How I hope to approach “21st Century” education

Yesterday I attended an all-day workshop at the ICE 2009 conference led by Chris Lehmann of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  It was one of those workshops that you leave wanting to change the world.  There were so many things I wanted to take from what we discussed there and use in my school, whether it’s tomorrow, next week, or next year.

The first thing I’m taking away from this is a change of perspective.  I don’t know when or why I forgot this, but it was Chris’ statement on what schools should be that really struck a chord with me:

School should be…
– Thoughtful
– Wise
– Passionate
– Kind

Sometimes I think the current educational climate is too reactionary.  All too often we’re presented with a problem, such as low or stagnant test scores, and we respond impulsively.  Do that too much and you’re simply layering on a series of bandages to repair a punctured artery.  There are teachers in our district who sometimes feel that’s what we’re doing, and to a degree, I’d have to concur.

School has to be thoughtful.  We cannot afford knee-jerk reactions and spontaneous decisions when we’re dealing with students’ lives and learning experiences.  In order to help our students, we need to be carefully deliberate about what we do.

Chris Lehmann spoke about those people who believe schools should be run like businesses and how foolish that idea should seem in the light of our current economic situation.  The last time I read or heard anything on that topic, the catchphrase that was used was “Ready-Fire-Aim.” Is that really the best way to approach students’ learning?

Sometimes the quickest way to find out if something will work is to jump right in and do it. You can always make adjustments along the way. It’s the ready-fire-aim approach, and surprisingly, it works a lot better than the more common ready-aim-fire approach. The reason is that after you’ve “fired” once, you have some actual data with which to adjust your aim. Too many people get bogged down in planning and thinking and never get to the point of action. (“Do It Now,” Steve Pavlina.com)

As a point of clarification, this author is referring to business; he is not speaking about education.  What I’m afraid of is when schools begin trying to fix problems by “firing” away with technology.  I’ve heard this all too often, but if schools want to implement a “21st Century” education program that includes things like 1:1 computing for students, increased use of technologies, and Web 2.0 tools, it should be done with a deliberate and thorough examination of pedagogy first.  Something I’ve been trying to do lately — and this probably seems obvious to a veteran teacher — is to actually use my trusty UbD framework and decide what “big ideas” I want the students to get, rather than saying “Hey, let’s create a wiki and once we’re done, THEN figure out what the big picture is!” Chris’ presentation allowed me to reach some great insights with regard to my own classroom and my own lesson planning.  While I’m happy to be a “21st Century Pioneer” in my district, I want to do so with a renewed focus on making sure my students become “thoughtful, wise, passionate, and kind.”

The next step is to figure out how you teach someone to be “wise.”

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