School Bells and New Spells

Happy Feet Time! School is starting!

And this year is is throughly clear that  change is in the air.

By the time they graduate high school, this year's incoming kindergarten class will remember hefty paper text books only vaguely and as something from their past.

By the time they enter high school, this year's kindergartners will use a mobile, connected, digital tablet as a matter of course.

By the time they enter middle school, this year's kindergartners will assume everyone always communicated digitally with pictures and words and video and voice. They will have no clue what a rotary dial is. Or a modem. Or a film strip.

There's a seismic shift coming.

No, let me restate that - the shift has already begun; we just haven't felt it fully yet. We may well look back on 2010 as the year we realized it was here.

The US has a National Education Technology Plan 2010 (http://www.ed.gov/technology/netp-2010), with the title: Learning Powered by Technology. It's currently in draft form.

It highlights "closing the achievement gap" and pushes college education as a goal, along with the usual discussion of the demands of global economy, US competitiveness etc. etc. But amongst all the philosophical statements, there are two very important (if rather long) sentences:

    The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures. In contrast to traditional classroom instruction, this requires that we put students at the center and empower them to take control of their own learning by providing flexibility on several dimensions.

OK, that's a lot of words to say something really simple:

    The reality of the world has changed. Education must reflect that.

Kids still need to learn how to read, write, and be literate. They need to learn bodies of knowledge about math, arts, science.

Some of what they learn hasn't changed - "The Letter E at the end of the word makes the vowel say its own name," comes to mind!

Some of what they learn is mind-boggling and reflects what we as a world have learned collectively. I don't think I learned about cellular metabolism, adenosine triphosphate (aka ADP), and glucose in sixth grade, did you?

But my kid and her classmates in our perfectly typical middle school did. And so did millions of others.

WHAT kids learn isn't what this shift is all about, though. The real shift is HOW they learn.

If you want to catch up on all that 6th grade science vocab you missed, check out StudyStack (http://www.studystack.com/Biology). It's sort of online vocab flip card collection, with content created by its community.

StudyStack is just one of thousands of examples of a "how" that is happening, regardless of what one school district mandates or what any education plan promises.

I also like Quizlet (http://quizlet.com/) which was created in 2005 by a 15-year-old as a study guide. He kept developing it as he moved through high school and into college. I just pulled it up on my screen and its update line reads "7,569 new flashcard sets today, 1,417 users online now."

The 'how' is digital. It is decentralized. It is collaborative.

The 'how" is personalized.

It is led, guided, and coached. Coaches are both formal and informal teachers.

The "how" is as near as your desktop or mobile device and as far reaching as your global learning community.

It starts today and continues over a lifetime.

Out in the blogosphere, an educational consultant named Nik Peachey (http://quickshout.blogspot.com/) surveyed slightly more than 500 teachers this summer on their use of mobile learning and mobile learning devices.

Of that group, 73% were certain that mobile learning was going to play an important role. And this wasn't among new young teachers, mind you. The vast majority of the respondents were veteran teachers, with 76% having more than 10 years of classroom experience.

Even more striking, somewhat over 60% said they were already making some use of mobile technologies - from finding and playing podcasts to the class, to using Twitter to communicate with their professional community, to using a mobile device for in-class research in a variety of ways. More than half had an iPad or iPhone on their to-buy-this-year list.

That I even mentioned the blogosphere is perhaps one of the biggest shifts in education patterns. If anyone can feel isolated pretty quickly, it's one teacher working in one classroom in one location.

There are 32.9 million Google search results for the phase "teacher communities" - communities that at this very moment are connecting people-who-teach by geography, by subject matter, by student age, by type of school, by function ... really, just about any grouping of interest you can imagine in education is talking amongst themselves, comparing notes and exploring different ways of reaching their students.

Traditional educational publishers like Scholastic, start ups catering to teachers, professional teacher organizations, informal professional circles - there is no such thing as education in isolation, unless someone chooses to cut themselves off from the world.

And the wonderful thing about most people in education is that they don't want to be cut off. They understand intuitively that education is about community - and that schools are the place community and its youngest members meet and where the little ones learn the ropes.

If schools are about text books and blackboards, that's only because at one point in time, they were useful tools. They don't define education any more than smartboards or iPads do.

The tools are the outward signs of the methods being used. Smartboards and iPads aren't about the technology - they are about the way that collaboration, shared input, discussion, research, and individualized options are increasingly part of the education mix ... and the world-at-large mix.

We, as a society, use all kinds of technologies to interact in our society. Why, for goodness sakes, would we not use them as part of education? And by incorporating them, be teaching our kids how to use them appropriately? And, again, by incorporating them, be honing our own skills as educators?

That shift you're hearing in education - it is the echo of the shift you're hearing in the world at large, the reality of the interconnected planet.

This is a great time to be teaching. It's a great time to be learning.

And of course, it's a great time to be a parent doing the Happy Feet Dance because school is in session again.

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