What Do You Remember?

This week, as we continued to explore Learning/Knowledge in a Connected Age, I couldn’t help but wonder just how connected are our students? How connected are the youth that we are teaching in our classrooms, and are we teaching TO those strengths and skills that those students already possess?  OR are we teaching to a machine?  And by machine, I simply mean, are we teaching to a pre-programmed individual – we have 25’ish of those machines sitting in our rooms every single day.  Are we teaching to the machine or are we teaching to the individual?

As a teacher of high school students, and in today’s society, it is imperative that we teach to our student needs and abilities, not to the masses.  But do our curricula allow for this?  Do the teachers have the time to individualize every students learning abilities without running themselves into the ground?  Within all of the questions that I have circling around, one big one remains…..HOW DO WE MAKE LEARNING MEANINGFUL AND ENGAGING TO OUR STUDENTS?

Think back to your elementary, middle or high school years.  What do you remember the most?  Me, I remember having a clock go whizzing past my head and out the windows of the back room by my history teacher (couldn’t do that now a days, could we?).  I remember the activities, the parties, the clubs, but I really only remember one class that I took.  Why is that?  What about that one class that I took resonates with me still?  Was it the subject matter? Yes.  Was it the teacher?  Yes.  Well, what about the subject matter and the teacher made me want to learn that subject?  It was the way in which we were presented the materials, and the way in which the teacher let us explore for ourselves the materials.  It was biology class, and the teacher was and is the reason that I have become a biology teacher today.  It was the collaboration that we were allowed to have within the classroom with one another learning the concepts taught to us by him.  Remember, this is a time when computers were “new” – we were typing in codes like 10 go to 20 and 20 run 10.  So needless to say, the internet was not at our fingertips.  But it wasn’t the internet that was the spark in the room, it was the collaboration and conversation and freedom to explore the subject matter that was the spark.

Fast forward a few, well okay, like 30 decades….. Our students are the same as we were, right?  Wrong!  Our students, although biochemically the same as we are, have evolved as learners.  They are digital natives, while we (my age bracket at least) are digital immigrants, visitor’s if you will.

While watching the Future of Learning, Networked Society, many things made sense to me:

  1. School is not a factory spitting out replicated machines (children).
  2. Children are individual and have many needs, shouldn’t their learning reflect these needs (need for accelerated learning, need for adapted learning, etc.)
  3. Teachers should not know all of the answers!  IF the teachers know all of the answers then we are robbing the students of a valuable education – the ability to think and problem solve on their own, the chance to learn how to collaborate effectively in the connected world that we are living in.
  4. We need to create an environment where our students are restless until THEY find the answers to their questions.  Not until then, will THEY feel satisfied with their achievement.
  5. No memorization = increased engagement

I was inspired to check out some of the suggestions from the video.  Coursera.org is a site where students can learn courses that they are interested in.  I searched out a few:  Forensic Science (because I am teaching this course right now), generally the layout of the course is very similar to the one that I am teaching my 30 level students!  These courses are free online learning courses. Unfortunately, this course is not currently offered, but students can join a watch list which will email them when this course is available.  Other courses that I checked out and are running currently are all about 6 weeks in length – not bad!

I also checked out Knewton – personalized learning for our students.  So I created a Biology 30 course.  The new biology 30 curriculum is based on genetics and evolution so I picked those topics.  Once the topics were picked, Knewton placed the topics into 2 week long sessions in which the students must complete one module before they can move onto the next module.  I can see how this would work well for some classes, modules supplemented with hands on inquiry or problem based learning in which open ended questions are asked to our students….  Very different from how I learned, much more engaging!

As the world becomes more connected, so should our students.  As our students become connected, so should we as their teachers.  As was mentioned in the networked student: Teachers must act as a learning architect, modeler, learning concierge, constructed learning incubator, network Sherpa, synthesizer and finally an agent of change for our students.  I know that this is what I want to be for my students.  After all, my students are 21st Century learners, and I was a mere 20th Century learner.  A lot has changed, shouldn’t the way we teach our students?

Networked Student

Photo Credit: https://natbaseratlarande.webbstjarnan.nu/

Still, one question remains, I wonder if we do not shift our teaching strategies, what will our student remember?

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