I like what Brian commented about “change immersion.” I think that’s a great phrase. The idea I’m trying to get across is that it seems to me that the teachers who are really preparing their students for the 21st century are the ones who are going whole hog. Despite my inclination to take baby steps, to proceed at a slow and methodical pace – examining every step before we take it - I’m beginning to think that’s the wrong approach. I think it’s teachers like Clarence and Darren who are truly transforming their classrooms, re-creating them for the realities and challenges of the 21st century.
For example, this post by Clarence:
Driving over with two high school girls who are graduating in June and who I taught several times when they were younger was an interesting experience. The girls being very close to graduation, the topic of conversation of course revolved around their plans for next year. Both of these girls are planning on heading to college. One of them is going to study radio production and broadcasting and the other wants to work on music production and digital editing. Interesting, very digital choices for girls from a small town. Both of these girls have spent time over the past year or so in their basements playing with digital audio editing tools, getting experience that would be impossible in our small school where courses in things like this have never been offered.Keep in mind that Clarence and his students live in a very small, rather isolated (geographically) town in Canada. Darren is from Canada as well. I’m thinking that some of the teachers that are at the forefront of this are teachers that are from relatively isolated places. They are seizing on these new tools to provide their students opportunities that just weren’t possible before. But as part of that process, they are also leapfrogging ahead of teachers (and students) in more traditionally “connected” areas like ours where students have always had good resources. It reminds me of when Friedman in The World is Flat talks about which countries are best situated to take full advantage of the Flat World. He suggests that the countries with no natural resources are the countries that are going to take the best advantage of the flat world. Because their only resources are the minds and hard work of their people. So they are developing that resource, whereas countries with more natural resources may be ignoring the most important resource of all. I’m concerned that we are doing the same thing with our students – assuming that since they’ve always had all the advantages the “traditional” approach will be just fine for them. Meanwhile the rest of the world is leapfrogging over them.
Our conversation eventually turned around to MySpace and time online. While both of these girls have spaces, only one of them is a heavy user. It was an interesting conversation as she talked about the Japanese anime shows that she watches and the manga novels she is interested in. She knew a great deal about the culture of anime in Japan itself and clearly understood the importance of these art forms. She also told me that she uses MySpace to download and listen to a lot of European and Japanese music. "North American music is terrible," she told me, "The music they make in other parts of the world is a lot more interesting." To get the full understanding of this conversation, ideas of context loom large. Would this conversation have been possible to have ten years ago? Would kids from a small isolated town have any idea about Japanese art forms and Finnish rock music? Not at all. When I grew up in this same small town, we had very few ideas about global cultures and ideas. The net has changed what is possible.
Or the idea that some countries are skipping an entire cycle of technology and going straight to the current technology. Like in China where they have never had anything even remotely close to our saturation of local phone service, yet they are now skipping directly to everyone having a cell phone. Or South Korea leading the world both in broadband Internet penetration, as well as speed (8 MB/s is ubiquitous and only “average” there, yet rare and expensive in the U.S.). These countries are leapfrogging more established countries because they don’t have the legacy systems we have. To use Friedman’s terms, several billion people are suddenly stepping onto the global playing field. A significant number of them are stepping onto the field with better and faster connectivity to the Internet (both wired and wireless – their cell phone technology is ahead of ours as well), and a willingness to work hard and take advantage of these new tools and resources. What does that do to the “advantage” that our students have always enjoyed? Where does that leave our students if we don’t change?
So my point – and I think I have one here somewhere – is that the kind of incremental change that we have been talking about may not be enough. Pick whatever catch phrase you want, “paradigm shift,” “sea change,” whatever – but we are looking at a completely different world than anything we have known before. I think that different world is going to require a radically different notion of education and school in order to prepare students to be successful in that world. I’m just not sure that small, incremental change to a “legacy,” industrial age schooling model is going to cut it. Instead of adding a constructivist piece here and a technology piece there, we need to start at square one and really, truly examine what our students need to know and be able to do, then redesign our classrooms to reflect that.
I think there’s something really important here that we need to think about, which is why I’m returning to this idea. I’m still not sure I’m quite getting it (or getting it across), but maybe you guys can help me by asking questions, challenging what I’m saying. Push me like I’ve been pushing you to help me define my ideas – and the direction of our project.