Monday, November 4, 2013

If We Teach Today...

"If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow." -- John Dewey, 1944

This John Dewey quote is one of my favorite quotes to ponder when thinking about how we need to transform instruction in schools...and yet, it frightens me a bit that these words were spoken so long ago and so little has changed.  Dewey was a prolific writer, philosopher, and proponent of hands-on or experiential learning -- what we think of as project-based learning today.  Over a hundred years ago, Dewey was talking about moving away from the idea of the teacher as an expert in front of the class.  He saw the potential for teachers as guides and facilitators of student learning.

Now here we are in 2013, and our classrooms really haven't changed much.  Dewey was hoping to push education out of the Industrial Revolution and into the 20th Century, and we continue that same push hoping to bring our schools into the 21st century.  We are stuck operating in a school system designed during the Industrial Revolution.  Teachers, whether they like it or not, are still using the "sage on the stage" model of teaching, despite the fact that the teacher no longer  has to be, nor actually is, the smartest person in the room! During the Industrial Revolution, teachers were responsible for holding all of the necessary knowledge and doling it out to their students.  In the digital age, this model simply doesn't make sense since anyone with an Internet connection has access to the entire history of human knowledge.  That's pretty powerful.  So why aren't we harnessing that power?

We're trying, but it's hard to push back against such an ingrained system.  There are teachers, schools, even whole school districts doing phenomenal things with teaching and learning, but we still have such a long way to go.  We know that a hands-on, project-based learning experience raises student learning.  We know that there are multiple ways for students to show what they know.  We know that companies are looking to hire creative, innovative, and collaborative people.  We know that even as adults we hate the traditional "sit and get" style of professional development we are so often subjected to.  We know all of this, and yet our education system does not reflect this.

This is not just an educational technology issue, but rather a pervasive problem with our education system as a whole.  So how do we get there?  How do we transform?  There are many answers,  but technology use is already becoming more and more prevalent in our classrooms, and these tools offer a multitude of ways for us to break out of the mold of traditional classroom teaching and learning.  I believe that technology is one key available for us to unlock our classrooms and to explore new ways to teach and learn.  

Technology, the Internet, social media are rapidly changing the world around us.  I believe that we must harness the power of these tools to change the way our society thinks about teaching and learning.  With the variety of devices, apps, and tools out there, students now have access to professional creation tools, the ability to publish their work for an authentic audience, the chance to connect with and learn from people all over the world, view everything from historical photos and documents to the topography of mars, and so much more.  It is critical that we get these tools in the hands of our students.

We have to move forward, and we have to do it now.  We aren't going to transform education over night, but we will never succeed if we don't take the first step.

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