Recently, I sat down over Skype to speak with two teachers from the Lewisville Independent School District (LISD) in Texas. When Kerry Woods and Dina Estes, from Stewart’s Creek Elementary, told me they teach in Multiage classrooms, the wheels in my head started spinning. I immediately thought about the one-room schoolhouses of the Wild Wild West. This was the first time I had encountered Multiage classrooms in the K-12 system. At the university level, my classes are all mixed with students of different ages and levels, and it works very well. Would it work well in K-12? Let’s see what our Lewisville teachers had to say.
The first thing that hit me was the enthusiasm of these teachers.
“We are very excited to share how 30hands has transformed the way our students show their thinking and learning!”
Wow. This was a powerful statement, delivered with vigor and conviction. Nothing sends chills down the spine like hearing teachers talk about transforming their students. If we don’t aim high, we will never get close to what we aspire to achieve.
Kerry and Dina each have separate classrooms with 17 students each. About half are Kindergartners and half are 1st Graders, but the students work together as one class. The two classes even collaborate on some projects. The teachers both believe in Project-Based Learning and Formative Assessments as methods to help students learn better. These beliefs led them to the 30hands Storyteller app for the iPad. Although they only have 4 iPads per classroom, they see this as an opportunity for the students to work together.
At first, the teachers modeled how to create 30hands presentations with the students and how they should learn. As young learners, the students may not write very well, but they know how to explain what they are learning. Very quickly, they learned how to navigate through the app, and they became independent learners. From their teachers, they learned they should re-record their reading and explanations when their narration is not clear or can use improvement. Using iterative creativity helps them improve their fluency skills.
“30hands is the only app that lets them re-record. This is one of the biggest features,” said Kerry.
After taking pictures, creating drawings and arranging their slides, they are ready to narrate. The hallway between the two classrooms is called the “Collaboration Station”. This is where they go to record their projects when they need a little quieter space for speaking clearly.
“It’s really cool to watch them use 30hands to share their learning wherever they are,” said Dina.
The tool has become one of the foundational apps on the iPads at LISD, and the teachers use it weekly in their classrooms for projects in Math, Social Studies, Science and English Language Arts. One project involved the students going around school taking pictures of 3D objects and then labeling them. In their digital story, they explained what the real world was like. They also did an awesome project about the person they thought was the most influential person in history: Lincoln, Washington, MLK. They drew pictures, took photos, found images, wrote the script and told the story — all independently.
Some of the project created by the students include:
- A project by one student explaining the Multiage classroom to those who do not know what it is:
- A project about Abraham Lincoln (using the word “abolished”!):
- A team project on a 3D object:
- A project on plants:
Kerry and Dina told me that their pilot with Multiage classrooms has been deemed successful, so it is expanding to grades 2 and 3 for the next school year. They are hoping to be able to upgrade to 30hands Pro to take advantage of video clips to model the Laws of Motion. They sent me a follow-up email with a message from their students:
“We loved getting to speak with you yesterday! We told our kiddos about it today and they thought it was so cool! One friend decided our classes were famous. They are so precious and funny. :)”
Let’s return to the question of whether Multiage classrooms are effective in K-12. The blog on New Approaches to Learning states that “One great benefit of the multi-age classroom is the opportunity to foster collaborative learning.” Seems like this is happening in Lewisville.
Most studies, including this one from Dr. David Pratt in 1986, indicate that Multiage classrooms do not have any measurable effect on academic outcomes; however, many seem to indicate that they have a great positive effect on keeping kids in school (dropout prevention) and helping them learn to be more socially adaptable by making friendships across age groups. This seems to be the case at LISD, too. Check out the Multiage video by Kendall above.
In New Zealand, where Multiage classrooms seem to be more prevalent than anywhere else, the consensus is that great teachers make the classroom a great learning environment, and the environment does not overcome the problems introduced by bad teachers. So, it’s less about the type of classroom and more about the type of teacher.
As Clayton Christensen has found, the reason kids go to school (and stay in school) is to have fun with friends and to feel successful. Perhaps, a Multiage classroom orchestrated by great teachers will help our kids accomplish exactly that. If they don’t stay in school, they will most definitely not have great academic achievement.
Is a Multiage classroom in your future? Have you taught in a Multiage classroom? Are you using PBL or Digital Storytelling? Let us know what you think.
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