My initial assessment of this week’s articles is that the future seems terrifying. I find this reliance on technology in society disturbing in a sense. Specifically after reading the article “Future Work Skills 2020.” Everyone who has used technology in the classroom knows that it is bound to fail on you at some point in time. The power goes out, you lose internet connectivity, and you are forced to come up with an alternative techno-less lesson plan in the spur of the moment. One lesson that stands out from my teaching experience was when the power went out and my classroom was dark. The students and I were trying to figure out how we could work in a completely dark classroom when one student went over to the window and pulled up the blind. Genius! The room was flooded with light. The point of this story is that even though we need to help prepare students for a technology infused future, isn’t it still important for students to be equipped with the skills to function if technology fails?
In my science classroom, we use digital sensors called Probeware to collect data during various lab activities (temperature, pH, speed, acceleration, etc.). One of the issues I have with these collection devices is that students can look at the tablet, read the value, but have no idea where this value came from. In fact, they can collect a series of data points, analyze their relationship, but still have no concept of the way in which the data was derived. It is great to be able to automatically calculate the speed of an object, however isn’t the learning and fundamental understanding gained by having students physically measure a distance, record a time, and to understand that this is how speed is determined. The ability to critically think about speed and propose innovative ideas comes from the fundamental knowledge gained by understanding what the concept actually means.
One series of books I use for much of my science teaching is called “Stop Faking It” produced by the National Science Teachers Association. This series of books each tackles one area of science (chemistry, light, motion, etc.) and breaks it down using simple activities and explanations. The goal of these books is to ensure science teachers will “stop faking” the fact that they “know” science concepts and instead focus on really understanding the concepts. I personally found that once I had a solid understanding of these scientific concepts, I was then able the think critically about them, rationalize the answers in my mind, and apply them to different situations. Isn’t this what we want from 21st Century learners?
I suppose where I struggle as a teacher is that we continually expect more and more from our students. We are requiring them to have the skills set forth in traditional education and we are wanting them to have the skills for the 21st Century workforce. I think this mashup in a sense results in inadequate teaching of both. Our curriculums are in a transitional stage between traditional education and education for the future. We know that it is important to have students develop critical thinking skills, problem solving, decision making, yet the response is often to overwhelm them with so much information that they end up understanding a fraction of what we expect. Rather than building knowledge from simple to complex, we throw the complex at them resulting in complete shutdown from many students. We want them to be able to create and construct their own knowledge, yet we still teach them “facts” about the world. Even higher education still expects students to have traditional literary and mathematical skills.
So what is the answer? Are we expecting students to know both traditional skills (spelling, literacy) and the 21st Century skills such as those outlined in the NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment? Are there key fundamental understandings that society would agree that students should possess? Do our curriculums need to be more concise and specific about what knowledge is fundamental and thereby allowing students a solid understanding of fewer, but more vital concepts? Or is it simply out with the old and in with the new? Please share your comments