelphia from the avian flu.’

Here’s Microsoft’s take on the school.



  1. Jim says:

    I have been very impressed with my daughter’s traditional schools. In second grade, they learned to write paragraphs and argumentatitve papers. The math has been deeply oriented toward story problems, in addition to lots of practice and repetition – doing fractions and decimals and arithmetic. History studies the american revolution, etc.

    I don’t think traditional education is about “memorizing certain algebraic equations and regurgitating them on tests,” that’s what straw men are about. This sounds like a bunch of very expensive garbage that will turn out illiterate students who are good at using computers to plagiarize.

  2. V says:

    True, memorizing as traditional education is obsolete and inferior. (It probably always was, things are just finally start to catch up with us). But that doesn’t mean that modern, renovated education requires LCD projectors, wireless networks, and PDA’s. Changing the way you think and changing what tools you use to help you think are two completely different thngs.

  3. James Hill says:

    “How do I solve this problem without a computer?” is a realistic question, but not one M$ wants you to know the answer to.

    That fact alone makes this questionable at best.

  4. Sean says:

    I’m pretty impressed with MS for doing this, although I think it’s a little sad that it’s taken a corporation to come in and do what the government should be doing by itself. Is this the future of education?

    Are we going to see AT&T Middle School next, or Oracle Elementary? That might not be a bad thing, since a corporation may fix a lot of things our government has failed to fix, or been incapable of fixing.

    And if we can take the government out of the equation altogether, the corps. might be able to kick out the unions.

  5. Olo Baggins of Bywater says:

    “Innovative teaching methods” in education are largely like herbal medicine…some approaches have merit, but many others are complete hogwash.

    The problem is that nobody ever performs empirical studies to verify whether the new methods result in the transfer of more/better skills. Just because the new way makes everyone feel better does not mean the students know more or have better skills.

    As an example, if you have an 8th grader at home, ask him/her to multiply 245,876,092 times 243,962,972 with a pencil and paper. Betcha they can’t do it with the “innovative new math” being taught today. And that’s a shame.

  6. Mark Derail says:

    #1, in grade school the kids respect adult authority more, probably the size difference. Plus the kids are more receptive. Being easier to teach, bad unionized teachers don’t suck as much.

    The problem is higher education, high school and up. The public systems suck royally. As a parent of two teens who couldn’t afford private from grade 7+, the system totally fails to captive teens. Would private been better? Too late to find out now! Plus the 10k (minimum) per year per child.

    This is a North American problem. Here in Quebec the dropout rate from high school is over 50%.

    In contrast, Adult Ed, I know of three kids (one my own) that are actually making progress. The difference?
    Smaller groups, less authority

  7. gquaglia says:

    As an example, if you have an 8th grader at home, ask him/her to multiply 245,876,092 times 243,962,972 with a pencil and paper. Betcha they can’t do it with the “innovative new math” being taught today. And that’s a shame.

    Are you kidding. No one in the real world would ever work that equation by hand. Even before calculators, scientists would use slide rules and in ancient times the abacus was used. Your statement is like saying its a shame they don’t teach us how to make fire anymore now that we have matches and lighters.

  8. Olo Baggins of Bywater says:

    7, you miss the point, or maybe I wasn’t so clear. The methods being taught today don’t allow that problem to be solved. Nor one with five digits, for that matter. The algorithms many (all?) of us learned work for any and all numbers. But they’re “old and tired, and boring.” So the traditional approcaches are tossed away for something new, something that only works conditionally. These same kids can’t do any math in their heads, either.

    Oh, and in the Boy Scouts you can still learn how to survive without matches. I teach that stuff, it’s a blast. 🙂 …and possibly getting more relevant all the time?? LOL

  9. Ben Franske says:

    As someone in the middle of an Education PhD program I have a few things to say. I don’t want to get into a long debate about this because I simply don’t have the time. First, I have read some about these Microsoft schools but I’m no expert. That said, the general public (and the politicians that cater to their wants) knows very little about education. There is a lot (and I mean a lot) of research about how students learn best and the best methods for teaching. The problem with implementation is at least twofold.

    First, things like interdisciplinary learning work well, very well in fact. Here the implementation problem is generally cost. To do interdisciplinary learning well teachers of different subjects need to meet on a daily basis for a considerable amount of time and have additional planning time to boot. In effect you reduce the amount teachers can actually spend in front of a class by a quarter, meaning you have to hire more teachers and thus spend more. This is not something that makes the public or politicians happy. If you stary cutting corners to try and do it anyway you end up with less than satisfactory results and no one is happy. I always say that education would be the most expensive thing for the government to provide if it was done right. If people knew how much it really cost to educate someone there would probably be calls for the end of public education and a serious debate about whether education is worth it, it costs that much.

    Secondly, public perceptions of education are a barrier to improving it. There is not general public (or political) support to take research into the classroom and apply novel teaching methods. In addition to costing more things like interdisciplinary learning, more teamwork and not having to memorize useless facts and instead learning how to research and solve problems are not what the majority of people want taught in schools. Parents generally are unhappy to learn their child no longer needs to memorize massive amounts of information such as dates and names which can be easily looked up. Even in the comments here you’ll find that people will debate what students should memorize vs. not. The effect is that novel teaching methods are usually undermined and not put fully into place making them less effective. The mentality is often that “I learned all this stuff in school, why aren’t my children” without the realization that there has been a paradigm shift in the world and what was appropriate in the past may no longer be appropriate.

    My personal opinion is that people are far too open about criticizing education when they have little knowledge about how the education works. If you’re serious about wanting to make a change in education (or anything else for that matter) and want to criticize it you should spend a copious amount of time studying the research and not the junk you see in the newspapers and magazines, I mean real research studies published in refereed journals. If you start wanting to make changes before you understand why things are the way they are you end up wasting a lot of energy and can potentially cause a lot of students to be ill-prepared for their futures.

  10. Olo Baggins of Bywater says:

    I sure don’t fit with parents who think their kids should learn the same way they did. But I also have seen nationwide (novel) approaches emerge, without any reliable research of the type Ben mentions, to prove them viable. Math is a key area, where reformers (NCTM) threw out the useful parts in order to get to trig faster, to boost test scores (IMO). Our kids can actually do LESS useful math today, but they can do quadratic equations really well. Is that better? Math educators love it, mathmeticians hate it.

    All too often local schools implement half-baked programs after seeing a presentation by a publisher at a conference.

    In any case, good money will be made by optometrists in the communities where the kids look at computers all day.

  11. Mike Drips says:

    Just as an aside, Bill Gates never attended public school one day of his life. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Bill’s formative years were spent entirely in private schools.

  12. Mike Novick says:

    We always hear about these novel teaching methods, but then the schools end up worse. The only reason this school will do well is becauser they have the money to afford good teachers and administrators who can overwhelm the bad teaching methods they use. This is not something that scales to all schools. Who catres if the methods are tired and boring? What matters is if they work well. By the logic of the article, this Microsoft school needs to be torn down in 20-40 years and a new one needsd to built with brand new teaching methods because the MS way will have become tired and boring.

  13. pseudolus says:

    I see zero chance of this expanding to any appreciable fraction of school districts. The government and business DO NOT WANT critical thinkers in any quantity. A steady stream of consumers and worker/service drones is what they need to maintain society as we know it. Easily manipulated civilians are the bedrock of both of these factions of the coming theofascist empire.

  14. Shane L. says:

    I am in 9th grade. We have a small school (40-45 kids per grade). Our school has been cutting teachers and classes all to much. We have only a fraction of the electives of a school with more kids would have. Some of the big cuts have gone to computer courses and other advanced classes. Our school in an attempt to be more “technological” keeps adding useless things like tvs all over the schools displaying pointless announcements that we here on the intercome daily anyway. And installing new grading software that none of the teachers know how to use so they can’t even tell us our grades… They should be using this money for classes not crap…

    We need tech in our schools to prepare for the future but the way teachers teach now needs to stay too. You need to have a diverse array of skills. But computer sci. and shop classes are always the first to go because of lack of funding, they just cost alot more to keep going with all of the supplies needed.

    So this new “School of the Future” is never going to be the future. There is just no way to fund all of that stuff. When Schools like mine can bairly keep the sports programs running the kids just ditch to little christian schools and bigger cities to get an ed. worth talking about.

    -Shane

  15. Mr. H. Fusion says:

    #8, I’m going with gq (#7) on this. While you ask a good question, I would teach any student of mine how to solve it quite differently from what you think. In fact, you would probably mark my answer as incorrect while I would mark your answer as wrong.

    There is this thing called relevancy, and in this case the relevancy is the number of significant digits. Seldom is more then three significant digits necessary and more then four would require strong evidence of the relevancy. If the student understands how to solve to three significant digits, then they would also know how to solve it to nine.

  16. John S says:

    ““How do I solve this problem without a computer?” is a realistic question, but not one M$ wants you to know the answer to.”. Once again an excellent point from Mr. Hill. The calculator has already caused many of us to defer to technology when we need to figure something out. I am embarrassed by the math that I feel I need to use a calculator to do. I have to force myself to trust that I can figure out simple math equations in my head. There are still times when you a)do not have a calc/computer at hand b)can simply do the math faster than entering it into a calc/computer.

    This leads to my next question. Sure you can argue that solving math with a calc/computer is sensible, but what about writing skills. Handwriting was not something that was focused on when I went to school. How well will those who grow up using computers to write be able to write. I am aware that many people communicate almost entirely with computer created texts, yet I also know that there are many areas where good handwriting skills are still essential. If you have scene enough job postings you will see many that require a sample of your handwriting. Many of these are high paying professional positions.

    I am all for technology, I am using a computer to communicate right now after all. I do not, however, think that technology is a magic pill that will take the place of time and patience.

    John

  17. rofl says:

    does the “enviromnetally friendly” buuilding still have metal detectors and police on-staff?

  18. NONAME says:

    This whole education debate really defies logic in my mind.

    My impression is that people seem to be getting dumber as we become more computerized.

    One example: How many clerks do you know who can give you change back with out a digital register/computer telling them? This used to be a no brainier for any cashier not too many years ago.

    Before steam engines, people where brawnier. Now society has all kinds of mechanical aids, people have to pay for GYM memberships to stay in shape.

    I contend before computers, people where brainier. Now that society has all kinds of computational aids and TV, schools should require a rigorous understanding using pensile and paper to solve problems before they use computers to think for them.

    It seems to me there is a strong correlation between the number of Masters and PHD in education teaching elementary up to high school, (more then ever in history) the more failing students we have (more then ever in history) Yet, in college in beyond there are virtually no education PHD or Masters teaching glasses, all professors are PHDs in their respective fields and have no clue about proper teaching, yet our universities are highly respected around the world. Why is that?

    I contend if we had more math, music, English, science PHD teaching elementary and high school we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in.

  19. Nirendra says:

    16: You are right about handwriting. My job requires me to use a computer for at least 7 hours a day, and it has resulted in atrophy of my writing capability. I actually found it hard to write one full page!! My hand ached!! I now make a point to write as much as I can out of work, so that I can at least regain my old level of skill (not that high a level, but…)

    18: Good points. I also feel that people were brainier before computers. If computers are used to take over some tasks that are too burdensome for us, then we should naturally move on to other tasks to replace the ones taken over. We have not done that, content rather to do less work, and so reduce our brain activity. That’s my theory, anyway.

    Music seems to slowly be on its way out these days. That’s a real shame, because it stimulates the creative parts of the brain and helps pupils relax and become more attentive.

  20. ECA says:

    Can I make a point in here, probably not, BUT…

    By 6th GRADE…
    I wish my child to be Learning something 1/2 time… ANYTHING, and maybe ALL…
    HOW things work, how things DONT WORK…Basic Understandings, that DONT DO TIS, and DONT DO THAT…

    By 12th grade I want him In AT LEAST 3/4 tech schooling AT LEAST…. LEARNING WHY, ALGERBRA is needed, what geometry is needed, why you need to work….

    I WANT, the idea that you can go to SUMMER school and GET AHEAD… not learn behind….

  21. ECA says:

    If My child wishes to learn programming, I DONT WANT,
    MS to program THEM for MS….

    I want someone that has INDEPTH knowledge, NOT something to foster the progress of MS….
    I want them to know ALL the languages, ALL the programming…Machine, chip, and OS programming…..

    I DONT WNAT A CLONE….

  22. bilzebub says:

    I’m a teacher in Ontario, and while I agree in principle with the comment about knee-jerk debates that ignore peer-reviewed research, there are two problems that remain even if you do look to the research first.
    (1) perhaps I’m guilty of generalizing from insufficient data (not quite ‘n of one’ but…) I’m sorry, MEds and PHDs in education are largely bogus – sure, there are some good people doing good work, but there just isn’t a lot of intellectual rigor there, for the most part. Those of you in the academy know what I am talking about. When I went to teacher’s college (at the ‘best’ Canadian school) after grad school, I couldn’t believe that the profs there actually had BAs, let alone doctorates
    (2) Administators and education ministry bureaucrats will ALWAYS take any relevant research and EFF it up. Their primary goal is their own career advancement, and if you think that ‘unionized teachers’ are a problem, just go and talk to any Board of Education administator. From principals on up nowadays, they are concerned with nothing but massaging public perception, and making sure that ‘objective outcomes based testing’ scores always go up, by making those tests easier and easier (just last year, principals in our board (who no longer have ANY personal lattitude but are merely yes-men conduits for top-down provincial government edicts) informed teachers that 90% of their students WILL pass all courses… OR ELSE – and that is but one example).

    So, good luck to microsoft, I say, but don’t hold your breath awaiting a huge turnaround in education. The only thing that would help a little, as in most industries, is to encourage trust and initiative in front-line staff. Yup, try trusting teachers to care and respond to the needs of students in front of them for a change maybe (never gonna happen).

  23. Smith says:

    Educating our young, at least through high school, doesn’t require computers. It really boils down to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Any high school graduate that can read at a 12th grade level, has good writing skills (handwriting and grammar), and understands mathematics (algebra and trig) can adapt to any situation he or she will find in the work force or in college. Throw in history, geography, and a bit of music/art and that graduate is ready to take on the world.

    Computers? Kids pick that up through osmosis. What is a high school going to teach a freshman about computers that won’t be obsolete by the time he reaches college? What value is there in teaching someone how to input data into a canned program? I’ve seen too many of my cohorts conduct ANOVA calculations using Statistica without any understanding of the null hypothesis, whether their data satisfies the underlying assumptions for the test, or even what they are trying to show. When I question them on it, the typical response is, “Well the cookbook tells me I have to do this for the report.”

  24. Diane S says:

    To the poster from 9th grade.

    Something about your school is working right if you can write such a well worded and coherant response!

  25. John says:

    It’s all about adopting the modern methods of learning to teach students with a bright and more techonological impartation of knowledge. I bet you, you can’t do this all usiung conventional methods of teaching.


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