For my Education 530 class I read an article examining the major criteria that Google uses when evaluating potential employees. I feel that a major take away from this article actually comes right at the end where the author points out that "The world only cares about -- and pays off on -- what you can do with what you know (and it doesn't care how you learned it)."
In a lot of my education classes this idea has been brought up since it gets to some of the core issues with education in the 21st century and under common core. Students have a wealth of knowledge and skills available to them through the internet that we as educators are failing to leverage properly during their education. I have seen students working on personal projects that are more involved and technical than the work they are covering in their core courses because they have identified a personal passion project and they are taking personal time to try and master something they feel has value.
This article points out that Google wants these types of students as employees. They want people who understand how to self learn and utilize the resources available to them in new ways to identify and solve problems. They want people who have struggled and overcome and worked through issues while solving problems that they believe in.
As educators we need to start creating learning environments that foster this type of thinking and mindset so that are students are truly prepared for the world as it exists today. Any job that requires the kind of route work we expected out of students in a traditional classroom is better left to a machine. We need to help students learn to think and create original and creative solutions to problems they are given, and to identify problems that need a solution that the world hasn't even noticed yet.
For his article Grant Wiggins spent two days shadowing students at his school to experience school from their persective. He shares his thoughts on how students experience education and highlights what educators can do to improve their instruction to better engage students.
A major concern that Wiggins voices during the article was the problem of student engagement. In the article he points out multiple situations that occur throughout the normal school day of a student that lead to a passive learning state for students and an overall decrease in desire to engage with the material. Students are expected to quietly sit most of the day and absorb the information presented to them with little opportunity given to using or discussing the material being covered. Students are introduced to complex ideas and not given time or opportunity to explore and examine the material. They are lectured at for half of the period and then expected to quietly complete assignments based on the work that was covered. These are the types of lessons that destroy the desire for students to learn and expand their knowledge. It teaches students that learning is more of a chore than a pleasure and that it has to be suffered through.
This style of instruction also leads teachers to thinking that students are unmotivated and have no desire to learn. However a simple examination of the work students are doing in their free time will show that students are actively engaged in finding information and learning about subjects that they feel have value. Students are actively researching personal projects that require higher critical thinking and problem solving than many of their classes for pleasure. As educators we need to find ways to create these same levels of excitement and desire in our own subjects. Students need to be given work that engages their creativity and passions and can draw them into the lesson.
Students need to also feel that they are having a noticeable impact on the class they are in. Wiggins points out that students who are passively engaged in education feel that they have no stake in the class and that their participation or presence has no direct impact on the class. The lessons we teach students need to give students a sense of voice.
For my second blog post on rethinking education I have selected two videos from the TEDx series that focus on non-standard ways to think about. As I pointed out in my last blog post there is a need for educators to start implementing lessons and instructional plans that have a more open nature to their questions and allows for greater student creativity in finding solutions. We can't expect students to become engaged with the material we are currently giving them that has effectively already been solved and only needs them to finish the calculations. Students understand that they would have calculators available to them when solving problems in everyday life and being asked to perform routine calculations is unnecessary work.
In the first video Patrick Honner, a teacher from NYC, shows examples from his classroom where students are working with spheres and construction paper to better understand surface area and volume. He explains how having open problems can lead students to finding creative solutions that are unexpected and highlight their thought process and views. He also points out issues that can occur during these types of lessons and explains where instructors will need to assist and direct students to keep them on task and moving towards a viable solution. He highlights how group work isn't like the traditional busy work given to students currently. The teacher facilitating engaging group work needs to be actively walking around the classroom and assessing the students work and process to given them informed and constructive feedback.
The second video discusses different types of mathematics and how critical thinking is an important skill in understanding and decoding problems that occur in the real world. Students need to understand that mathematics is also a language of patterns and relationships and that it can be used for more than solving for x. I feel that he shares some interesting ideas in this video for areas that we can explore in our mathematics classes to increase student engagement. Showing students different uses for math and how its applied can help students to understand the value and purpose of the information we are having them work through.
The first video is a classic for most new math teachers as it has Dan Meyer pointing out some of the obvious issues that many new teachers experience. As student teachers we are regularly asked to give students problem sets and assignments that are effectively busy work. All of the critical thinking has been stripped out of the assignments and we are left asking the students to perform the rudimentary calculations at the end. The true meat of the problem was in decoding the problem. Recognizing what elements we can identify and creating a mathematical model that simulates the problem. When college professors complain about students showing up to first year programs and not having a fundamental understanding of how and why systems work, it is because of practices like these.
Dan Meyer is pushing a philosophy that we need to start giving students work that is worthy and requires thought. We need to start asking students to solve problems and find solutions, not solve for x.
I feel that the major issue with creating a sea change towards this type of instruction is mostly focused on precedent. Teachers already have books and exams that they are comfortable using and are easy to grade and this shift requires actual work from a lot of them. They need to critically examine the work of students to see if they were on the right track and give them good advise on where they should focus. This requires greater effort than simply checking off an answer key and giving a stock lesson from the book.
The second video deals with these same issues looking at how the pressures of instruction have crippled some instruction. When teachers are gauged by their ability to get students to pass a standardized exam it leads to a lessening of creativity and exploration in their work. Having their job security dependent on their ability to get students to memorize a specific list of skills has had an evolutionary effect on teaching. We have selectively focused on and created an educational system that is designed to punish instruction that can not be explicitly quantified as meeting standards listed in a passing guide.
Both of these videos do a good job of highlighting what good instruction should look like and how creative and open ended questions can engage students at a more fundamental level. We need to change education to better meet the needs of students and these videos give some excellent examples of where we can start.