Welcome to the Digital Age of Education

Two things constantly amaze me in education.

1. How quickly ideas can spread.

2. How quickly things change in education.

With what I’m doing at the middle school this year, I’m spending a good chunk of time doing research.  I’m thinking of ways to present ideas about different issues that will help kids understand those issues and how the issues impact not only the world but also impact them right where they sit.  I’ve been working on coming up with a document to list different resources for teachers and activities for students that could be used.

This week two relatively “new” ideas caught my eye and have me intrigued.  The first is the concept of the “flipped classroom”.  This is where the classroom becomes a place to reinforce learning rather than simply teacher presentation of an idea and then you have your homework.  In a flipped classroom homework is studying a new concept and the next day (or couple of days) involves the teacher helping students apply what they’ve learned through answering questions, activities, discussion, group work, etc.  It’s less teacher focused and more about the students.  It really intrigues me and makes sense.  How often do teachers present a new concept, find they have maybe 10 minutes left for questions and kids getting started on homework and then class is over?  Then students are left to figure it out on their own and understand it by the next day.  What about the kid that doesn’t quite get it yet?  You’re still going to give a quiz on it the next day?  I like the fact that this new idea of a classroom means the kids get their eyes on the material, can write their questions and the next day you start at that point rather than it being the last few minutes of class.  There’s more time to help individual kids and small groups understand the new information and much more time can be spent on activities helping them apply it.  It really prepares kids for the future too – you’re teaching responsibility (studying a new concept the day before), communication through discussion, questions, group work, and they’re spending more time applying what they know IN class with a teacher there to facilitate.

Granted, in some grade levels this wouldn’t really work.  I can see it working really well in middle and high school settings though.  In what I’ve read about this, teachers are also creating video podcasts of lessons and content that students watch the night before and take notes on before coming to class the next day.  That’s a lot of work for the teacher, but I can only imagine the fruits of that labor.  Clearly it requires some thinking through and having the technology available.  This is an article about the spread of the “flipped classroom” model (Turning Learning Upside Down).  There’s a great website and ning (social network/forum) about all of this.  Check them out.

The other thing I was thinking about is the introduction of infographics to our world.  Pretty cool stuff linking graphics, color and information together in an interesting format.  I enjoy them.  They’re entertaining and informative.  It’s a nice way to present new information to students in a way that isn’t read from a textbook or written in notes.  It’s visually appealing and in today’s world that’s important.  There’s a new website that is storing infographics that have been created and soon they’ll have an online “lab” open where anyone can create an infographic.  Check it out.  And here’s an infographic…on the flipped classroom.

And one about education around the world…

One final thought I had about how quickly things change…  A lot of schools not only in UCPS but all over the country are now using SMARTboards and Promethean boards.  I had a Promethean board last year and this year I know practically all of the teachers at Unionville have one.  This year at the middle school there are SMARTboards in all (if I’m not mistaken) classrooms.  When I started teaching 5 years ago…we had 1 Promethean board I believe.  4 years later, it’s commonplace.  The other thing that’s amazed me is the 1:1 laptop initiative.  This started maybe 2 years ago with an agreement with Dell.  Last year all 6th graders got a Dell netbook.  Now they are in 7th and will have them again.  The new 6th graders will get laptops as well.  In January the 8th graders will get theirs.  These laptops will stay with them throughout middle school and into high school (of course being returned at the end of the school year for the summer).  Welcome to the digital age of education.  A lot of teachers aren’t using textbooks anymore and are accessing the publisher’s website and their web-based text and activities.  Textbooks are still in the class as needed though.  Add to this the impact of using Moodle for teacher websites and a new way of giving information, quizzes, feedback and a place for journaling and we’re seriously in a whole new place.

The teacher I observed yesterday told me that if I walked into his room 9 out of 10 times the kids would be working with the computers.  Why?  They’re learning from each other, doing research, working in small groups and doing activities.  He tells them the SMARTboard is theirs.  They do skype sessions with other countries and projects with other countries online.  They do a lot of discussion.  It impressed me.  Hello, flipped classroom.

It truly impresses me where we’re headed when we can do things like that to connect kids to the world, teach them communication skills by doing a lot of discussion and group work, strategies they’ll actually use in “the real world”, let them apply what they’re learning, giving them responsibility, and allowing them to see how the world “works” as we give them projects to work on or the chance to communicate with someone from another country.

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