This month I want to focus on a topic that every school in the state of Iowa (if not the nation) is struggling with. How on Earth do we prepare our students for the 21st century, when our schools are designed the same as they were in the 18th century. There is an old adage that the only thing in education that has changed is the color of the blackboard (now whiteboards). So what do our educational institutions do to properly prepare our students for the 21st century?
Dr. McLeod from Iowa State University put it best; we are a decade into the 21st century, it is time to stop talking about preparing students for the 21st century and actually do it. The magnitude of information and research about how students learn differently, that they are digital natives, and that the skills current school systems employ are inadequate to their needs are immense. One would have a difficult time (rhetorical for impossible), to argue that what we teach kids in our schools are useful for the skill sets they need in the 21st century. We are preparing them for the industrial age; which unfortunately is far behind us.
Students need to be in environments which they can interact, create, problem solve, collaborate, and succeed. They need an environment which utilizes each of their uniqueness’s to show how diversity can move our society forward. Students need more than a lecture or a worksheet. They need the tools they are already using, to learn differently. One of the biggest problems however, is the generational gap between what our students need, and how our teachers know how to teach. So how do we bridge that gap? The answer lies in single digits. One-to-one.
Imagine if our students had access to any information they wanted in the world? Imagine if rather than asking students to complete a worksheet on the economy of Brazil, they video-conference with a class IN Brazil and asked them? Imagine walking into a school where we asked students to create a podcast, PowerPoint, movie, or asked them to create a real life product that is relevant to their life? How would our schools be different? Rather than students being asked “right or wrong” questions; we want to ask students to use their uniqueness’ to develop their own thinking.
The way to do this is to put a computer in the hands of every student. The emphasis is on the word EVERY. I’m not talking about more computer labs; I’m talking about a laptop that travels with students home. I know to many people this may be a radical idea, but in reality, it is not. Think about your personal lives; how often do you use your phone, computer, ipod, or digital device? Why should students have to power down to come to school? Why shouldn’t schools empower students to use the tools they use every day, to do something we all want: have a first class education.
On February 4th, the Graettinger-Terril CSD will have one of the most important meetings it has had when it comes to the future of its students. They will decide whether or not to move forward with a 1:1 laptop initiative for its student’s grades 5-12. For our kids, community, and faculty, it will be a defining moment for the future of our district. It is about what is doing what is best for our kids. As I said before; we are a decade into the 21st century, it is time to stop talking and start doing!