As a school psychologist in a large high school, I get the privilege of working with all types of students with diverse learning styles.
This week they are all engaged in the age-old rite of passage, midterm exams.
As I see the teachers and students stressed out and anxious about midterms it occurs to me that this process is archaic and outdated given technological realities of our times.
Let’s face facts–our kids spend more time surfing the internet than they do reading books or studying for exams, In fact, teachers are loathe to ask students how long it takes them to complete an assignment because the time gets extended due to YouTube surfing and texting.
I’d like to propose a few ways to update educational practice to better engage all learners and assess what they are learning with less anxiety and more real-world impact.
- Let students use the computers in their pockets (also known as Use the Damn Phones!)
Listen up teachers and administrators, your students are holding in their hands the most powerful learning innovation available to civilized people since the invention of the printing press.
Likely 90% of all students wandering your hallways are holding powerful computers in their hands as we speak.
So let me ask this: Why are you telling them to put them down, and in their backpacks?
Why are we asking kids to ignore the powerful research device in their very hands?
If you think you are preparing them for advanced education or the workforce, please go ask a college professor the last time they used a card catalog to look up a resource. Ask them the last time they calculated research statistics on paper using a calculator. When you ask these questions, these experts in learning will look at you like you are an alien and then hold up their smartphone and show you how they do research.
And as far as the workforce, dear teachers, when was the last time you calculated a grade point average in your head? Using paper and pencil?
The good old days were good enough. We learned with the best tools we had at the time. I question why now, when we have such powerful computing power in our pockets, we suddenly ask our learners to ignore it and grind away with a much less efficient processor, their brains.
Imagine a midterm that assesses our students using the tools easily accessible to them while leveraging the platforms that are their preferred way of learning?
Rather than have students put their smart phones away so they can memorize facts and formulas, why don’t we let them Google that information to solve more complex questions or problems? Why don’t we ask them to analyze and problem solve, rather than regurgitate and engage in skill and drill exercises?
For example, a high school biology a teacher could ask students to outline the growth cycle of crops in different countries based on data provided such as temperature, annual rainfall and sun exposure. For a generation faced with real time global climate change this could be a very useful exercise in using what they are learning to make sense of a problem that needs to be addressed.
And wouldn’t it be cool for a social studies class to skype a social studies class in another part of the world to discuss their culture, geography, traditions and lifestyle? How about they meet once a week to work together on a global problem solving project? Think that’s more engaging than a lecture on the culture in another part of the world? And it can all be done on students’ phones.
- Flip the classroom
In my opinion, all classrooms should be flipped. A flipped classroom is one where the students learn material at home and then practice and/or discuss what they learned in the classroom with their teachers during the school day.
The model of one teacher lecturing to 25 students four blocks a day is outdated and inefficient in the age of easily produced and accessed online video. In fact, I think the best teacher/lecturers in the state should produce video lectures on their favorite curriculum topics and share these with all the students taking that class state-wide. Then, teachers in individual districts can ask students to watch the lecture at home and come to class the next day ready to ask questions and discuss. Another great benefit of video lectures is they can be stopped, rewound, replayed and slowed down to deepen understanding, and enhance kids’ ability to take notes and absorb the information.
Wouldn’t this be a better use of teachers’ time and energy? Why should thousands of teachers prepare the same lectures when kids can access one excellent lesson and then springboard their learning from there?
- Fun Engagement
Teenagers love to goof around and play. You know what they don’t like? Listening to an adult drone on and lecture them about life “in the real world.”
We know kids with ADHD and autism often learn best when they like a teacher and/or are interested in a subject. The fact is, we ALL learn better when we are engaged and interested in a topic. More teachers would do well to build in lessons that include high interest activities that are challenging, hands on and fun.
Any subject can be fun. Want to learn about Shakespeare? Act out a few scenes. History lends itself well to re-enactments, debates, current event updates. Sciences have labs, so enough said. And math can be perked up with creative problem solving scenarios, competitions, or work done on funky technology and apps.
Of course, not all learning can be done on our smartphones, with streaming video and lots of laughs.
What students do need to learn:
- To read. Reading in an old school paper book or online, we all read every day. Students will always need to know how to read, decode and comprehend language.
- To write. We all write no matter what our occupation. Knowing how to compose a strong proposal, argument, and explanation will be necessary for all.
- Basic math calculations. Let’s be honest math folks, how much of that advanced math will students really use in their future lives? Not everyone is destined to be an engineer, architect or scientist. Instead of pushing all students to reach a level of pre-calculus in high school, how about we make sure all learners have basic math facts and calculations down pat? Those who are so inclined to do more advanced math should always be encouraged to do so. Those who find math hard and laborious may do well to take classes in budgeting, accounting and statistics.
- Coding. Today, everything we do is mediated by a computer. Let’s teach our kids to code as a required part of their curriculum. No offence to learning Latin, French or Spanish, but if I’m a betting woman, I bet my kid will use computer code before he speaks a foreign language when he heads into the workforce.
- Research skills. The problem with the internet as a research tool is 90% of what one finds in an initial search is crap and/or lies. Our kids need to learn how to determine what information they find online is legitimate and what is a scam. They will also need to learn how to integrate information from multiple sources to produce a well thought out solution to a presented problem.
- Creative problem solving. The world is a big place with big problems to solve. Our kids will inherit the mess we leave. Let’s just say, knowing how to get an A on a mid-term isn’t going to help them change the world for the better. Rather, I’d like us to ask them to think outside the box and bring what they know to the table in creative ways that we old school adults can’t even imagine.
Let’s educate our kids so they are prepared for the world they live in now and in the future.
We have the tools at our fingertips. We just need to be brave enough to use them and let our children show us what they know.