Does this look familiar? I went to high school in the Philippines where my dad was stationed at the time, working as an expat. Unlike most expat kids in Manila, my parents chose to send me to a local, all-girls, Catholic high school. They chose this for me mainly because values and culture of the school reflected the values that they wanted to instill in me at home; creating strong, conservative, well-mannered, and intelligent women. My hunch though, was that they liked the ‘conservative’ aspect most (keep her away from those boys!).
High school for me, were days filled with endless outlines being written across the chalk board as teacher after teacher lectured, then wrote something, then lectured and wrote more. I actually admired many of my teachers for how skilled they were at outlining the content so perfectly onto the board, as though they had measured every square inch and meticulously planned the layout before walking into class. I remember trying so hard to copy down those notes, keep up with what my teacher was saying and understand it all. For some reason, I just didn’t get it. I was an average student, I never failed, but all I ever wanted was to finally become an honor student. It never happened. I walked out of high school thinking I just wasn’t that smart. At graduation I remember really admiring all of my friends who were awarded medals of acheivement, they were so clever! All I could do was sit and cheer for my peers, congratulate them, and wish I had half the brains they did. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t resent my high school experience, I learned a lot from being there and I will always be grateful since I believe that every experience in my life has led me to where I am now. They are a part of the reason why I learned perserverence.
I decided my time to shine would be college! I’d become an honor student there! I’d study longer hours, try harder to memorize text books and I’d ace those tests, after all, practice makes perfect right? It took a couple years, but FINALLY, in my junior year of college, I made the Dean’s List! And I stayed there up to graduation 😉
So, all this aside, what’s my point? I started acing tests and papers in college, but I’ll be honest with you, I can’t remember what any of it was about. Which begs the question, what in the world did I learn from my four years in high school and my four years in college? Perhaps this is one of big reasons why education has evolved so much since my days in school!
Teach Them to Think
It wasn’t until I started my Masters that I began to experience education that wasn’t only lecture based. We were asked to step out into the world of teaching from the first semester, look at both sucesses and problems in the classrooms or students that we met and see why they were successful or find possible solutions. We were asked to think for ourselves, in real life situations from day one, while at the same time using research and text to back up our observations and thought processess. I think that both Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning has the key element of allowing students to figure things out for themselves; teaching students how to think rather than just teaching them content.
The shift from content-focused education to skill-based education has a lot to do with the advancement of technology. Our world is advancing at a much faster pace than before and it is for this reason educators can no longer predict what jobs will be when their students graduate or what the world will even look like. So, in order to prepare students, we’ve moved away from teaching them content but instead we are teaching them skills such as problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, interpretation, curiosity and innovation amongst many many other 21st Century skills. Skills that we believe can be carried through to whatever the unforseeable future holds.
Cyclical Thinking: Find the Similarities
It appears that we’ve come into a trend in education: Teach students that thinking & learning never end! From one cycle to the next, we are designing these cycles for educators and students to work through in order to teach skills and thinking that can be applied in the world today and in the future. We teach our students to ask questions, identify problems, research information and seek solutions. Whether you’re talking about the Design Cycle, the Inquiry Cycle or the Engineering Design Process, we’re all aiming at the same thing, teach students to build skills necessary for independence! Problem based learning to me is a part of all of these cycles because each of them asks the students tackle a different type of problem.
Even without the ‘cycle’ model, models of education have moved toward providing students challenges so that they can try to figure something out on their own. In Literacy, we ask students to not just read a story and to understand it, but we look deeper into studying an authors style, what makes that author’s writing so interesting, what techniques does he or she use and how could I possibily use it to influence my own writing? Students test it out, get feedback from teachers and peers, then go back to the drawing board and edit their work. Even without a published model to follow, teachers seem to be naturally encouaging students to go through a variety of problem-based cycles of thinking and learning. I think we’ve moved in this direction because we all believe that the skills and strategies students develop through problem-based learning are reflected in real life, and we all want our students to be ready for the real world! It seems as though we’re aiming for our students to earn their diploma in ‘thinking’ so that no matter what the future holds, they’ll be able to think for themselves.
Last year in my Kindergarten class we had an engineering unit on the creation of back scratchers. We read the book “Itchy Bear” and decided that we should help Itchy Bear out by creating a back scratcher for him since no matter what he did he couldn’t get rid of that itch! There were a couple things to consider such as, he was a bear so it has to be pretty big because bears are big! This also meant it had to be strong! After going through the Engineering design process a few times, I was quite impressed with what my students came up with, I had very little involvement in the building aspect but I tested quite a few and gave feedback. My students said that I was bigger than they were so I had to test them because the bear was big too! Ha! We even came to a point where we decided the back scratchers needed to be attractive because we all like things that look good. So many studetns started trying to find ways to decorate their back scratchers!
Now that I’m in the tech integrator role, I help to implement our Robotics Programme in the early years. Robotics and coding in itself is based upon critical thinking and problem solving. Here is a class I taught just last week in Kindergarten using BeeBots. I first asked students to lay out a program each time I created a challenge for them (i.e. “I am putting the BeeBot on the red circle, I want you to help program him to get to the blue square”). Once they did this successfully, I then said, “Programmers try their best to write the shortest code possible. So now lets figure out the shortest way for the BeeBot to get to the blue square.” We had three guesses/predictions, we laid out all three programs and together we figured out which one was the most efficient algorithm. Once they did that successfully. They all got out their whiteboards and I created a new challenge, this time I had them all write out their algorithms and we tested a couple of them to find not one ones that worked but the algorithm that was the shortest.