Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Real 21st Century Classroom

***UPDATE*** Oct 2017
Having not blogged for awhile, it is time to start again.  In looking back, it is amazing how these points are four years old and are still not being done and/or just being discussed.  I wonder home many children do we lose in that time.

Original Post:

One of the more popular educational catch phrases today is "The 21st Century Classroom."  Over the past few years and more recently in the past few months I have been exploring this idea in more detail.  The intriguing part of this is that we are more willing to listen to salesmen than to look at research and use common sense.  I have narrowed this down to some key ideas to consider for the 21st Century classroom.

Technology:  As I have recently discussed in previous post (Amazon Schools, What would a kid do?, The Technology Revolution) technology has been a status symbol for districts and schools.  "We have smart boards, we are a 1:1 school",  are all popular battle cries for highlighting schools.  In reality schools may need less technology and instead would be better off putting in place ways to adapt quicker and use technology.  The single biggest issues schools should focus on is bandwidth and connecting devices.  As technology continues to change quicker and quicker, we must be able to adapt quicker.  Schools have been conditioned to look at technology on 5 year commitments before upgrading, that is not acceptable.  By focusing on infrastructure it enables teachers and students to quickly continue moving forward.  It also helps connecting to outside experts much more readily.  Be weary of the next great tech idea.  Flipping the classroom can open up new ideas but it can just as quickly have students spending more time sitting.  Professor Reis presents some powerful ideas on some serious limitations of video that all educators should watch.   Technology is an integral part of school but we must get past the status symbol of having the device and focusing on what do we want to do and how many different devices can make that happen. 

Activity:  Schools have often removed soda or candy machines over the last decade as an attempt to help positively influence student choices.  The research that we are turning a blind eye to is the one explaining how much damage sitting does to a person. I don't think anyone would argue that sitting around is not good for us and now there is research explaining just how bad it is.(Sitting, the new smoking) Students spend the vast majority of their time in school sitting this is potentially playing a much larger role in obesity than schools can defend.  We must look at school and delivery design differently.  Rooms need to be easily changed.  What does this look like?  First, the room must have multiple sharing spaces, keep the idea that there is no front to the room. Second, the room must be easily cleared and rearranged.  This encourages different activities in class.  Using exercise balls, foam garden knee pads, folding tables at different heights all make this change possible in a very cost effective manor.  Limit the number of chairs.  Teachers will need some time to work with each other and revamp delivery but this is also a low cost improvement.
School campuses must be re-imagined with the idea of using the entire area.  Imagine park trails that just had a sign at the beginning with all the info as compared to the trail that has signs and stories along the way highlighting the features of the trail.  Which one would you rather hike on?  How easy is it to re-imagine current school campuses.  It is as simple as creating multiple sharing spaces.  White spaces on outside walls, random space that can be drawn on and potentially creating a WiFi infrastructure that reaches the entire campus.  Walking classes would help alleviate  lots of school discipline issues as well as creating an open environment where students and teachers can easily see and hear what others our doing.  In the back of my mind is the MIT building 20 that has lead to many great new inventions of our time as well as the Google 20% model.  Freedom leads to greatness.

Collaboration: If we see what is going on, we can build and build.  Of all the skills we need to teach students, collaboration might be one of the greatest and with that how many teachers can say they lead by example?  We need to have an environment where we continually see what everyone is doing and ask the question how can that apply to what I am doing.  

Failure: The environment, collaboration and easily adaptable environments allows us to create a safe place where students learn the power of failure.  Pondering the many great points from, Where good ideas come from, as well as looking at game research that highlights that players fail more than 80% of the time they are playing has pushed me to consider the idea of can we create an environment where we measure failure as a way to grade success? 

With limited cost, schools can be redesigned, but the question is do we have the courage to do it.  If we could get half the time students spend in school transformed from sitting time to mobile learning time that could be a great start.  And what if the school isn't redesigned can you redesign your classes...I hope so.  I am! I hope we get the move on!

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