Practical Application, Technology
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The 21st Century Mason School by Jennifer Spencer

What image comes to your mind when hear the words “21st Century School”? Computers? Every child working on a laptop? SMART Boards? Gadgets and gizmos? Charlotte Mason?

One of the tricky things about adhering to a philosophy that peaked a century ago is that it is so tempting to hearken back to a bygone era and get stuck there with a romanticized picture of the governess and her cherub-faced charges frolicking in the meadow. But logic tells us that human children cannot have changed that much in one hundred years. Teaching then was hard work, just as it is now. Finding books to use in the curriculum must have been difficult as well, because Mason and her assistants spent a lot of time reading and evaluating new books, and she sometimes says something about such-and-such a book being the best that was available at the moment, as though she were waiting for someone to write something better. My point here is that Mason adhered to principles as opposed to specific materials. She used what was available to her.

One hundred years later, we have so much more available to us than Mason had. This begs the question: What would Mason have thought about all the technology that surrounds us every day? Would she have owned a Kindle? Would she have been on Facebook? Would she have used SMART Boards in her classrooms? It is difficult to say. I certainly do not think she would have thoughtlessly accepted every new technology just because it was new or because it excited the children. (Did she ever do anything thoughtlessly?) But I have to think she would have evaluated technology, just as she evaluated books and methods, in light of the principles laid out in her volumes. (You can read these principles at  http://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/20Principles.html.)

A couple of years ago, my school received a grant to put Promethean Boards, projectors, laptops, and document cameras in every classroom. At first, I was not sure how I felt about that. I was afraid that the novelty and the entertainment value of the technology might overshadow the content of the curriculum. So I used the technology in a very guarded way until I took time to think about ways to use it that would enhance the curriculum rather than detract from it. I realize that most Mason schools do not have access to this kind of technology, but I think everyone could benefit from looking at technology through this lens. Here are a few of the resources I have found valuable–and FREE:

The Class Blog–Working in a classroom setting, I sometimes find that parents can be uncertain about some of Mason’s methods because they are different from those they grew up with. This year, I am using www.blogger.com to keep parents feeling connected to what is going on in our class each day. This site has privacy settings so that access is by invitation only. I upload pictures taken from my cell-phone, videos, and phonecasts (see next entry) so that parents can see with their own eyes the methods and their results.

Phonecasts–(a.k.a. “phlogs”) This summer I attended a technology workshop at Gardner-Webb, and this was my golden nugget for the day. If you go to www.ipadio.com and register your cell phone, you will be sent a PIN number. You call a number from your phone, type in your PIN number, and hand the phone to your child, who then gives an oral narration. Once you hang up, you go to your ipadio account and you have a permanent sound recording AND transcription for free! This is a great way to keep documentation without having to transcribe your child’s oral narrations by hand. It would also be very useful during exam week. Also, each phlog has a URL, which means you can email it to dad at work or to skeptical grandparents, or you can place the link in your blog. You can also copy the transcription and paste it into a Word document so that you can edit. (Sometimes the voice recognition software gets things wrong.)

Google Earth–If you have not seen Google Earth, you are missing something spectacular. It is a program that has to be downloaded to your computer. Once you have installed it, you can type in an address or attraction and see satellite images. A friend told me yesterday that she was reading to her child about dikes in Amsterdam. After the passage was read and narrated, she asked her daughter to describe what she thought a dike looked like. Then they went to Google Earth and were able to see one up close. You can find Google Earth at www.earth.google.com.

Olga’s Gallery–This is a site where you can find one of the largest online collections of art. Search by the artist’s name and see a comprehensive collection of his or her work, along with biographies and information about each piece. I use the images slated for picture study as my computer wallpaper (projected onto my Promethean Board) for two weeks each. View Olga’s Gallery at www.abcgallery.com.

Wordle–This one is fun, though there may be fewer uses for it in a Mason school than some of the other sites. Wordle is a place where you can copy and paste large amounts of text and create a “Word Cloud”. Here is an example of a word cloud I made out of the first four chapters of Mason’s A Philosophy of Education. The more times a word appears in the text, the larger its image in the word cloud. This is useful for pulling out the main themes in difficult documents like the Declaration of Independence, or for helping older children with composition by allowing them to see whether or not the most prominent ideas are the ones they intended. Make your own word cloud at www.wordle.net.

Word Cloud for the first 4 chapters of "Philosophy of Education"

Skype–You are probably already familiar with this as a tool to talk to people or hold a video conference online for free. But what about the classroom uses? There are probably many, but the one that intrigues me most is using it to obtain that most elusive of resources–the foreign language teacher. If you teach in a school setting, you may already have a foreign language teacher. But for homeschoolers, this one is huge. (After all, we do not live in the days when we have a French maid to talk to our children for a half-hour every day!) Up until now, most have had to be content with CDs, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, even though the very most important aspect of foreign language learning is the living voice. But what if you could partner up with a native speaker and use Skype to bring him or her into your home? What if you could even form a relationship with a family that lives in Spain or France or any other country, where you could barter? You could teach their child English and they could teach yours their native language. Oh, the possibilities! If you do not have Skype yet, get it at www.skype.com.

These are just a few of the resources available today that can complement a Mason education in the 21st century. If you have a wonderful resource that is not mentioned here, please post a comment and share how the technology can be used in a Mason setting.

© Jennifer Spencer 2010

This entry was posted in: Practical Application, Technology

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Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.

3 Comments

  1. mum2six says

    Very insightful article, Jennifer! I absolutely agree that technology has its place. (And this spoken by someone who is NOT very techie!) Many of the technologies are unnecessary, but the ones you mention above are grand! Class blogs would seem to keep parents and teachers much more communicative. For homeschool parents, blogs have helped to keep relatives aprised of a child’s work. Phonecasts are cool, though I don’t think it is something I would personally utilize. Google Earth is fantastic! We have used it when searching for a home to see the outlying areas. I never thought to use it for teaching purposes. Olga’s Gallery is outstanding, one I had not heard of. Wordle..well, just plain fun! I’m sure Ms. Mason would approve of fun! Finally, Skype can be an absolute lifeline for many families. We have 2 children in the military, and once deployed, Skype will be our way to ‘interact.’ I love the idea of bartering for language lessons!
    Now, when it comes to e-readers or Facebook…well, I’m not there…yet!

  2. Jennifer Spencer says

    I wanted to add to this blog that I have been on the fence about e-readers for a while, but I received a Kindle for Christmas and I LOVE it! Even if you do not want to invest in the device itself, you can get the Kindle application for free for your PC, iPod Touch/iPhone, or Mac. There are more than 16,000 titles available for free, most of which are classic literature and many of which are out of print. Even the books that are not free cost very little–anywhere from $0.99 to around $10.00. Happy reading!

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