For too long, the educational system has maintained stagnant in its ways. Standardized testing this, rubrics that, sit here, test there, take notes, and complete that worksheet! While I strongly believe that we must reevaluate how we introduce educational concepts to young minds, I, too, am guilty of utilizing “traditional” teaching strategies in the classroom.
You see, I am a math teacher and believe that practice does make perfect! I assign homework and classwork that requires solving the same type of problems several times. I convince students and myself that learning math is like practicing sports; the more you practice and work at it, the better you will get. I also stand in front of the class and lecture while students listen and take notes.
By now, you are likely wondering why I continue to use old traditional practices while, in the same breath, call them “stagnant”!? Let me explain...
While I believe that these methods work, I also understand the necessity to keep up with the times and offer students modern means of absorbing information and more importantly, guiding them to develop real world life skills in the 21st century.
Traditional teaching is based on the factory model of education which was established during the industrial era over a hundred years ago. This system was geared towards preparing students for a factory type work environment; a workforce of repetitive procedures and rote actions in an assembly line fashion. It is the reason for the lecture style, direct instruction of information, and a teacher in front of the classroom with students in row format. It is the reason for a focus on rote memorization, procedural actions, and fact checks.
If the “traditional” ways have produced millions of “successful” adults in today's society (myself included), why would they begin to fail now? I don’t immediately see flaws in the traditional ways of teaching because I, myself, have not suffered because of it… or have I? Could I have better benefited from an educational system that nurtured 21st century skills?
Re-imagining the possibility of how things could be is never easy, and like most things, implementation is easier said than done. Even to this day, I continue to utilize many of the traditional teaching strategies in my classroom. The challenge, i’ve realized, is looking past what we know has worked for previous generations and consider the possibility of re-imagining education to better prepare our students to adapt to the future.
We can already see how quickly technology changes and adapts. By the time our students graduate, they will have gone through countless iterations of smart phones, smart watches, tablets, laptops, and other mobile devices. They will have encountered new and innovative technology on the regular, and will likely have seen unmeasurable advances and changes in society as well as advances in productivity and logistics, some of which we are not even prepared to fathom today. (Does anyone even remember where the on button to this desktop is?!)
As is, students can quickly look up an answer to a question, obtain expert advice, communicate, share information, and become informed at the touch of a screen. (Where have all the buttons gone?!!) They can take, make, and edit their own movies, create digital art, design websites, take and edit photographs, make games, blog, vlog, become youtube sensations, and learn to make just about anything (and I mean ANYTHING..) all from one device.
Because of all this technology and accessibility, we must imagine and prepare for a future that does not yet exist. We cannot conform to solely teaching in the ways of the past as it is not sufficient for students today.
The factory model of education worked towards preparing students for the demands of a developing world, but with all the new advancements in technology, workflow, and productivity; are these methods still effective today? Will rote memorization and procedural actions alone help students keep up in a society that is quickly and constantly changing? With information and how-to’s so readily available, is it even necessary to devote so much time and resources to reiterating the same information? Do the skills acquired via the factory model of education provide students with the appropriate tools to adapt and evolve in today's and tomorrow’s fluid work environment? If not, why then, do so many of today's classrooms still look and feel no different than those of a hundred years ago?
When we attempt to answer these questions and consider the future, even more questions arise: What technology will be available ten years from now? How much more will we progress in that short period of time? How will this new technology affect workflow and productivity? Will the students have the skills and ability to adapt and problem solve? Will they be ready to face a future we have yet to discover? How can we prepare them for a future unforeseen?
Today's students, the next generation of employees and employers, are better served if they can problem solve, communicate, collaborate, and think critically, creatively, and innovatively. As educators in the 21st century, we need to maintain a well equipped “toolbelt” of strategies, ideas, and practices that best reach all students in our diverse classrooms. Traditional practices still have a place in our classrooms but to continue to solely teach strictly in the ways of our past is a disservice to our students and their futures.
Instead, we must find ways to switch it up in the classroom and offer exposure to numerous modern models of education. We need to prepare all students for a future that values and thrives with problem solvers, teamwork, creativity, go-getters, and thinking outside the box.
We also need to model, teach, and inspire our students by being examples, visionaries, and teachers who think outside the box. It is important that we show our students, through our own actions, that accepting status quo in our classroom is not enough for us. That, as their teacher, we will think big and problem solve so that they, too, will do the same. We must also help be the catalyst of change in our department, school, community, state, and nation. We need to help lead the change so that every child, not just our own, has an opportunity to develop and hone their 21st century skills.
Although, I cannot foresee the future, I have vowed to be forward thinking, innovative, and to re-imagine my classroom and teaching practices. I have vowed to share my ideas and experiences and be a catalyst of change in education.
I invite everyone to join me on my journey to re-imagine education in the 21st century and I invite you to join a movement of re-imaginers in education today!