Little Falls tech/learning proposal could help students throughout Minnesota


A pioneering proposal from Little Falls Superintendent Curt Tryggestad may have important lessons for learning throughout Minnesota. Among other things the proposal, which the LF board will vote on March 22, would

• Provide each student, grades 5-12, in the Little Falls district with a iPAD

• Provide each faculty member, grades 5-12, with extensive, paid professional development on using the iPAD to increase and extend student learning

Since learning from Superintendent Tryggestad about this proposal several weeks ago, I’ve talked with others about similar efforts around the country.  Former Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Education Division Director Tom VanderArk called the proposal “great.”   He also wrote, “Instead of asking teachers to differentiate instruction for every one of 30 students, schools should use personalized digital learning and should empower teachers to analyze, adjust, and provide one-on-one support when and where it’s needed… It’s time to replace stand-and-deliver with self-paced progress.  It’s time to replace fail-repeat with customize-for-success.” 

I asked Kevin Hoskins, president of the local teachers’ union about the proposal.  He responded:  “Teachers in Little Falls have a wide view of Project REAL from excited to cautiously optimistic. The benefits for the project have been shared by teachers at school board meetings and are available on the district website.” 

Any concerns? Hoskins wrote, “As with any new implementation, teacher training and technical support is critical to making this project work.”  Those seem to be fair, thoughtful responses. 

The superintendent and technology coordinator Mark Diehl have studied successes and shortcomings from similar efforts elsewhere. Among the many wise features of this plan are extensive, paid professional development for teachers, and limits on what students can do with their i-PADS.  For example, filters will block some websites.  And students won’t be able to add other applications to their machines (that may not be consistent with educational purposes). 

Money for the machines will come from the district’s “Operating Capital” Under state law, these funds must purchase something that costs more than $300, and will last more than a year.  The fund cannot be used for teacher salaries. Tryggestad emphasized, “No teachers will be cut as a budgetary result of Project REAL.”  The project also will not affect day-to-day supply budgets at the schools.

Little Falls students

Little Falls middle school students use the iPad for learning purposes. (Photo, courtesy of the Brainerd Dispatch)


The district also wants students in grades K-4 to focus on learning basic skills. So the current plan does not include giving each of these students an iPAD. 

As things move ahead, the district may want to expand use of technology with younger students.  I remember how excited our two- and three-year-olds were when they learned to spell their names via computer.  With each correct letter in their name, the screen lit up with computer generated “fireworks.”  They learned many things via computer before they entered kindergarten. 

If the school board approves, the district also will want to have family information sessions to help parents understand how they can support the work at home.  Families naturally will have questions.  Moreover, helping families understand more about this emerging technology can help young people learn even more.

Diehl emphasized, “This is a journey.  We don’t have all the answers, but we have learned from others. We’ll continue to assess what we are doing, and make refinements.”

This journey has been planned to make use of technology’s enormous potential, along with professional educators’ skills and insights.  I hope the Little Falls board approves it.

Joe Nathan, former public school teacher, administrator, PTA president, parent of 3 public school graduates now directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome,