Learning 'like it's 1999': RPS students return to low-tech classrooms due to network shutdown

Apr. 11—ROCHESTER — This week, math teacher Michelle Bacon went digging through her cabinets at Willow Creek Middle School and pulled out a 20-year-old spare light bulb a colleague needed for a projector. That light bulb — years older than any of her students — was suddenly a commodity as the school found itself operating in a low-tech world.

Rochester Public Schools

canceled classes on Monday

so teachers and administrators could transition away from technology in the face of

"unusual activity" on the district's network.

While it's been an inconvenience in some ways, the staff at Willow Creek know their students' education is more complex and profound than the technology they use.

"The tech is just a tool. ... It's an extension of human capacity," Willow Creek Principal Chris Fogarty said. "Keep the main thing the main thing: Safe schools that are world class."

Even if technology isn't necessary to learn, it does impact a lot of operations in a modern school. Suddenly, attendance had to be taken by hand. Email wasn't available, so the staff was communicating either in person or by radios.

No YouTube, no Google Classroom, no virtual assignments or digital textbooks. The most true definition of "old school" there ever could be.

Students had mixed opinions on the situation.

"I feel like it's easier to focus not having to use all the technology," seventh-grader Alex Lewis said.

Meanwhile, Kingston Thomas, Lewis' classmate sitting in the next seat over, had other thoughts about the new environment, saying it's harder to be low-tech.

That feeling was common among the students.

"I think it's frustrating just because we've been used to it for so long," eighth-grader Stella Haakenson said. "The office does not seem to be having a good time right now."

Another student described it as a mere inconvenience without much substantial difference.

Regardless of how the students feel about the change, Fogarty contextualized the situation as a learning opportunity for them. He said some of the skills the school tries to foster are problem solving and resiliency. Enter today's real-life case study.

And the teaching staff? They all slipped seamlessly into old routines — or at least those who have already logged a number of years in the profession.

Bacon still remembers how that spare bulb ended up in her cupboard all those years ago. It was the first day of school and the one that had been in her projector burned out. A student ran off to get a replacement and came back with two.

"He came back and said, 'Here, I brought you a spare,'" Bacon said.

That spare light bulb may have been sitting in the cupboard for years on end, but the projector itself is something Bacon still used in her classroom even before she had to go low-tech on Tuesday. She likes it because she's able to show students exactly how she's writing something out. She also said it allows her to layer things on top of each other, allowing students to see an example better.

Across the school, another teacher found the low-tech world to be right in her wheelhouse.

"We're partying like it's 1999," said Tammy Mammel, an English teacher with charisma rivaling the rockstar she referenced. "I was able to just whip stuff together right away because I've been doing this job for like 87 years. Now, when we had to go to technology during distance learning, that about killed me."