Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

We all can learn a great deal from a great kindergarten teacher

Today was a real treat. My 9 year old daughter and I spent most of the day at Deerfield Community School, in Deerfield, New Hampshire. While Sarah was hosted by a wonderful Deerfield student and enjoyed learning about their upcoming science fair projects (as well as other topics) I met with teachers in several grade levels and was amazed to learn about some of the wonderful digital learning and collaborating they are doing together with students. It will take SEVERAL posts, I’m sure, to adequately reflect on all the learning of the day, but for now I’d like to share and reflect on what an absolute JOY it was to spend time in Maria Knee‘s kindergarten classroom. Maria secured permission for me to take photos during my visit, and these are several I took with Pano.

Kindergarten Center time (Maria Knee's classroom)

Classroom circle time with Maria Knee

I have a vast amount of respect for every teacher, but am particularly in awe of kindergarten teachers who are able to masterfully facilitate student learning as Maria does. When I visited this afternoon, students were engaged in a variety of center-based activities which involved reading, writing, creating art, solving problems, building structures, and interacting with peers as well as adult classroom assistants. Notice how the students in the photos below are scattered all over the room, and are busily at work at different learning tasks. You’ll notice in the first photo below, Maria actually appears twice! That’s because she was moving around the room checking with students and helping as needed! The iPhone Pano program stitched together about seven different images to make this composite panoramic image.

Kindergarten Center time (Maria Knee's classroom)

Working on the computer in Maria Knee's kindergarten classroom

There was a lot of WRITING going on in class today. The student on the left in the above photo was writing about a picture he’d drawn, using Google Documents. In the photo below, the student on the left is writing on Maria’s classroom blog, hosted for free by David Warlick on Class Blogmeister.

Classroom writing in kindergarten

The six netbooks in Maria’s classroom really got a workout this afternoon. Netbooks are perfect because of their size and (in the case of these eePCs) their long battery life for a kindergarten classroom. In this photo, a student and an adult were reading together on the screen.

Reading together on a netbook

Students were not only doing lots of READING and WRITING during center time, they were also sharing and speaking. These two boys were working cooperatively to record an audio overview of a picture one of them had drawn. Once the student with the recorder was ready, he rang a bell to let others in the classroom know it was “recording time.” He announced, “Recording!” and then his partner told about his illustration.

Students recording audio about a picture using an iPod

When you see clocks like those below in a kindergarten classroom, you know some very unique learning must be going on. Maria’s students have partner classrooms in both Canada and Australia, and they keep clocks set to the local times in those classrooms so they’ll know if the time is right for a Skype call collaboration.

Classroom partner clocks (Maria Knee's classroom)

Maria’s students have been learning about how maple syrup is made in New Hampshire. This was a concept map they have been working on.

Learning about maple syrup

It’s amazing it takes 40 quarts of maple sap to make 1 quart of maple syrup! This syrup was made by Maria’s husband, and she shared photos of the entire process.

Pure New Hampshire Maple Syrup

Maria uses a customized kindergarten learning portal on WikiSpaces she created just for her students. She patterned this after the classroom learning portal Rachel Boyd made for her 6 and 7 year old students in Nelson, New Zealand. (If you haven’t seen Rachel’s keynote for K12Online09 yet, check it out– it’s a “must see” especially for primary-grade teachers.) In the photo below, one of Maria’s students is coaching other kids to effectively navigate the game “Seed Ball,” which is part of TumbleTown. It’s a free resource from the Utah Education Network. Students work on coordinate geometry skills, logical thinking and problem solving, while they create “Rube Goldberg” style seed machines.

Navigating Seed Ball in TumbleTown

These students were taking care of their group’s dogs on Nintindo DSi’s, playing the game Nintendogs. Students share the pets and have to work together to decide how to spend their “virtual money” on their pet. Lots of great conversations and discussions ensue about economics, pet care priorities, etc.

Taking care of dogs on Nintindo DSi's

I’ll close with this photo of Maria’s class rules.

Our rules (Maria Knee's kindergarten class)

In case you can’t view the Flickr image, I’ll type these out. The rules are very simple but powerful:

  1. Take care of yourself.
  2. Take care of your friends.
  3. Take care of everything.
  4. Do your best work.

If we all followed those simple rules every day, wouldn’t the world be a much better place? In the safety and security of a caring classroom like Maria’s, somehow the world seems to make a great deal of sense. Her students are extremely blessed to have her and the other teachers as well as parent volunteers helping them learn at Deerfield.

A child is so much more than a test score

Many, many thanks to all the educators and learners at Deerfield for a wonderful day today! We call can learn a great deal about learning, teaching, and leading from an exemplary teacher like Maria Knee.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, subscribe to Wes’ free newsletter. Check out Wes’ video tutorial library, “Playing with Media.” Information about more ways to learn with Dr. Wesley Fryer are available on

On this day..



, , ,




22 responses to “We all can learn a great deal from a great kindergarten teacher”

  1. Ben Winter Avatar

    What an incredible looking classroom. I like the idea of using a DS in class. Looks like huge variety in classroom activities too.

  2. Gail P Avatar

    Thanks for recognizing the amazing work of an amazing kindergarten teacher. It is wonderful that her district supports so much tech hardware and staffing. I would love to visit her classroom, just so I could see what can be accomplished with fully funded technology. Many of us are waiting for the dribble down effect to finally reach us. In the mean time, we use the 1 classroom PC, with an hour of a tech cart, and no tech personnel. What a wonderful experience the students in Maria’s class are enjoying.

  3. Alan Stange Avatar

    This is an amazing looking space. We traditionally believe we need to “train students” out of this learning environment — too much like “play learning” for an academic endeavor. I would like to push my classroom closer to this.

  4. Valerie Leuchter Avatar
    Valerie Leuchter

    We were inspired by your visit as well. You and your daughter have been added to my list of “People Who Inspire Me to Take Another Step Forward in Technology”. We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful Tech. Coordinator here – another person on the list. Maria, of course on the list, is amazing when it comes to her use of technology in the classroom. She doesn’t know it, but her enthusiasm and use of technology has created a ripple effect that moves me to dig, learn, and try new technology tools. This year, I added Sakai to my list…a small step, but never the less, one more than last year. There are other teachers here who are also an inspiration to me…teachers who continue to try new things,,,dabbling into new technology horizons…audio – visual – Sakai – white boards – Promethian- streaming video- blogging …the list just keeps growing. Our tech coordinator meets with staff every week to look at something cool with technology. Last summer, I took several trainings myself. It’s so important to keep up with it as much as we can. We owe it to our kids… to keep them up to date, engaged, and creative. People like Maria keep reminding me…with the right funding, tools, and time to train- it can be done.

  5. szybka nauka Avatar

    thai is a great solution! wonder if this is only one case ar this kind of classrooms solutions are promoted into other cities?

  6. Vanessa Vartabedian Avatar
    Vanessa Vartabedian

    Nice coverage of Maria’s classroom Wes! I am wondering if I can re-blog this on Or perhaps you would like to be a guest blogger soon? 🙂

  7. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Vanessa: Yes, feel free to reblog with attribution – I can email you the original HTML code if you want, so you can readily re-post. Please just comment again with the link when you repost.

  8. Deb Boisvert Avatar

    I learn every time I am in Maria’s class or with her kids. My biggest revelation, so far, is that an interactive white boards can make computing concrete in the classroom and change the nature of the learning that occurs. There is a significant difference between using a mouse and a IWB, if the white board is used in a truly interactive manner. It is amazing to see kindergarteners edit photos and video because they can physically interact with it. An IWB can be used to leverage real learning or as a projection screen.

  9. Rod Dudley Avatar
    Rod Dudley

    Maria’s leadership in technology and education spreads well beyond the walls of her classroom. She has been role model for me personally, and many here at DCS. It’s not surprising she is a “Rockstar” in the education and technology world. Thanks Maria.
    Wes, it was great chatting with you during your visit.

  10. Kim Fries Avatar
    Kim Fries

    What an amazing classroom! Here in the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Education we send students, interns, and future teachers into Maria’s classroom to observe quality “in-action.” We are quite proud of her!

  11. Cheryl Molleur Avatar
    Cheryl Molleur

    Thank you so much for sharing your classroom with us, Maria!
    You are an inspiration! I would like to come visit some day.
    Thank you, Deb, for your great photography and descriptions of the activities!

  12. Cheryl Molleur Avatar
    Cheryl Molleur

    Oh, I think I made a mistake……..
    Is it Wes Freyer who took the photos and wrote the descriptions?

  13. rodger Avatar

    I was just with a team from Nashua last week who came to see Deerfield’s use of technology to enhance learning and Maria was a real inspiration. I’m really glad I was able to read your observations too since we only got to see a small portion of what she does (her class was on skype when we came by). I wish we could clone people like Maria.

  14. Ryan Avatar

    This is great! What a fantastic learning environment. It would be great if all classrooms were like this.

    However I have three questions ringing in my head:
    -Are the Kindergarten students in the class across the hall getting the same experience?
    -How about the Kindergarten students on the other side of the state?
    -Where is the documented achievement showing the positive link between the tech and the learning?

  15. Deb Avatar

    Hi Ryan,

    Just wanted to give you a few answers where I can, first some background. I am the Tech Coord at Maria’s school. Maria has been an innovator since the AppleII/Logo days. For many years she has done more, with the 2 computers in her room, by taking her kids to our computer lab and by signing out the shared resources such as projectors, than most teachers.

    – No, the Kindergarten students in the class across the hall are not getting the same experience – at the moment.

    Last year I wrote a grant to outfit 4 rooms in our building, K, 5th ,7th science and 8th Math, as 21st century classrooms. One of my research projects for the grant was to determine where our small district should put funds in updating classrooms. As the grant progressed it became evident that all of these classes changed fundamentally, and provided powerful models within our building that stimulated change in non project classrooms.

    This year we have received another grant that will add 3 more 21st century classes, K, 4th and 7th. We are also using a chunk of our IDEA-ARRA money and our regular budget to outfit more classroom. By next fall ,all Kindergarten classrooms will have IWB’s and projectors and will share additional resources such as netbooks.

    -Sad to say, the Kindergarten students in other parts of the state do not have these resources.

    In some parts of the state there is not even high speed Internet, other schools do not have the personnel to write grants, and schools are primarily funded by local property tax, that create even more disparities. National high speed access should be a national priority and NH has a long way to go in equitable funding.

    -Ooooh the last question strikes home. I am, right now, writing the evaluation for our grant. Hopefully I will have something more to share on this one in the coming weeks. What I can do here is to briefly list our preliminary findings.

    1. Technology cannot transform education, only educators and students can transform education. It takes time and hard work, but is a lot of fun.

    2. Transformation only occurs when educators take risk and look at their curriculum with new eyes. One of our biggest successes in the project is a 5th grade teacher who moved to the 6th grade mid grant, doing so allowed her to recast her whole curriculum with her new tools. If we all took the time to reinvent our practice every couple of years, we might have a similar growth and change.

    3. Transformation is more powerful when it is shared with others, in building and around our world. Of all of the aspects of this project, participants repeatedly identified the weekly meetings to share practice as the most powerful. Participants volunteered to meet Friday afternoons to explore tools and software, and to share what they were doing in the classroom. The meetings were open and a number of other staff members joined us.

    4. Our school needs to shift from an equity model to a pockets of excellence model in resource distribution. I am not sure if this is a short or long term shift. For years I have made every effort to have the same resource distribution for all classes. I have come to realize that unless educators commit to change, the learning of new skills and pedagogy, and the development of a Professional Learning Community for feedback and support, transformation is unlikely to happen. I plan to build and support powerful models in our school, that will create the foundation to add more model classroom, which will grow into model grade levels, impacting the direction of the school, district and state.

    All of this happens one baby step at a time. Thank you for asking questions that make me write.

    Deb Boisvert

  16. Sarahjean Avatar

    What a great inspiration! I will be sharing this with my K teacher who is a techophobia. I do have a question though, The Kindergarteners are exposed to so much which is beyong awesome, my question is, does the technology follow to the other classrooms? It would be a shame to be exposed to so much and then not in the upcoming classrooms.

  17. Deb Boisvert Avatar


    I totally agree with you, but where do you start? My thought is that you start where the energy is and spread in all directions. It would be more of a shame to not get the experience ever because you were waiting to progress in a linear fashion.


  18. Vernon Conaway Avatar
    Vernon Conaway

    Glad to see the high level of parental involvement which is always a strong indicator of student success.

  19. Natalie Avatar

    In response to Deb Boisvert: I enjoyed reading your first hand, detailed response. I am an adamant believer that age is not the barrier in preventing technology implementation in schools. It was wonderful seeing that Maria was not of the general stereotype that the younger generation embraces technology, and I was delighted to read about her success and the fact that she was a technology pioneer-kudos to her. She is delivering the skills needed for children to flourish in today’s society. The more teachers we have embracing technology, the better our students are prepared for 21st century skills. Coinciding with your information, Vernon Conaway’s documentation of Maria’s “day in the life of a kindergarten student in Maria Knee’s classroom” was both exemplary and inspiring. It is my wish that parents, administrative personnel, and both state and federal educational decision makers read this and “get it!”
    I especially enjoyed reading your sage words, “I have come to realize that unless educators commit to change, the learning of new skills and pedagogy, and the development of a Professional Learning Community for feedback and support, transformation is unlikely to happen.” Administrative staff has a strong responsibility as well for modeling and supporting technology implementation. 🙂
    Best of luck on your grant! I look forward to reading more about your findings.

  20. Vernon Conaway Avatar
    Vernon Conaway

    Natalie – I (Vernon Conaway) didn’t document anything. This is all Wes Fryer’s work 😉

  21. […] is a post in response to the discussion about Wes Fryer’s blog post about Maria Knee’s class in Deerfield.  As I wrote it  helped me evaluate the grant that we are now finishing up and how it has […]

  22. Vanessa Vartabedian Avatar

    See my re-blog of this on the New Media Literacies website here: