Before immediate access to answers on the internet, learning involved a certain amount of wonder and curiosity. Somebody’s interest had to be piqued enough to want to seek out a person who would know the answer. Or maybe the answer would be found in a physical book in the library. Finding out information took time. Schools understood that students were better off storing information in their brains, so they taught children knowledge. Drills and memorization were frequent and useful tools of cramming much information into a student’s brain. Once students had this base of knowledge they could move on to higher levels of thinking, forming relationships between ideas, and drawing conclusions.
And then the internet became prevalent in classrooms. Many students now have a device of their own from which they can easily look up information. How many pints in a gallon? How many feet in a mile? Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? What year did World War II begin? While students of the past would likely have memorized this information, students today can google the question to learn the answer in seconds. Whether or not this is better for our society, it is the way students learn today. With this immediate access to information, schools need to change the way they teach.
Thinking and Knowing
Students need to be able to think and know, but some educators realize schools are erroneously concentrating too much on the “knowing” and forgetting about the “thinking.” If knowing something is as easy as typing a question into a search engine, then schools must concentrate on the higher levels of thinking, helping them to solve problems, think independently, and persevere to the end of a difficult project. These are qualities students will need in the workforce later. They probably will not need to have the Periodic Table memorized. As one writer puts it, “The labor market does not need kids who test well as much as they need people who can solve problems, stay on task, and not be a jerk.”
Embrace the Power of Technology in Schools
How do we change a school system that has been in place for so long? It won’t be easy, but it is possible. Miles Kimball, a professor at the University of Michigan, writes, “The road ahead is clear: the potential in each student can be unlocked by combining the power of computers, software, and the internet with the human touch of a teacher-as-coach to motivate that student to work hard at learning.” Here we see educators embracing technology. The power of the internet is amazing, and schools are right to tap into that abundant resource.
New Role for Teachers
Importantly, Kimball does not suggest taking away the classroom or doing away with traditional schools altogether. Instead, he encourages schools (and society in general) to view the role of teacher differently. Instead of thinking of the teacher as the smartest person in the classroom or the conveyor of knowledge, think of him or her as a coach. The teacher guides students to the best information, trains them on the usage of technology, and motivates students to do their best work. In this type of classroom, students are more likely to work at their own pace. They can follow a different path from the student sitting at the next desk. And the teacher, rather than needing to know everything that anyone might want to know, helps each student reach his or her potential. Does this change the way education works? Absolutely. High technology usage in the classroom brings the best of learning into each classroom. A great educator can spread his knowledge all over the world, pairing with the teacher-coaches in the classroom who make that education available to the students.
As students learn, following a personalized path, they also learn to think. Using fascinating educational software is more exciting than reciting facts. More students will enjoy the process of learning, and a good attitude goes a long way in getting a child to pursue an idea or the end of a project. Better thinking patterns result.
To learn more about the way technology has changed education in The Tenney School, please contact us.