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by Heidi Hayes Jacobs
Ubiquitous in every sphere of education; the word “technology” is splattered loosely. No subliminal messaging here, the term is to mean that schools with wifi, tablets, one to one laptop programs, and smart boards are preparing students for the future. Simply having a computer doesn’t mean that the curriculum and instruction are contemporary and relevant. Students can be using the internet to research irrelevant and dated content. A word processor does not ensure quality writing competence. When a group of middle school students runs around campus with flip cameras, it is unlikely they will produce a first rate documentary. Perhaps there is some kind of magical thinking, that digital tools will prompt innovative outcomes.I share this concern as a firmly committed advocate for the modernization of learning opportunities.
Most telling is our current obsession with dated assessment forms. Teachers are not encouraged to innovate when their institutions are pushing time traveling to the past. Although mission statements are packed with phrases like “tomorrow’s school” and “careers of the future” and “global preparedness”, the truth is that all fifty states in my country value assessments that are basically identical in format to those used thirty years ago.Multiple choice, short answer essay prompts to de-contextualized paragraphs are the raison de vivre. Some national publishers are creating on-line testing, but the items are still the same type as those used when standardized testing first was developed. Certainly our learners need ACCESS to the global portals and dynamic applications available through digital media in order to become literate and connected, but access is insufficient.
We should pay attention to school faculties, leaders, and individual teachers who are actively and boldly upgrading curriculum content to reflect timely issues and problems and crafting modern assessments such as digital-media-global project based learning opportunities. Website curation, app design, global network research, and video/audio production are indicative of modern learning environments not only for students but for their teachers as well. What might happen if in our discourse we replace the loose use of the word technology with the phrase contemporary learning environments?
cross-posted from Just Start for Kids and Schools
Natural learning experiences are generated by observation and questioning. As individuals share their different perspectives, each of us begin to make meaning of these experiences and deepen our understanding of the world.
Hiking on the cliffs above the the Pacific Ocean with my nine year old son creates for us a safe space to explore the world. Questions abound as we come across animals, plants, rock strata, and even the wonderful variety of people we encounter. And as a science teacher I may have an idea of much of what we come across, I hear from the nine year old perspective new questions and thoughts that may have never occurred to me. There are no texts or assignments forcing students down a path that the teacher wants the student to focus. Instead, the child’s questioning and wonderment lead the discussions and the ideas to explore. The generated excitement even invites those people passing by to add their understanding and questions. Learning opened through the initial questions and new insight allowed us to look at the experience in new ways:
- Why are all the organisms under plants or why are the animals a certain color?
- What eats what?
- Why there are more insects than lizards?
- Why do the birds circle above?
- Why? Why? Why?
The TEDTalk21 invitation to remember a safe learning space reminded me of how a simple hike led to an natural and engaging learning experience in which my 9 year old has developed a new understanding of the world in which he lives. But it has also opened a new learning experience for myself. Seeing the child’s excitement and the additional different perspectives brought into the experience has led me to wonder:
- How can this excitement and natural engagement become the learning norm in my classroom?
- How can these natural interactions be replicated to invite in others through new formats using digital literacy so that everyone can impact their own creative learning process?
Actively participating with the Lead21 team in learning how to actively engage learning through the use of technology to replicate this system has opened a new world.
Why are so many of us using technology as a replacement of the ribbon based typewriter instead of the social environment that could help learning flourish?
Setting up something as simple as a student blog opens the door to the natural learning cycle. Asking students to publish their learning, followed by others positively promoting different perspectives or inquiries, provides students an opportunity to re-engage with all these ideas to deepen their understanding. The static learning experience transforms into a dynamic space that strengthens them as resilient learners.
For teachers, this promotes deeper learning of the content, but also of three essential components to becoming engaged, life-long learners. We can help them learn to self-regulate, self-motivate and self-evaluate their learning process and products. As teachers, we need to:
- Promote and actively engage students in asking where they are in their learning process
- Ask what strategies they have employed and how they have worked
- Ask what their engagement is trying to achieve
- Ask what their next steps need to be in order achieve their goal
We can never create a destination to where every student wants to go to, but our students can. By opening up the learning experience to a more natural, collaborative, self directed way, students can take charge of and build their own meaningful learning process.
Reflection question (would love to see your comments below):
How do you set up the use of technology to incorporate the natural learning cycle in order to help students deepen meaning making and become more independent learners?
Craig is a high school biology teacher in Northern San Diego County.