Technology envelops a classroom: full of iPads and laptops; all students have access to augmented reality contraptions and virtual reality headsets; a group of students is being led in a coding session in C++; flexible seating arrangements allow for everyone to feel comfortable; students submit work through an advanced online LMS; students connect with peers via webcams.
In most cases, one would describe this scenario as an innovative classroom — by using the most advanced tools, we’ll effectively prepare students for the future. Well-to-do educators promote their use of the latest coding app. to get students interested early on — even offering credit as second language! Companies are propping up everywhere to offer new flexible seating solutions. Each of these improvements come at a gigantic cost. However, all this is hardly innovative.
What do these tools do but allow us to do “old things” better? We’ve transitioned from paper and pencil worksheets to an iPad for math homework, but discourage, block, and don’t modernize in the age of Wolfram Alpha; we no longer need paperback books for the whole class and encourage eBooks, but don’t allow students to read whatever they want from vast online catalogs (including audiobooks!); we push coding as innovation, but ignore that the future will have something new to behold.
Every time we propagate innovation as technology improvements, we’re ignoring the vast changes needed in the education system as a result of technology. Most information learned in school can found in the blink of an eye — and most rote knowledge has been replaced (or will soon) by artificial intelligence. Why would we not change the entire math curricula now that machines can solve almost all high school math equations? Of course, many teachers would respond: “so they understand the process” — assuming that students understand this from regurgitating step-by-step instructions. Rather, we could develop a math curriculum that uses these tools to creatively solve real problems.
What is a truly innovative classroom? It is one that disrupts the outdated current system and places emphasis on the needs of a child — starting with rewriting all curricula to incorporate the modern world:
- Reframe math as a relevant and authentic skill by using tools available to solve and think about real world problems (such as personal finance decision-making and building).
- Work with local research firms or organizations to study and predict real data in science.
- Be given ample time to read for pleasure from a vast array of media in English.
- Navigate complex issues, be empowered, and understand the past using purposeful discussion on tolerance and activism in social studies.
- Utilize technological tools to assist learning a second language.
- Save coding (and other extracurriculars) as passion-based classrooms focused on students who want to learn more (of course — all classrooms should be framed with this in mind).
The world no longer needs a robotic, rule-obeying workforce to supplement a growing industrial zone. Instead, we need creative, passionate people who come up with innovative solutions to problems, fight for social equity, and are able to cooperate and lead. We need students who love to learn — notably this does not mean agree to listen. Students who excel at following directions and doing just as their told, in trival step-by-step form, are at a huge disadvantage. And as educators, we are doing these students a disservice when we congratulate them with high grades and praise. Instead, a classroom could look like this:
- Large amounts of time given to flexible, self-directed learning. Students are given a variety of options — such as laptops, books, and activities — to develop their own projects.
- Students are not confined to one location, and are taught responsibility by acting freely.
- Cooperation and collaboration are encouraged through students being empowered to organize activities and tackle greater objectives. The school (and its students) work with the local community to bring in professionals to assist in teaching, learning, and partnerships.
- Teachers assist students in finding their passion and purpose in life: devoting the majority of their time to one-on-one or small group sessions to build relationships and mentor.
- Instructional time, beyond simple arithmetic and literacy, is devoted to teaching students how to learn through finding and organizing information — as well as teachable moments in tolerance, empathy, and communicative skills.
- Students are constantly learning by doing. There is little to no time being devoted to lectures — unless prompted by students or general housekeeping.
- Discipline is through elements of restorative justice — all infractures are based on talking with everyone and making it a learning experience. There are no “zero tolerance” policies.
- Administration is open and present — connecting with teachers and students — and constantly providing support.
- There is no homework. If a student wants to learn more (which they most likely will when not being drained nor disparaged by traditional schooling) — they will. Teachers model a love of learning by actively reading and encourage mindfulness through constantly reflecting and taking breaks.
- There are no grades. A school is a place of learning: not competition. Students will learn without being pitted against each other. Assessment still exists in the form of constant feedback and narration between teacher, student, parent, and community.
- Standardized testing is eliminated.
- Above all, a student’s happiness and safety are what’s most important and emphasized.
- …and so much more (a resource we’re releasing next month outlines all of these, research surrounding them, and how one can implement them!)
These aren’t easy solutions. Innovation isn’t an easy task…it requires risk and determination. “Grit” — as it’s often used in the classroom — is not about doing what you’re told and pushing through (despite hating it), it’s pushing through a daunting task that you want to accomplish, even when faced with adversity. Adopting innovative tech tools are actually very simple: in fact, it’s not really innovative at all. It’s just three things: 1) finding out about them, 2) purchasing them, 3) reading instructions. That’s not to say technological tools aren’t useful (of course they are, a lot of progressive practice are amplified by them!) — it’s just that their purpose being changed for a modern education is when the going gets tough.
We need to stop focusing so much energy on improving outdated practice. So much time and money is wasted on hatching out the newest “trick” to solving the education crisis — without taking the time to question the system we’re using. And yes, it is possible to change that system — schools throughout the country have already taken the plunge towards invigorating learning. Organize and politely demand action through comradery, research, and determination. It doesn’t have to be all at once: every aspect we adopt and implement is to the betterment of children’s lives.