Perhaps the first and most obvious way schools are changing right now is in the area of technology. We are using it in ways we definitely never could have predicted!
And that is very frustrating for so many teachers and students.
However, when the pandemic dies down and we find ourselves in a new era of education, what will the outcome be? Many times, when something’s been overly-stressed or used poorly (not the fault of teachers - not the fault of anyone, just the crazy circumstances we’ve all found ourselves in), there is a natural inclination to do the exact opposite.
Schools may well shrink back into the “dark ages” for a few years after the crisis of distance learning is over.
Once we’ve recuperated though, there is hope that we will have a new wave of technology that is better suited for the needs of the classroom, the teacher, students, and families. Necessity, after all, is said to be the mother of invention, and necessity is something we currently have in droves.
There is also a possibility that many students who have found distance learning more to their tastes (because pajamas and sleeping in are awesome, but so is avoiding the anxieties many face with social stressors of attending school) will stay in that learning lane. Virtual learning schools were quickly gaining in popularity before the pandemic and may very well continue their growth long after. It’s a good solution for some families, and there are the few who do much better in that environment without all the distractions of “school”.
A few years ago, though (2013), a guy named David Thornburg, who is considered an educational futurist, wrote a book called From the Campfire to the Holodeck: Creating Engaging and Powerful 21st Century Learning Environments. In this book, he embraces what many schools are now discovering - the usage of spaces and technology to revamp learning.
His thoughts were that part of the reason our technology usage has been so unsuccessful is because we’re trying to use it for the same type of delivery of instruction rather than using technology as a springboard to change how we are teaching. There are so many other ways to use technology, and we often only use it to record ourselves lecturing, which is frankly just the same old thing we’ve always been doing.
His suggestion is to use it for exploration, to pose questions for students to research, and to inspire curiosity.
In other words, the point of technology in the classroom should not be to further make lessons that are still centered on the teacher and his or her knowledge of a subject. Rather, it is a tool for students to use to discover answers and information independently.
So, if students are “teaching themselves”, some may argue, what is the point of teaching?
The point of teaching is three-fold:
1. to ask the right questions that lead students toward discovery,
2. to provide support as students do their discovery and research (they DO need you),
- and to help guide them into responsibility and gainful interactions.
Technology, it should also be pointed out, is not used just for the sake of checking a technology requirement from a list of things to do. It needs to be organic and grow from a need for information, or tools that cannot be found elsewhere.
It’s also not viewed as a “toy” or something to keep students occupied.
An example of a school leading the way in this arena would be Wooranna Park Primary in Melbourne, Australia. A large part of the success at Wooranna Park is due to the work of one man: Kieran Nolan.
Kieran is an educational technologist. His goal, and one of the goals of Wooranna Park Primary, involves giving students access to as many different types of technology as possible, whether that be in the form of robots, Minecraft, Bitcoin, Drones, Androids, MakerSpace Equipment, and Blockchain.
One notable difference for this school is that during the pandemic, whereas schools in the U.S. have been fairly adamant about picking one LMS, or learning management system, (GoogleClassrooms, SeeSaw, Blackboard, etc…), Nolan and Wooranna Park have chosen to introduce ALL the LMSs and let students decide which one works best for them. Keep in mind, this is a primary school… so their students are elementary-aged.
In fact, Nolan is part of a group called RocketShoes.io that is creating a new system that is student-friendly and can help them compile all their information from a variety of LM Systems.
Students at Wooranna also attend a sort of “school in the clouds” - and work together in a Minecraft virtual world with other kids internationally.
The difference between schools that embrace technology and those who don’t is an overall broader view of acceptable technology. There is no space, virtually or physically, in which Wooranna restricts its students. They are taught safety from day one, they are taught how to use everything, and they are given the freedom to explore.
The mentality is completely different.
In order to be technologically reformed, education is going to have to start embracing all that is technology.
It’s not about ticking off the “technology requirements” on your list of things to do in your yearly evaluation.
It’s about using it as a tool in practical, everyday, real-life situations.
One way Wooranna students do this is by taking jobs to earn Bitcoin for things they’d like. For example, new MakerSpace materials could be bought through these channels. Children can collectively build a website, program or code, and film documentation explaining how to do things for others.
Allowing students to interact with real-world experiences, solve real-world problems, and use technology to do it is the way of the future.
No one wants to answer questions about how Dick and Jane had 47 watermelons, then bought 22 more. That sort of work is impractical and not interesting.
But children still need to learn how to add numbers like 47 and 22.
So make real-world problems. Have them research what they want for Christmas or a birthday gift, imagining they each have $100. Ask them to add up the things they want, subtract the total from their “budget”, and keep a spreadsheet for recording sales or price changes.
The content of what we teach will stay the same - we will always need to teach children the mechanics of addition and subtraction, how letters are formed, and why the sky is blue. But if we give them a small taste of “why” - just enough to make them curious, then give them all the tools they need to find the answers themselves, they will own that knowledge rather than borrowing it long enough to take a test and give it back.
We are training children for a world that does not yet exist. There are things that we cannot teach them that they will need to know. The only responsible thing to do at this point is to teach them how to solve problems, find information, and satisfy their curiosity for knowledge on their own.
The classroom is not about us. It doesn’t need to revolve around the educator. It is time to relinquish that control and allow students to learn in new ways.