The first paragraph in Our Brains Extended starts off comparing technology skills with reading:
Educators should think of technology in the same way they've long viewed reading - as a key to thinking and knowing about the world. In fact in the 21st century, technology is the key to thinking and knowing about the world ... reading is no longer the number one skill students need to take from school to succeed. Technology is.The reason for this is simply that our minds are no longer powerful enough - and technology provides us with the new and enhanced capabilities that we need. Prensky argues that this leads to is a huge impact on curriculum design: for example should we still be focused on writing by hand, mental arithmetic and so on? He argues that many of the Common Core standards are only serving the needs of the 20th century. What are the implications for teaching reading, when you can scan any text and hear it read aloud in the language of your choice? What are the implications for teaching maths when machines can calculate quicker and more accurately than humans? In these cases, using technology is the best way to achieve something. Prensky writes that "producing letters, reports and essays are intellectual needs of our past; working effectively in virtual communities, communicating effectively through video and controlling complex technologies are what students need to be successful in the future."
Today, before I left school for the Foreign Registration Office, I went and helped out in the Kindergarten guided maths session. During this time students were moving between different stations, some of which involved using manipulatives, some of which involved using online maths resources (I saw that some children had abacuses they were using at the side of the laptops) and other students were working in small groups with a teacher or a teaching assistant. Chatting with a teacher, I found out that the Kindergarten teachers decided to do guided maths in this way, after the success of trying out the Daily 5 for literacy earlier this year. The Daily 5 involves reading to self, listening to reading (online), word work and writing, and just like the guided maths students spend 15 or 20 minutes at each station before moving on to the next. I was impressed to see the way that these 5 and 6 year old students were able to independent make choices about how they were using technology.
Marc Prensky cautions us not to use technology as a "new way to do old things". He writes that technology allows us to cut out something old to make room for the new things that our students need, and that technology can then be used to enable students to do powerful new things that they couldn't do before, such as posting their ideas online in order to get global feedback. However this article also goes further - it calls for a new curriculum that eliminates separate classes for different subjects and instead focuses on effective thinking, action, relationships and accomplishments. I started to think about this article, and the new curriculum described in it, along the lines of the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP).
- Effective thinking: focuses on mathematical and logical thinking through stories and games. Technology could be used to involve students in simulations to promote critical, scientific and mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills. This emphasis on thinking in the elementary school would give students a knowledge of their own strengths and passions and would build on a foundation of reading and technology. The focus would no longer be on subject matter, but on developing thinking skills. When I reflected on this I thought that much of what Prensky describes could be found in the PYP, especially the development of inquiry and transdisciplinary skills.
- Effective action: could also start in elementary school as students are presented with challenges and learn the project management skills to manage real-life problems. This area of the curriculum would focus on developing students' skills to be proactive and to initiate positive actions to improve their communities, country and the world. Again reflecting on this I find the PYP focus on action to be very much in line with these proposals. I can think of numerous examples this year where students from ASB have quite spontaneously come up with projects to help better the lives of others in Mumbai.
- Effective relationships: focuses on developing communication skills - another area that is highlighted in the PYP. I'm interested in how Prensky emphasizes relationships in both the real and virtual worlds with a focus on ethics, citizenship and politics.
- Effective accomplishment: would allow students to build up a portfolio of individual and group projects. Again I reflected on how our students from Grade 1 upwards use Google Sites to develop their own ePortfolios, and how they are able to share these with their parents (and later with others) during the student-led conferences.
My favourite analogy in this article was one that highlighted the importance of ditching the "old" skills that are no longer valuable or useful and using technology to do new things in new ways:
Anyone who maintains that we should continue to teach and use both the old ways and the new is suggesting that we maintain an expensive horse in the barn in case our car breaks down.It's definitely time to hang up those saddles and put the horse out to grass!
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