We ask our students to be good observers, consider the world carefully and to analyze the implications of what they see. As educators, it’s time we do the same.
Our classrooms may appear as we experienced them — a row of windows, a blackboard (OK, maybe they’re white now), inspirational posters. But the kids looking back from those same uncomfortable chairs are fundamentally different. They are like a Bronze Age tribe being asked to use stone axes. It’s time to put down the stone.
It’s true, no matter what we do, our kids will leave us behind — it’s the natural way. But we must provide them with the knowledge they need to improve the world. Our generation is the one developing all the new tools that offer limitless access to knowledge. So, why wouldn’t we offer these advantages — the ones kids can’t keep their fingers off of, even during class — and help kids acquire the skills they need to survive in a connected world?
To be fair, we have begun to transition away from “stone.” Textbooks, for example, are being digitized. But is that sufficient change? The good news is that our children will no longer be lugging twenty pounds of pulp on their backs. Revisions to their reading content can be updated on the fly, not each decade with new printings.
But is that really leveraging the full power of technology? If you think about how we use technology in our adult lives, it’s primarily a communication experience — email, WebEx, text messages and collaboration tools. It’s social, but we’re not letting these collaborative tools into the classroom.
We’d be blind not to recognize and utilize students’ inclination for social interaction and their obsession with mobile technology. This is our opportunity to join them on this side of the millennium. If we don’t, we will lose their attention, and to some degree, their respect. They know we’re teaching them, for the most part, like we were taught — like our parents were taught.
Here’s some typical summer AP English homework: “Read Walden and write a report on Thoreau’s theme.” I’d bet that SparkNotes sees a surge of traffic in the last week of summer. It’s not that Walden doesn’t contain big ideas relevant to today’s kids. But they’ll do better by constructing meaning from it socially — not alone with a text and a Google search for “Walden Thoreau Themes.” They need something tangible to learn by imitation or iteration, which is the way we all learn most everything. They need to see and hear what academic discourse sounds, looks and feels like.
I understand this is easier said than done. The best solutions are still being explored and developed. But there are many online resources that are changing education significantly. Companies are spending capital to develop interactive visions for math and science. curricula. There are some great solutions out there, and it’s just beginning. But it takes the will and desire for change to ensure today’s students are taught in a way that is relevant. If used correctly, the tools of the 21st century leverage the best of the old and build on the successes of traditional teaching.
To be sure, our students will leave us behind no matter what we do, and I’m OK with that. But when they do, I will rest easy knowing we did our job the best we could — that we led by example and were not afraid of the future. All it takes to know this is the right path is to observe the world as it is today and consider the implications for our children and what’s really at stake here. From there it’s easy — leverage all the tools available to foster creativity, inspire curiosity, and provide the knowledge our children need for success.