Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Today's Kids, Tomorrow's Kids and Lots of Rambling

You may have already seen this, or something very similar, but I ran across it again recently and thought it worthy of a good shaking out. If you haven't seen it, I think you'll find it quite enlightening. Anyway, it got me thinking.

The "21st Century Learner" conversations have been taking on lives of their own over the last few years. In many ways, the term is overused and has lost it's meaning. Lots of people throw around the term without really acknowledging what it takes to meet the students of today on their terms. And once we figure it out, it's a Catch-22: you can't stop trying to figure it all out once your current students and you finally figure out the "secret handshake," oh no... see because then guess who's at the door? You got it! Tomorrow's students!

So, who are we trying to teach here? Today's students or tomorrow's students? Let me take a wild guess here.... er, both? But see, they are one in the same person. Today's kids are already in tomorrow's world. Problem being that we aren't there with them, so we can't see things the way they can. Have you heard about the cellphone ringtone that only teens can hear? I see it like that. They have their own language that we really can't penetrate, although we can certainly try.

The difficult part is where teachers have to come out of their comfort zones. I've taught a few classes for some local college "education technology" classes and the instructors usually ask me to teach their students about the "stuff" we have and how to use it. I'm often invited to schools to speak to faculties and mostly they want me to demonstrate some of the "stuff" we offer in our district and how to use it. So, through no fault of their own, even the instructors and the adminstrators don't always "get" that if we can teach people to think differently and to teach their students SKILLS (duh!) and use some cool tools at the same time, then there will be some terrific success. BUT WE DON'T START WITH THE TOOLS! (Do you pick up a hammer and ask yourself what you can build today?)

Well, being the "rule-follower" that I am, I do a little bit of what they ask, but I always work it into the bigger picture-type presentation/conversation about teachers needing to step out of their comfort zones. Depending on how much time they give me (usually I'm offered 30 minutes to give a 2 hour presentation) I like to expose the teachers to some of the realities of how kids do their homework today or how they communicate or socialize with each other or how they problem-solve. And, if you paid attention to the video, the most important piece for teachers to realize is that students today expect to be able to create something. That's how they learn. According to the video on any given week, 14% of teachers use technology and 63% never do. Now, I'm not sure what statistics the video is using, but when they say, "technology" I'll guess, they mean any kind of technology, even static technology like powerpoint, or an overhead projector. Lots of teachers feel that if they use powerpoint instead of a blackboard (geez, am I dating myself here?) or the whiteboard, or an overhead or LCD projector they are, indeed, reaching those 21st Century Learners. Then there's teachers who have made lots of progress and are creating digital stories. How great is that? But many stop before they move on to the next level. What happens to the videos once they are created? How are they being used in the social world our students truly live in? Are they being shared? Or is every teacher who creates a digital story, venturing out to create and recreate the same story?

Teaching is not an art project. There is no finished product. It is constantly under construction, requiring constant observation, new tools, new angles, and input from others.

Ask questions. Ask lots of questions.


SMeech said...

Great post today... I am in the same boat as you. I get asked to demonstrate "tools" all the time and have the difficulty of wanting the work while pushing the real message.

I regularly get asked what's cool now? I now regularly respond, "What skills do you want your students to improve on the most right now?"

Mr. A. said...

I really appreciated this post.

I use a lot of technology in my middle school (7th and 8th grade) life science classroom. My students have used a classblog, a wiki, GoogleDocs, created podcasts, created Flash animations, etc.

All of it (all of it) has been incredibly useful and productive, for both my students and I.

I have come to believe that engagement is the issue (just like in the video) and not the technology.

Unfortunately, the cottage industry of technology tool providers would have us believe otherwise, in the archetypal "silver bullet" for education.

I so want those of us using technology to beat the drum for engagement, engagement, engagement.

I would also like to see the next, natural outcome, which is student ownership of their own learning and for the learning environment as well.

Lee said...

Mr. A,
Just out of curiousity, how do your middle school students share what they have created? We are looking for a solution to similar issues? And, I totally agree about engagement, but also we must work hard not to let the tail wag the dog.