3 Teaching Practices of the 1930s Reimagined: Using Technology in the Classroom

My grandma, Florence, was born in 1914 – years before the spiral notebook was invented, decades before the ballpoint pen began exploding in our pockets, and nearly a century before the Apple iPad hit store shelves. Remarkably, today-at the age of 104 years old-Grandma Florence has been using her own iPad for emailing, Facetiming, and Googling for the past four years.

Grandma Florence was a teacher in a one-room school house in rural Wisconsin in the 1930s and 1940s. Equipped with not much more than pencils, paper notebooks, a few crayons, and a chalkboard, she was dedicated to providing each of her students-she fondly refers to them as “pupils”-with a proper education.

Because Grandma Florence has always been open-minded and eager to learn, I began to imagine how she would have used the technology tools available today to enhance her teaching practices of the past. Read on to learn about her experiences in the one-room school house and find out how I gave three of her teaching practices makeovers with the infusion of 21st century technology.

Please note: There are many valuable technology tools available for educators—so many, it can be overwhelming! I have provided some suggestions, based on my own knowledge and experiences, just to get interested readers started with infusing more technology into their own educational practices.

Teaching Practice #1 – Class Recitations/Lectures

Grandma Florence shares what a typical school day was like in the 1930s and 1940s:

When 9:00 comes around, I round the pupils to come in to their single or double desks which opened at the top for their books, tablets [not to be confused with iPads or other electronic tablets], and pencils. We usually took a few minutes for telling what is new in their lives or ponder a question.

Then the time would be here to begin the class recitations [lectures] in the front. Each grade would come and sit on some small chairs for instruction on a subject -reading, penmanship, or arithmetic. The class lasted from 15 minutes to a half hour, so I had to be well-prepared to be able to get in all eight grades.

The afternoon consisted of more class recitations in front with each grade, and art or music as a whole class. We were especially sure to have the lessons everyday because the superintendent of schools would come without notifying us.

*My Technology Makeover*

Rather than standing in front of her students to lecture for the majority of the day, I think Grandma Florence would embrace the flipped classroom model by utilizing screencasting. This model allows students to access lessons anytime and anywhere with personalized learning to meet the unique needs of all students. She would have more time to further instruction for students who are struggling with the content and more time to challenge those who have mastered the content.

She would share her sense of adventure by taking her students on virtual fieldtrips all around the world. Special guests would be welcomed to her classroom via Skype to share knowledge and experiences, and to build relationships. Guests might include parents, community leaders, and authors. Perhaps she would host a “virtual career day” with professionals around the community.

Grandma’s students would become proud authors with help from Book Creator and Storybird. Her students would enjoy preparing for tests using the game-based technology, Kahoot and she would collect valuable assessment data to steer her instruction using Exit Ticket.

Teaching Practice #2 - Students Teach Students
Grandma Florence had nearly 40 students in her one-room school house each year, spanning from first grade to eighth grade. She was responsible for teaching reading, penmanship (much emphasis was put on handwriting at that time), math, history, geography, and some art and music.

Because of the large number, the students in the upper grades would often help the students in the lower grades. Grandma Florence recalled, “Sometimes I would let them go in the hallway to work together because of the interruptions from the class being held in the front of the room. How anyone did learn anything in that small classroom, with the commotion at times, is quite unbelievable.”

*My Technology Makeover*

If Grandma Florence were still teaching today, I imagine she would partner with another teacher to continue to enable students to teach (and learn from) each other. For example, if she were an 8th grade science teacher, she might have her students create videos using iPads to explain basic physics concepts to students in 3rd grade. The videos would be uploaded and stored on TeacherTube or her own YouTube channel for easy viewing access.

Grandma Florence would also have her 8th grade students create a blog using edublogs to provide an online platform for the 3rd graders to ask the 8th graders questions and to have discussions. Her students would do research and collaborate with one another using Diigo to accurately provide information for the younger students.

To further support productive student collaboration and learning (and to save paper), most likely Grandma Florence would utilize a few of the many features of Google Classroom including assigning, grading, and organizing student work. She would also take advantage of CueThink, which increases problem-solving and math skills through peer learning.

Teaching Practice #3 – Communicating with Families
There was, indeed, electricity in the one-room school house (I asked), there was even a telephone-but only to be used for emergencies. So how did Grandma Florence communicate with families in the 1930s and 40s? Smoke signals? Carrier pigeons? Nope-just word of mouth, which was miraculously effective at that time.

For example, when it was time for the annual Christmas program put on by the students, all the family members would be in attendance without any sort of invitations or reminders in writing. The same is true for the annual end of the school year picnic. Grandma Florence recalls it being “a much more simple time when families weren’t so stressed and overbooked.”

*My Technology Makeover*

In today’s world, Grandma Florence would have a classroom Facebook page and a Twitter account to notify families of upcoming special events and important dates.

Also, installed on her smartphone would be a school-home communication app such as Bloomz or Remind to coordinate events such as parent-teacher conferences, and to share classroom updates and photos (without having to share her personal cell phone number).

Once a school teacher and always a learner, my grandma is the most remarkable person I know. She was my inspiration for becoming a teacher and has instilled a deep appreciation for opportunities to learn and to grow. I hope you have been inspired with some ideas to expand and enhance your own teaching practices.

One final personal note: Although Grandma Florence agrees that the possibilities with technology are invaluable, one skill she would continue to teach today would be cursive writing. She has the most beautiful handwriting and will always appreciate handwritten letters.

Interested in learning more about how to implement technology into your classroom? Check out our new technology courses:


Jill Rockwell
Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices. Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin.