As we look at the future of education, we can’t ignore the fact that kids today belong to a generation that has never known a world without hand-held and networked devices. According to author Anya Kamenetz, “American children now spend 7.5 hours a day absorbing and creating media, about the same amount of time they spend in school.” What’s more, because kids have grown up multi-tasking they can cram 11 hours of content into those 7.5 hours. That’s more than a day at a full-time job. The truth is, it’s a new day. We have to figure out how to use this new world to grow a new generation.
Let me remind of you of something. Back in the 1960s, people bemoaned the vices of television. The American public became aware of how much time can be wasted in front of the tube, and worse, how damaging the violence, language and suggestive behavior can be to children. Eventually, however, some smart people began creating shows like “Captain Kangaroo” then “Sesame Street” and later “Blues Clues.” Based on research, producers recognized there were virtues in what many assumed was an “evil” medium. From “Sesame Street’s” debut in 1969, it changed the prevailing mindset about a new technology’s potential. People began to realize TV is neutral. It can be used for destructive or constructive purposes. Bingo. The same is true for today’s new technology. Handheld and network devices are at the same turning point, with an important distinction: they can be tools for expression and connection, not just passive absorption.
Take the “smartphone” for example. It is a handheld device that’s simple to use and engages kids in their own learning process, at their own speed. What’s more, teachers can track the progress of each student electronically. Anya Kamenetz continues, “For children born in the past decade, the transformative potential of these new devices is just beginning to be felt. New studies and pilot projects show smart phones can actually make kids smarter.”
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education earmarked $5 billion in competitive school reform grants to aid pilot programs and evaluate best practices. Major foundations are zeroing in on handhelds for preschool and primary grade students. The students, as young as six, pick up the devices and immediately engage in solving the math games on them. When the application is in a foreign language, they’ll group up in communities of three and help each other figure out the menus. Kids actually begin teaching themselves. Teachers can track student’s progress through software on their laptops. Everyone wins. It’s a virtual “pocket school.”
“What’s at issue is a deep cultural shift, a fundamental rethinking not only of how education is delivered but also of what ‘education’ means. The very word comes from the Latin ‘duco’ meaning ‘to lead or command’—putting the learner in the passive position.”
My point is simply this. The filter we must use when evaluating our children’s maturity is that education should stimulate life. Whether it is sparked by a teacher or by a new piece of technology, it must ignite a hunger in this emerging generation to learn and grow. Technology doesn’t have to represent “passive stimuli.” It also doesn’t necessarily have to lead to artificial maturity. We simply must choose to use it well and guide students along the way. It is my belief that education must move not only toward “student centered learning”, but “student driven learning.” When it is empowered by the students themselves—it will work again.
Tom Vander Ark, former executive director of education for the Gates Foundation, reminds us technology is here to stay and we better get used to it. He says “most high school kids are going to be doing most of their learning on-line by 2020. These schools are to a much greater extent going to be a blend of on-line and on-site.” This should give us incentive to figure out how to use this scenario to foster authentic maturity in our kids.
So where do we go from here? I believe the key to building a bridge from where we are to where we need to go is practicing new teaching methods students have been talking to me about for years. Let’s examine just one idea to better engage them.
Problem Based Learning
Problem Based Learning is brilliant because it incentivizes students. This form of teaching doesn’t begin with a lecture to be given but a problem to be solved. In fact, student growth doesn’t revolve around a lecture or sermon, but addressing a dilemma. Students’ motivation to listen to a lecture stems from the belief that it will help them reach their goal of solving the problem. The teacher is perceived as a coach who’s helping the student reach that goal.
Dr. Galen Turner and Dr. Jim Nelson, at Louisiana Tech, have changed the way they introduce students to engineering. Years ago, instructors at Tech noticed that their students were dropping out of the engineering program. They realized that it wasn’t always because the students were unable to handle the rigors of study and testing. They just got bored or disengaged with the lectures. So, department heads made a change. They started the process with a question not an answer; a problem instead of a solution. In short, faculty members ask students to look around the world and choose a problem that interests them. Then, those students were challenged to invent something to solve that problem. All their learning revolves around addressing a real-life issue. Students become inventors. The math, science and engineering faculties coordinate their courses and collaborate to make sure it all moves students toward their goal of solving the problem they’ve chosen. Suddenly, any lectures they hear are relevant and the tests they take are significant. Education is no longer about a theory, it’s about a reality that students hope to change. The classroom involves an experience, not merely a teacher downloading information. Student engagement goes up because:
- Classroom time is designed to enhance them reaching their goal.
- Departments work together so that all courses help them reach the goal.
- New sections of the textbooks and syllabus are applied to that goal.
- Grades are based upon the student completing their invention.
During my last visit to the campus, I viewed a slide show of what students had accomplished the past year. Their innovation was stunning. These young people had created devices that would do everything from sounding a buzzer when mail was delivered to your house, to harnessing solar power more efficiently in nations where it is difficult to retrieve power any other way. What I love most about the projects is—these students demonstrated how much brilliant innovation was inside of them and they applied it to a project that was actually meaningful, not artificial.
This post is a “taste” of my new book, Artificial Maturity—Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Growing Up Authentically.
I can hardly wait to share some more. Stay tuned.