Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thinking in the future tense

Back to school today and Day 1 of the new flexible schedule. Most of the day was spent in meetings trying to work out what IT support teachers want for their current unit of inquiry and when they want it. I found myself in the situation of constantly questioning where teachers want their inquiries to go and how we can work backwards from there to where we are right now, and then planning on how we move forward from the present so that they can achieve their aims. It's a bit like being a footballer, not thinking about where the other players in the team are right now, but where they are going to be in a few seconds so you can kick the ball to the place they are going to be. It means taking on board that the present is nothing more than the past of the future. It's also vital to get this bit right - as Yogi Berra once said "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else".

Thinking of the big picture, not just where the students are going to be in the next 2-5 weeks, teachers are also expected to be able to prepare students so that they can operate in the world of tomorrow, for the life they will have to live once they leave school. Again this is thinking in the future tense - or in the words of Project Zero and Understanding by Design "starting with the end in mind". We have to constantly ask ourselves what skills and knowledge students will need to be successful in the 21st century and then consider how this impacts on our teaching today. For example we already know that what we are teaching now will not be enough to ensure our students are well prepared for the future as the amount of information is increasing all the time - learning is going to have to be continuous and it will not be confined to a specific place or a specific time. Our students today need to be "just in time" learners to cope with their predicted multi-career lives. Future trends are also pointing towards this learning being more of a collaborative nature, interacting with others around the world. The lower order thinking skills of memorization and understanding are going to have to be replaced by higher order thinking skills which involve real-world problem solving.

So what I'm wondering today is how is technology going to play a role in that new learning. Lessons from the past seem to show that just throwing lots of new technology at students and teachers does not lead to improved student learning. The problem is not really the equipment that is being used, but more the whole mindset of the people using it - I am still seeing teachers who believe that just using technology is enough, when in fact what they are really doing is just doing old things in new ways. They are focused on technology, but not really on how this tool can be used to enhance the learning, develop thinking or solve problems. They seem to think that somehow, perhaps through a process of osmosis, students will pick up 21st century skills just by using the technology. What I am trying to nudge teachers towards is to focus on the teaching, not on the technology. Rather than asking what the students are going to do in the IT lessons, they have to ask how the technology can help them incorporate decision making, problem solving and critical thinking throughout the entire curriculum.

Today we have started the process. There are no more fixed IT lessons. Students will come to the labs, or we will go to their classrooms, as and when the technology will help them develop the skills they need for the future.

Photo Credit: Future or Bust! by Vermin Inc

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