Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending my first EduCon conference. For those who are unfamiliar, EduCon is a huge conference for educational professionals hosted in Philadelphia, PA at the Science Leadership Academy. This year, in EduCon’s 10th year, everything was focused on sustainability in education. People from all across the educational spectrum, from 38 states to be exact, spent two days having a conversation about how far education has come and frankly, how far it still has to go.
It was really eye opening.
I consider myself a pretty progressive teacher. My classroom has morphed from a traditional teacher-centered model to a heavily student-centered one in the almost ten years that I have been in the field. I always get the same confused faces when I explain that I teach history without PowerPoints or lectures. It is not because people think it is crazy, it is because they cannot wrap their head around it.
That right there is one of the problems.
Since compulsory education became a “thing” back in the early 1900’s in the United States, most classrooms have looked the same. Rows of desks with students eager to learn looked up at a teacher who wanted to fill their heads with knowledge. Over the years, chalkboards turned into white boards or SMARTBoards or projector screens, but the focus was still the same: the teacher knew the information and they needed to inject it into the student’s minds. Many people who still run a classroom with this mentality believes that “it’s always been this way” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
But life is not that way any more…and really, that makes it broken.
Classrooms may have been able to sustain technological advancements in the past and still keep the same format. From the radio to the television to the personal computer, the classroom still could stay the same without much of an effect. However, let’s look at the world we live in today. All of those items and then some are now in the pocket of most of our students at all times. If they are too young for their own devices, you can be about guaranteed that they still know how to work one. With two small children of my own, I can absolutely admit that sometimes, it is easier to have your child sit in one place while they tap at an iPad or a cell phone than to try to chase them all over while your own domestic deadlines are looming. It is not different than children of the 1980’s sitting in front of the TV or ones from the 1940’s huddling around the radio. The only difference now is that it is mobile. It is everywhere. It is changing how we do everything.
If technology is changing how we all function in the every day world, why shouldn’t we expect it to change our classrooms? Why shouldn’t we all as educators be trying new things, new methods, new advancements? This past year I stopped fighting the “put your cell phone away” fight and started USING them in my classroom. If I need to figure something out, I go right to my phone. Why shouldn’t I encourage my students to do the same in an environment that not only encourages learning but also is designed to still keep them safe? To help them figure out HOW to use those devices appropriately as opposed to figuring it out on their own. As time moves forward, every generation has had to “figure it out” in one way or another. Most times and with most topics, it probably would have been better to have some type of adult guidance to do that. It is probably more pertinent with this generation more than ever to give them that guidance and we have the opportunities right in our classroom. From appropriate digital interactions to dispelling fact from fiction, why not give them the best shot they can at getting it right?
Truthfully, if we want to be helping our students as much as possible, we need to let go of all the old stigmas of education. We do not have the same children in our rooms that we did 30, 20, even 10 years ago. This is an entirely different age and we need to figure out how to ebb and weave with the changes while making it work in our classroom. Education has come far since it started, but it still has so much farther to go until we make it work for everyone.