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Walk into any classroom today and remove the technology from the classroom and you will find that the layout hasn’t changed much in the past 200 years. Classrooms may have more comfortable student desks and some classrooms have even replaced desks for tables. Dusty chalkboards have been replaced with whiteboards and even Smart Boards that have Internet connections. Overhead light projectors have been replaced with digital overheads and projectors. Projectors and filmstrips have been replaced with online Internet images and video streaming. Teachers use their smartphones or tablets to deliver their notes, and student textbooks are now available on iPads, tablets, and even Smartphones via WIFI connections available in the classroom.
School bells still ring or even play music to indicate that a new class period is beginning or has just ended. Students still have assigned seats. It is the teacher that still delivers the questions with the responsibility of the student to respond with the correct answer. There is more testing than in the past though, students get pre-tested on subject matters, then they are given quizzes and tests to see how well they have memorized their assignments. Post-assessments indicate what material was covered and the percentage of students that got it right! School districts, States, and the Federal government all have their tests and assessments, and you would think, with the infusion of all this technology student learning is at an all-time high, but it isn’t. In fact in general, student polls indicate students are both bored and confused. Bored with the instructional presentations and confused as to how the system operates and who really operates it.
In 1910 electrical inventions were all the rage. In this same time period, a French artist by the name of Villemard envisioned the learning classroom in the year 2000. The picture above shows a teacher putting textbooks into an electronic machine while a student cranks the books through the machine. The machine is electrical sending via copper wires the book’s knowledge to awaiting students in their seats. Note that the students have no need for paper or any kind of writing instrument since the knowledge is going straight into their brains. Instant learning? Or is it? A machine can possess knowledge but that doesn’t make it intelligent, and humans are not machines. In order to develop critical thinking skills, which only a human can do, the student must build on the information gained and hands-on experience in order to make the connection in either solving a problem or developing a new solution that addresses the problem.
In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik, the first orbiting satellite. In the same year, the United States government enacted the National Defense Education Act. The purpose of the legislation was to transform schools and encourage high school graduation and college entrance. The comparison of what Russian students were accomplishing compared to their American counterparts made the United States rethink the importance of education as a defense towards future Communistic control. The picture above shows how futurists then viewed the year 2000. Students would still be in a stereotype classroom setting, now with electronic equipment on their desks with screens and buttons used to input data. Note that the teacher still is dressed in 1950 attire but no longer in the classroom. Television was developing technology in the 1950s and most futurists in this time period saw this form of media as a possible educational platform in the future. Again, it was thought that technology would solve the goals set by the government. Interesting enough, it was Giambattiar Vico, back in the 17th Century, who realized the problem when the public accepts science and technology as the messiah of education and believing it alone will create the results expected, and then it doesn’t.
It was Isaac Asimov, a science fiction writer, who in 1947 coined the word robot from the Russian word Robota meaning serf or slave labor. The word caught on in the ’50s and was quite popular by the 1960s.
The 1965 comic strip above shows a group of 21st Century students learning math from a robot. Even though you can’t see the seats the students are sitting on you can pretty much envision the classroom layout. The bookcase in the background holds reel-to-reel tapes, which was pretty much 1960 technology.
Today’s classrooms can be more colorful. Modern classrooms are carpeted with temperature controls to keep a comfortable working environment. When technology, in the form of computers, was introduced back in the 1980’s students were curious about what technology was all about; however, today a computer or iPad in the classroom brings no more interest than a light switch on the wall. Teachers are in the classroom but are sometimes replaced by a video presentation or a computer program that students access either through a desktop computer or laptop. YouTube is probably one of today’s students’ favorite platforms to get tutored. Students are encouraged to work independently to match their processing speeds and learning styles. Electronic tests and quizzes are given but students can retake them until they pass at the mark they desire. But in reflection, is this any different than the 1910 picture of students being fed knowledge and data? What is missing in ensuring students are learning? If technology can’t create curiosity and learning then what can?
So that this blog article doesn’t become a novel let’s cut to the chase. 21st Century technology has succeeded in storing and delivering knowledge at incredible speeds. There are many tools that can be used today to call up, present, and package knowledge. But now we come to the question of this article, has technology helped or hindered active learning?
I propose technology has hindered active learning. In the K-8th grade levels, students best learn through metaphors, analogies, and storytelling. Teaching like this helps grow student imagination and understanding. Students need to learn about identifying patterns and making connections to other similar patterns.
Students need to learn collaboration skills when doing problem-solving. It is amazing how simple tools like pencils, crayons, and paper can help students transfer imagination into reality. Students need to learn early on how to adapt and become flexible when working in small groups. These soft skills when developed early help students succeed in more complex projects later along their path of learning. Students need to understand how to ask a question especially when they are searching the Net using a search engine. Young students must learn early that technology is a tool and how to choose the right technology (tool) in developing a new solution.
It is the teacher’s job to make sure the students are clear on concept definition and applications. Teachers can act as guides or mentors helping students to stay on track and monitor their progress. Finally, students must learn the value of seven key soft skills:
- communication (verbal and written),
- adaptability (bringing in new people, working with limited resources),
- flexibility (the ability to change direction),
- project management, problem-solving, thinking outside the box, and storytelling (being able to deliver difficult concepts into a story format).
In my next article, I will go over the changes that need to be made with K-12, the three major paths students should have access to, and the assessments that will help guide students’ strengths and talents towards careers in fields that will increase their productivity, inventiveness, and success. The Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice is developing a working model of a 21st Century educational program that will launch this summer. The focus will be on students demonstrating an interest in the fields of engineering and science. For students who can’t afford the summer tuition, we will be setting up a fund for donations to bring in such students.
Peter Romero, M.Ed. Academy of LeonardosApprentice.org. ALA is a 501(c) educational foundation dedicated to improving student education and teacher development. All donations are tax-deductible under the 501(c) status.
Top: Thomas Edison, Alan Turing, Nikolas Tesla Middle: Walt Disney, Mary Cassatt, Marie Curie Bottom: Galileo Galilei, Claude Monet, Albert Einstein
What are the characteristics of an apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci? First, the people above would all qualify as apprentices of Leonardo. All of them grew up in a world of conformity, established beliefs, and standards. All challenged the established beliefs and traditions. Each one was ridiculed, smeared, or shunned. You see, traditions and conformity go hand in hand. Once accepted, anyone who confronts the established validity, framework, or rules is no longer accepted by the masses.
Each above approached his work and then asked a simple question, “What if. . .” It is not just the question(s) they asked it’s the action they all took. They all shifted 90 degrees, and as strange as it seems, their actions caused the rest of the world to eventually accept and benefit from their ideas, visions, and dreams.
My personal 90-degree shift occurred back in 1995. It started with a simple question, “What if my students could collaborate with another school, in another state, on a science project–online?” My school, Don Bosco Technical Institute, in 1995, did not yet have the Internet. But I did on my personal account with AOL. I contacted AOL and asked if we could set up an electronic schoolhouse. I helped to develop the format, and then launched my program, “Space Island’s.” I developed a project that involved a virtual space station orbiting earth. Each participating school would have its own lab onboard to conduct experiments. In 1995, websites were still rare and all communication was done via emails and FTP settings.
By 1996, the program had gone viral with 2.3 million students and teachers in forty nations, ranging from elementary schools to universities. In that same year, the U.S. Congress placed my program into the Library of Congress as a historical event. It was documented as the first successfully launched long distant educational program ever completed online. Today, many universities and educational institutions benefit from online distant learning, and it all began with a question.
In 2005, I had two new questions. “What if educators, who are trained to teach, actually were given the chance to do just that?” Question number two, “What would happen if educators took back the reigns from businesses and politicians that now run education?” In that year, Leonardo’s Apprentice was born.
Leonardo’s Apprentice is about taking a 90 degree shift from the present course we have all been put on by both politicians and big business and giving control back to where it belongs, with the educators. It’s about giving the professional educator the respect and right to plan the strategies of engaging student learning. This is not about creating a new model or template. It is about generating visions, ideas and action that will bring efficacy to future generations. Generations who, in turn, will learn to make their own 90 degree shifts.
The upcoming series will not be a monologue but a dialogue of exchanges. Exchange of ideas, questions, doubts, and most importantly–movement! It will all start by taking the 90 degree shift from conformity and tradition into exploration and discovery. The first dialog will be on, “How To Engage Students.” I look forward to our future discussions and sharing your ideas and visions. Begin by leaving a comment or questions below and registering your email for my future book, “Making A 90 Degree Shift: Learning how to become a Leonardo’s Apprentice Educator.”