Thursday, October 30, 2014

Living in a 21st Century World, And I am a 21st Century Girl

This week's focus for my online class was 21st century learning.  Looking at how far education has come and changed over the years.  Classrooms today are, or should be, much different to those of a few decades ago.  The neat rows of desks, the chalk board, and the teacher standing in front of her students lecturing for seven hours a day are long gone... or are supposed to be.  And, are now supposed to be hubs of self-directed learning, critical thinking, creating, and the teacher being a facilitator to it all.

When I think back to my elementary school days, a mere two decades ago, I think of sitting on a carpet listening to my teacher quite a bit.  I think of sitting at my desk listening to my teacher quite a bit.  I think of working on an assignment, by myself, while the teacher walked around the room.  I remember hearing the words "Open your book to page..." and listening as the teacher gave some information about what I was going to read, and then reading what I was directed to read.  I remember then hearing the words "Answer the questions at the end of the reading" quite a bit.

I'm not talking about high school, either.  I'm talking elementary.  3rd, 4th, 5th grades.  High school was a little different, but not too much.  Neatly lined rows of desks, giant text books, lectures, assigned reading and questions.  

Do you know what I don't remember?  What I learned when directed to do all of those things.  I couldn't tell you right now when I learned to read or how I did it.  I can't tell you when I learned to add and subtract or how I did it.  I couldn't tell you when I first learned what a period was, or how to use it.  No idea when I learned what a complete sentence was, how to write one, or how sentences worked together to form a paragraph.  Don't have a clue.  I know that I did learn that stuff, obviously, but what I learned and how I learned it isn't stored in my brain anywhere I can access it.

Do you know what I do remember about elementary school?  I distinctly remember listening to my teacher read us Charlotte's Web.  I remember learning about farm animals and spiders, their habitats, what they eat, and their purposes in the world.  I distinctively remember learning that pigs are unable to cool themselves, so they wallow in mud in order to cool down.  I remember learning how spiders used their webs to catch their pray, and how beneficial spiders are in keeping the bug population down.  I remember learning about friendship, and how my teacher would make us play silly games in order to depend on each other.  I remember making connections to Fern, and how some of boys identified with Avery.  I remember thinking about what life was like living on a farm, in the country, and comparing how different life would be to living in the city.  I remember writing about my thoughts on the book, my history of friendships, and writing my own little stories about farm animals.  I still, to this day, remember the story I wrote about Baa-Baa the black sheep, and how he would make so much wool that all of the other sheep on the farm made fun of him.  Think Rudolf Red Nosed Reindeer meets the nursery rhyme "Baa Baa Black Sheep".  Baa-Baa ended up becoming the hero by saving the farm with how much wool he made so that the farmer could sell it in order to have money to feed the other animals.  

Know what else I remember?  How I learned my multiplication facts.  How my teacher would make us do little competitions in order to recite our multiplication facts.  How he would dress up like a coach, have his whistle and stop-watch ready, and time us as we each said our multiplication facts in less than a minute.  We had the Multiplication Olympics, and would represent different countries as we tried to earn our gold stars on our olympic chart.  We also earned bronze and silver stars for making good progress, but not quite getting there.  

I remember doing a unit study on Australia.  Learning about the people, the wildlife, the culture, and the geography of the continent.  I remember how my teacher dressed up like a tourist each day, would bring things like a didgeridoo and a boomerang, and spoke with an Australian accent all week.   I also remember the unit we did on France, and how she spoke with a french accent and let us try stuff like croissants  and hot chocolate (a popular french breakfast), and how we learned about the Eiffel Tower by building one and the Louvre by doing our own art pieces and creating our own art museum.     

I remember learning the order of operations in Algebra class because my teacher, in a very funny accent would constantly say "Pleeease excuse my dear, Aunt Sally", and I remember learning the angles by singing a little song and using hand gestures.  

What's my point about all this?  Well, my point is, it's not about what I learned while in school it's about how I learned it.  The parts of my educational life that have always stuck with me are the moments that were delivered to me in a way that helped me remember.  The fun stuff, if you will.  

When comparing my teachers, I can tell you that I remember the most from the teachers that spoke less and did more than the ones that spoke to me all day and did nothing.  I couldn't tell you about a single biology class, or a a single world history class.  I couldn't tell you what I spent the majority of my educational life doing in school, because there really wasn't much "doing".  I vividly remember the teachers that had me and my classmates be a part of the learning, working on projects, and discovering and researching together.  Those were the memorable classes, the ones I enjoyed, and the ones that have pushed my desire to teach with that same passion.

Today's society and world of education requires a shift in the learning style and the teaching styles.  The kids of today are so different than the kids of years ago, and I often tire of hearing "It worked for us, so there's no reason it won't work for them".  Sure, we turned out OK and we learned what we needed to, but teachers have a very big competitor nowadays:  Technology.  Kids are tuned in to their electronics, and have tuned teachers out.  One of the biggest complaints I hear from teachers is the fact that the students are less able to sit and listen to a lecture like they did years ago, are completely unfocused, and just don't put in much effort.  Yet, those same kids can sit in front of a video game, chat on a social media site, or read blogs and watch online videos for hours.  If that's the case, why wouldn't teachers tap in to those resources as tools for learning?

Kids won't sit and listen to me demonstrate how to add and subtract numbers while regrouping for very long, but they'll sit at a computer and watch a video, follow directions given by a cartoon character, and play educational games.  They don't like to speak in front of a class, but they'll get on a social media site and share their thoughts and opinions on a topic with students from an entirely different state that they've never met.  They won't write pages of writing for me about a book they've read, but they'll gladly blog about it.  They bore easily with drawing diagrams, but they'll build entire nations on Minecraft.    

At the end of the day, it's not WHAT they're learning but HOW they're doing it.  Teachers are no longer able to compete with the vast technological resources that are out there, but they can absolutely incorporate those resources in to their delivery and come out so much more successful in their teaching.

The fact of the matter is, students need to be challenged, they need to be able to think critically, and they need to have the confidence and abilities to work independently, in a group, and with other kids that they normally wouldn't work with.  Why?  Because those skills are crucial in today's job market.  School has and always will be the place where kids prepare for the future.  Our workforce has made DRASTIC changes over the past few decades, so why on earth wouldn't we change the school atmosphere?  Our kids just won't cut it by just knowing how to read, write, and do math.  They need to know how to use and manipulate technology, how to hunt down resources and tools, how to use those tools, and how to connect and collaborate with people they may never meet.  

The stuff written in textbooks is important information, sure.  But, they don't learn by just reading that stuff. I have heard so many times "textbooks are crucial for preparing our kids for high school and college".  Really?  Want to know how many textbooks I've had to purchase for my college classes so far?  None.  A quick conversation with Peanut yesterday told me that her high school teachers aren't depending on the text books anymore, either.  She has assignments, occasionally, from a text book, but the majority of her learning is done electronically or collaboratively with peers.  And how many jobs require reading a textbook in order to do them?  I can't think of any.  

Technology will never replace teachers, I firmly believe that. But, I also believe that teachers that won't embrace the changes that are occurring in the educational field will be replaced with teachers who do embrace those changes.  

The needs of our students are different, so we need to provide those needs differently.  School can and should be a fun place, a place of creativity, a place of collaboration.  I want my students to go home and share about what they've learned during the day, and excited to return the next day.  I want them to have meaningful connections with activities we do, and how we learn.  I still have a long way to go, but I'm getting there.  I will gladly change, adapt, and completely restructure my mindset if it's what my students need.  

And it is what they need.

It's what I need.

And I must keep working at making that happen.

Have a great Thursday, everyone!


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