Ok, I am feeling trapped in a 19th century system while trying to allow 21st century learning to happen. Is it because students don’t know how to “do” 21st century learning? Is it because they are so ingrained in a system that is outdated and they just go through the motions? I see glimpses of learning – like today when we were analyzing the European Union. Students had researched information about whether the candidate countries meet the criteria the EU has set and I had “researchers” ready for questions that would come up. Students were debating ideas like GDP, economic stability based on what they were reading, and as we needed more information the researcher would look up facts like literacy rate, etc. I really felt like students were informed, interested, and were able to enjoy the debate. Technology was not used just so students could use the internet but rather they were integrating the technology into their learning – as naturally as they text, IM, etc. It was a great day and I felt as if it was truly student learning taking place. I was the facilitator, they were learning from each other. It is not like this every day and I am continually asking why. And as the bell was ringing and students were grabbing their books and turning computers off, I wondered how to fit this type of learning into my 48 minute schedule? Why can’t the educational system focus on meeting student needs in the 21st century instead of focusing on standards of learning and testing? I know we need standards but do we need to teach to a test that a group of people who are not in classrooms have developed into a multiple choice test? When do we use multiple choice tests in life? I realize these are pretty random thoughts but I don’t think our system is working and as we look to work out the budget problems I hope we don’t lose focus on our progress. We must move forward – we cannot afford two steps back.
I spent a half a day today doing Learning Walks in one of our high schools. My Career and Technical Ed (CTE) Coordinator and I spent time in several CTE classes, talking to kids and questioning teachers. What I came away with is that we can learn a lot from CTE teachers.
The first teacher we visited is a tech ed teacher. He has his kids work in teams problem-solving designs. They huddle around a computer screen creating simulations, performing strength tests and determing the minimum thickness of metal or aluminum they can use on whatever they are working to create. They do this without ever actually building a real model or prototype–it’s all virtual. They can discuss the application to, say, the auto industry, who no doubt uses the same type of program when designing a vehicle, trying to minimize its weight and maximize its gas mileage. But the real story here is what happened at the end of class. Each student had to journal about what they learned and observed–not about the content, which is what I was expecting, but about the process of collaboration. So they are thinking metacognitively about the teamwork–everyday. The idea of having them reflect on the process of working together helps them hone their skills, process through whatever issues might arise, and become a more effective team. This was 21st Century learning, right before my eyes!
Collaborative problem-solving and creative thinking were just about the theme of the day as I progressed through the CTE courses. Sure, there were two classrooms that were less dynamic, but most were working together to determine why their small engine wasn’t working properly, to create funny pictures of teachers and classmates using Photoshop, or to design a logo for a mock website.
I have conducted observations of CTE classes before, but I have never done learning walks of this many all at once. As I was leaving the school, I realized that these guys do this stuff naturally. They get it. Dan Pink, Alan November, and Tony Wagner would be proud!