The Return of the School Sleuth

For the last 18 months or so, three {{1}} colleagues and I have been immersed in educational technology, trying to figure out how it is being used and abused in our schools.

Technology and the internet changed the rest of our world a long time ago. Now, federal and state government are spending billions to get our schools and classrooms up to speed. While equal access to technology strikes me as a civil right, what happens after access is achieved is just as important. If this marvelous technology is harnessed simply to try to produce higher test scores, then its vast potential will be lost, and those students will be denied opportunities to dig deep, to raise questions and find answers, and to have real control over their own learning.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of what some call ‘electronic work sheets’ and ‘digital drill and kill’ out there.

For this film, we visited schools and teachers in California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Oregon, New York, New Jersey and elsewhere. We learned a lot about what’s called ‘Blended Learning.’ In fact, I believe we have discovered the recipe for successful blended learning, which we will share in the film.

(Here’s a hint: Effective technology and skilled teachers are necessary but not sufficient, because there’s another vital ingredient.)

It’s been an exhilarating journey for us, and you can now enjoy some of what we have seen.

While you’re on the website, please sign up to follow The School Sleuth on Twitter and to get regular bulletins about our progress, including news of when the film will be seen nationally.

We will be posting ‘clues’ and interesting videos on a regular basis, so please consider bookmarking the site. Thanks.

We recognized a major hurdle from day one: Mention “technology in education” to people outside our wonky world, and their eyes glaze over. To keep that from happening, we decided to bring back The School Sleuth, the film noir detective we created 15 years ago. Back then, he was hired by a beautiful blonde to solve “The Case of an Excellent School” but got beaten up along the way by a thug hired by education’s status quo. {{2}}

“The Case of the Wired Classroom” is also a film noir parody. I play the detective, a world-weary gent who is not as bright as he likes to think he is (type casting!).

The film opens in a bar at 4AM, in the city that never sleeps….and goes from there.

The world premiere of “School Sleuth: The Case of the Wired Classroom” will be Friday, March 13th at 2:30 PM in Washington, DC, as part of Digital Learning Day. This year DLD is being wrapped into the annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning, organized by Ron Thorpe’s National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This event seems to get better and better every year, and I hope to see many of you there.

If there’s a way to reserve a ticket to see the film that afternoon, I suggest you consider doing it, because the room holds only 250 people.

[[1]]1. Cat McGrath, Jessica Windt and David Wald. Lately we’ve also been helped by Brendan Joyce.[[1]]
[[2]]2. He solved the case and won a Peabody Award, but he didn’t get the girl![[2]]

6 thoughts on “The Return of the School Sleuth

  1. “Word on the street is that public school districts are being hijacked by tech-loving, teacher-hating crusaders who are plotting to spend billions on technology. Rumor has it they want computers to replace books, teachers, and even schools. Can this be true? Is there a conspiracy to bring down public schools?”

    This kind of highly charged, packed language could have easily been written by Bill Gates himself. Is he funding this project?

    “Effective technology and skilled teachers are necessary but not sufficient, because there’s another vital ingredient.”

    Based on my 48 years of experience teaching in education, which includes many years of blended learning, whether effective technology is included or not, the other vital ingredient to school success is motivated students with a wealth of applicable background knowledge in well-resourced classrooms. (Yes, we can all charge and pack language in order to lead readers to reach the conclusions we want them to make, though this happens to be true.)


  2. If past experience is any guide, nationwide you can bet billions will be spent on Effective Technology, but, as your “blended” video already suggests, there will be little spent to make sure the teacher are skillful. I suppose there has to be someone or something out there to blame when it fails to meet outrageous expectations.

    Public education is full of examples. Perhaps the most maligned in recent times was Whole Language which I used in my classroom years ago. It is my understanding that California dictated it into their classrooms and it failed. It failed because the teachers were not given enough training to use the method “skillfully.” It took me several years of personal research to use the methods in my classroom. This is what will happen with effective technology.


    • On our website under documentaries, you will find the link to “First to Worst,” our history of public education in California. Whole Language is part of that sad tale. Its failure was not due to lack of teacher training. It failed because it’s a flawed approach to teaching reading, plain and simple. It was imposed upon the state’s public schools, whole hog, which is akin to testing the depth of the water with both feet.
      But you are absolutely right about the importance of teacher preparation. We cover that in “The Case of the Wired Classroom.”


      • I’m with Frank. I didn’t teach in CA so I don’t know what teachers there did or stopped doing as a result of mandates, but I had a great deal of autonomy in my classroom and I never got so many at-risk kids reading as I did when I learned about and added a lot of Whole Language strategies to the boring basals and phonics workbooks that seemed to turn so many of my students off to reading. It was never a matter of either/or in my class, but what MORE could be done that is instructive, meaningful, motivating and engaging for kids.

        Teachers cannot have too many tools in their toolbox, if they want to be able to reach all students.


  3. When I presented Dec 2014 @ Elearning Symposium in Silicon Valley, I had never seen so many presentations on “Blended”. My session had no mention of “Blended” I really hate buzz words so middle school,, let’s follow the flavor of the month.
    I started a MOOC 2 years before Coursera, and the others, I had no idea I was going to be inundated with Education projects. I feel another middle school follow the next trend “gold rush” mentality.

    My concern with Education is that the Tax payer has been chided into believing that Tax $’s will make our children put forth effort in School & Teachers to become if we pay them more or give them more technology that will fix things. How sad that idea is. The US spends more than any nation in the World & 2nd highest spending per student in the World, but our student results are 26th the World, just above some 3rd world countries.

    World Mentoring Academy is currently mirrored into 2 African nations is tara bit drives, last year Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation reached out to us.

    I have been funding this Free Education project for almost 5 yrs on $250/month which includes web hosting, food, transportation & entertainment. I manage to do this with a sleeping bag, bike, Free wifi.

    One student earned a Bachelors in 6 mos for less than $5,000(books & test fees) from “Thomas Edison” a State Univ (NJ).


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