21st Century Teaching

by talkbackty on Oct 5, 2011

This is the second post in my Zen and the Art of Teaching series. Check out the first post here.

I'm going to do two things in this post. First, I will tell you exactly how I wish I could set up my classroom and interact with my students. Then I'll tell you why that is so difficult to achieve.

Currently, our schools work in a strange way. Kids are supposed to "learn" new material from a teacher at school. They are then sent home and given homework which is supposed to reinforce what they learned during the day. This is 100% the opposite of how I think things should work.

Here's what I would do. Instead of forcing kids to learn new material at school we should send them home with a podcast or assignment to research a new topic using the internet. Wikipedia pages should be used often. All new material should be learned away from school.

So you don't get kids looking like this.

Why? You ask. Two main reasons. First, this is exactly how the rest of us get information. If you want to learn something new isn't your first stop Google or Wikipedia? "Oh, I just heard about an anaconda. I have no idea what an anaconda is." When was the last time you followed that by saying, "I'll go to school to figure out what an anaconda is."

Schools aren't needed in that regard anymore. They are not the source of knowledge. The internet has more information on it than you could ever learn at school, regardless, of how long you spent there. The teachers in the world can not give you 1/1000th the information that the internet contains on any given topic.

So why do we treat young adults differently? Mainly because that's the way it's always been done. That was necessary. You did actually need a physical location to go to where someone could teach you things. But that's not the case anymore. Today, information exists and is available to our students at the touch of a button, literally.

Pictured: The actual button for information.
What do the kids do at school then?

Schools become the place where students reinforce the knowledge. Where they go to trained professionals who have extensively studied the subject area and know ingenuitive ways to help students incorporate it into their lives. Students go to school to make sense of the details, to add that layer of understanding that is necessary for true learning to take place. They go to school to ask questions instead of be told facts.

That would be the first phase of how I would teach in a perfect world. Reversing the manner in which we absorb and retain information. The second phase would involve interacting with students in every medium possible. I think Twitter could be one of the greatest tools for connecting individuals. As students are listening to a podcast or reading pages on Wikipedia they can @mention or hastag their classmates, teachers, even people from outside resources like National Geographic or Apple.

All this is possible with today's technology and yet, I often see a backlash to innovation in the classroom. Which brings me to...

The Challenges

I work at school that has a no electronics policy. Not a "no phones in class" or a "no ipods in the hall" policy. Any personal electronic is banned from anywhere on school.

Is this policy followed? Nope. It does not reflect the world we currently live in. It reflects a world some people are trying to hold on to. A world where students came to school and had no distractions and were perfect little angels. A world which never existed.

Voldermort held on to that world too.
Another problem is that the United States does not have the best internet connectivity in the world. Not even close. I'm not talking about the debatable practice of guaranteeing everyone internet access (to state my bias, I think we should guarantee it). I'm simply talking about the fact that even people who want and can afford internet in this country, can not access it. There are plenty of small towns in the U.S. that have no internet at all. My grand scheme of teaching falls apart quickly in a place where a majority of students can not use the internet.


Here's my two cents. It's idealistic and unrealistic, but I'm young and can still afford to be both. Besides, it's not like anyone in charge is pushing anything that great.

I want education to be treated like the military. I want companies to compete for lucrative contracts to provide the most cutting-edge equipment to our schools. I want the best of the best to be given to our students not once in awhile, but every single day. The most highly skilled people working should ALWAYS be the young because they've had years of hands on experience with the latest technology. This would insure that future innovations are continually being sought after by the people who, statistically speaking, will be around the longest. 

I realize how silly that may sound to some. I also know that there are people who read this and agree. I leave you with a quote from the TV show The West Wing that more articulately sums up my position:

      "Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That's my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet." -Sam Seaborn, The West Wing (S1E18)