Big Ideas & the Big Picture By: alina Odom
"Education Nation, Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools" is an excellent read! The author's purpose is to start or continue conversations and actions to create an education nation.
"Changing our thinking can be the most difficult thing we human beings can do, especially when our opinions are firmly rooted in personal experience." (Chen, p. 11). This is so true for teachers who have experience and who were trained in one way and are now having to change their ways, even if they have been working. The world is changing and it only makes sense that education changes too. Another question that was asked was, "Could we design a school system in which every child could investigate the facts they see, feel, and touch every day?" (Dewey, p. 17) How awesome would it be if students could learn about whatever interests them each day? With modern technology they can. Students have an endless amount of information at their fingertips and are doing this type of learning after school so it only makes sense that we start doing this during school too. School would be exciting and challenging for students again. Albert Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." This quote describes our education system. Students are being taught in the same ways that they were in the past, and different results are expected. It's insane! We need to change our thinking. Chen defines how innovation happens as, "take the best elements of what has been, integrate diverse sources of knowledge and talent, and create a breakthrough that hasn't been imagined before." Wow! How wonderful would our education system be if leaders were not afraid to take this initiative? Leaders are held to certain standards because of standardized testing. There was a quote from an Indian educator that addresses the standardized testing debate perfectly. "Here if we want the elephant to grow, we feed the elephant. We don't weigh the elephant." I actually sent this via text message to the testing coordinator for the school in which I work. "Concentrate on what we should be intellectually (and physically) feeding our children and not just on measuring their mental weight." (Chen, p. 27) We should focus on feeding student's brains more than measuring them. Chen suggests teaching students how their brains grow and develop. I love this suggestion because if a student knows that their brain is capable of holding an endless amount of information, then the capability of learning more and more is endless. Maybe a student's knowledge of this fact will help them to not give up so easily when new tasks are challenging. If they are coached to keep going and practicing until their brain understands (because it can), then the possibilities are endless! "You can always greatly change how intelligent you are." (Chen p. 28) Another great analogy about thinking has to do with sports. If your child attended a basketball practice and sat in a desk and read a chapter in a book about passing a basketball and then took a quiz on this knowledge to conclude practice (without ever touching a ball or physically making a pass), the coach would be fired. Sports require performance. However, when it comes to learning math, reading, or science, we are okay with this method of learning. It is time to change our thinking and stop the insanity!
"Do students run into the school in the morning at the same rate as they speed out in the afternoon?" (Houston, p. 35) What a perfect question! In my opinion the only time the answer would be yes is if school was a safe place and home was not. How wonderful would school be if students were excited to get there each day (not just on field trip days or on days when special projects were taking place)? Students have to be taught certain subject matter, but they are curious and need to know why they need to know what they need to know. As a kindergarten teacher I am so obsessed with the fact that my students need to learn the basics in order to be successful upon completion of this first year of school. However, according to Chen, "So much better to have the first-grade or kindergarten kid doing engineering and leave it to the older ones to do pure mathematics than to do it the other way around. Start by having the youngest students use their hands to make things, such as Lego robots, buildings, and vehicles, learning to apply mathematics and science principles, rather than first serving them an austere diet of abstract rules of arithmetic." (p. 40) I have heard mixed reviews having been a kindergarten teacher for 11 years. Some think "play" is important while others see it as a waste of time. What if play were called engineering? Isn't that essentially what play is? I always thought that playing with Legos and play-doh were good for building fine motor control. Who knew I have been fostering engineering and science principles all along? In older grades this "play" is called project based learning. When students are given the opportunities to work alongside teachers and peers, then challenging hands-on work happens. Students are naturally more interested and motivated by this type of learning. Project based learning and cooperative learning lead to new types of relationships between students and teachers. This relationship building is also beneficial for students as they will one day join the workforce and more than likely have to work with and/or for others. Teachers need to be trained in how to teach this way. "While the costs of laptops, cameras, and production software now place the digital tools of multimedia production within the reach of most students, merely having the tool in one's hands does not guarantee proficiency, any more than having a pen or brush confers the status of writer or painter. The right curriculum and skilled teachers are still key, and both are noticeable lacking in today's schools." (Chen, p. 66) I am very thankful for this opportunity to work on this instructional technology degree. I feel like I am getting updated with the world and the way students are interested to learn. Before I began this degree, I didn't even realize how much things need to change in education. I had that attitude that kids spend too much time on devices and need to be introduced to good ole fashioned stuff at school or they would be missing out. Boy do I feel differently now! In order for students of today to be ready for work in 21st century jobs, the curriculum has got to change! Unfortunately standardized testing becomes a burden to curriculum too. "What is another of students' most frequently asked questions? Not 'How can I become a critical thinker and prepare for the twenty-first-century economy?' Not 'Can I go beyond the textbook and look for additional sources to expand my knowledge?' It's 'Will this be on the test?'" (Chen, p. 76) Performance should be what really counts.
Is it important that every child have a computer at school? This is a modern day debate because of money, safety, training, and a new way of teaching. Three questions were asked by Chen, "Do you use a computer?" "Would you give up your computer?" "Would you share your computer with three other people?" Hmmmm...this is an interesting way to think about one-to-one devices in schools. Students are accustomed to having a device. Most students have access to devices at all times outside of school, so it only makes sense that they have a device to use during school. This way they can be guided on how to use this tool to enhance their learning. Teachers are hesitant about having so much access to technology because they aren't trained in this way of teaching. Not only do devices provide access to unlimited knowledge and more rigorous work for each individual student, but a device can also help the lower level learners. "No struggling reader likes to have his or her weaknesses exposed in a group, in front of the entire class or their reading circle. The iPod enables this process to be much more intimate, between a students and a teacher listening to each other's voices in audio files. This type of relationship is the real benefit of 1:1 technology, allowing a 1:1 relationship between the teacher and each student." (Chen, p. 100) Teachers still play a major role in this new way of teaching. The students have to be taught how to use devices and technology in order to learn. However, this also means that teachers have to be taught how to use the technology and how to teach others to use it as well. I almost feel as if this new way of teaching will not truly come about until the students of today are teachers. Teachers tend to teach in the way that they learned. Some feel as if a computer can not replace a teacher. Studies show that students today who take online classes generally perform better than the students who have traditional instruction. This is amazing to me! I would not think that having a teacher who knows their students and learns their needs would provide less of an education that an online program. Not only are devices beneficial to the general education student population, but the consideration of assistive technology for all students in special education is becoming mandated in individualized education plans. There are devices that give students a way to communicate that otherwise were not able to. iPads and computers with touch screens allow students to participate in online learning without having to type or use a mouse. There is assistive technology for vision and speech impairments also. The technology edge connects to the next edge - the time/place edge. Learning is available at all times now thanks to technology.
"In a new day for learning, there is no final bell." (Chen, p. 139) The school calendar was invented back when having the summer off for gathering crops or helping on the family farm was needed. "Our schools...are captives of the school clock and calendar. We have been asking the impossible of our students, that they learn as much as their foreign peers while spending only half as much time in core academic subjects." (Chen, p. 144) Imagine working on a project and a bell rings right when you are getting your ideas flowing and you have to stop to change to a different topic or subject. How frustrating would this be? "The hourly ritual where bells still ring prevents students from working in depth on projects in groups and travelling into the community to gather data or talk to local experts." (Chen, p. 144) This all makes perfect sense to me, but I do not know how to prevent this from happening. I am a teacher but I am also a human who likes to leave my place of work to do things I enjoy and see my family some too. However, it would be nice to have freedom during the school day to not be tied to a rigid schedule. There are some days when we don't get to math or reading because we had an exploration activity that took longer than expected. And we survive! Teachers have to make their schedules work. "A lousy eight-hour day is worse than a lousy six-hour day." (Goldberg, p. 145) School schedules dictate how time teaching and learning is spent. Since a school calendar and schedule is a must (for now), there are other ways to extend the school day. After school programs are being created that allow for the type of inquiry based learning that should be happening during the school day as well. There are also summer programs that parents are sending their children to (they have to work during the summer anyway) that keep learning going during the summer months. There is also a new trend called place based learning. "Place-based learning, and its relative, project-based learning, requires that students go out into many locations to gather information first-hand and speak to local experts." (Chen, p. 174) When students can get out in the real world, a balance occurs. They are out walking around, learning, and not spending too much time in front of a screen (too much of a good thing is not a good thing). Nature is described as a natural Ritalin that some students need. This reminds me of a school that I heard present at the Georgia STEM Forum this year. This school in north Georgia has the first forest Kindergarten. The students spend the entire school day outside (rain, shine, sleet, snow). It was amazing to see video footage of a day in the forest and also to hear the teachers speak about how wonderful the learning is that's going on outdoors. The words developmentally appropriate and authentic kept running through my mind during their presentation. School gardens are another great tool for authentic learning. "The best school gardens go beyond the growing and harvesting to the cooking and eating." (Chen, p. 177) Another school that presented at the STEM Forum spoke of their school garden. The students grew crops and donated the food for the homeless people in their area. They also learned of a teacher at the local high school who had cancer and chose a wholistic approach for her treatment. The students grew the herbs and vegetables that she needed for her treatment. It was truly amazing and what a fantastic learning experience was this? Learning can take place at any time and in any place. Thanks to programs like skype and facetime students can even make video calls to park rangers, astronauts, engineers, or anyone they are interested in learning about. Students are fortunate to be able to learn at any time and in any place. This type of learning is authentic and valuable.
"The educational system simply does not allow teachers enough time to learn about and adopt the new teaching methods possible in the twenty-first century. School budgets are being cut on all fronts, and professional development is among the first to suffer." (Chen, p. 190) Teachers are not getting the professional development provided for them in order to keep up with new education trends. With budget cuts, professional development is getting cut too. Teachers are having to take it upon themselves to participate in professional learning on their own time and at their own expense. So, there has been a decline in this when it's one of the most important things needed in education. I know for recertification purposes I used to have to complete so many hours of professional development in order to qualify for recertification. The past two time that I have recertified, I didn't not have to have any professional development hours completed. The state realized that funding was being cut for this and no longer made it a requirement to recertify. Teachers are now using co-teaching as an option to make up for what's lacking. Teachers are pairing up with other teachers to share ideas and learn from each other. Knowledge can be shared from the younger teachers (who know more about how to use technology tools and how to incorporate these into teaching) and the older teachers (who have experience). "New teachers graduate having read a lot of theory, but they have never been taught how to teach a third-grader to read." (Chen, p. 192) "Just as the world of work has shifted to teams, teachers can also organize their own 'teaching teams' in which each member contributes his or her own expertise. Teachers who work in collaboration with others break down the isolation of teachers laboring alone in their classroom, an outdated model still taught in man schools of education today." (Chen, p. 193) Professional Learning Communities are a growing trend in the county in which I work. We are all being trained (slowly, but gradually) in how to work in these communities. Essentially it is team work. Another way teachers can use the co-teaching edge is to team up with parents. I am often thankful that I am a teacher for the simple fact that because I am a teacher I understand, as a parent, how important parental involvement is in a child's education. I check folders, I stay on top of school events, I have my children complete their homework alone and then I check over it and make them find any mistakes, and I conference with their teachers regularly to make sure my kids have what they need. My heart aches for the child in my class who has work samples that were made months ago. It also aches for the child in which I try to call the parents and the phone is disconnected (what if they fall and break their arm at school???)! If parents only realized what a difference being involved in their child's education makes. "We should now acknowledge that parental involvement is probably the most important and least addressed factor in a children's learning." (Chen, p. 199) There are many factors that play a part into a parent's involvement in their child's education. Parents need to feel welcome and comfortable talking with their child's teacher. Teachers need to provide multiple means of communication with parents. I personally use a daily folder, email, I provide my personal phone number in addition to the school number, I use remind 101 for text messaging and announcements, I use facebook, and I send home weekly newsletters to keep parents informed. I recently added google calendar to my list of parent communication. "If they are communicated with early, many times the situation improves because they get involved." (Chen, p. 201) In my experience, I have found this to be very true. If a student is struggling in school, I schedule a parent conference immediately. I prefer face to face, but will setting for a phone conference if a parent can not come in. Almost every time I have addressed a need in a parent conference, the parent becomes involved. I always offer advice as in how they can help their child to continue what we do during the school day. Co-teaching with parents guarantees success.