Reshaping Education

Maybe it’s because I’m naïve as a second-year teacher, but sometimes I feel as though I have a totally different philosophy on teaching and learning than what tradition would teach us. It’s hard, for instance, to find validity in a lot of exercises and methods that I experienced as a student and of course sometimes model as a teacher. I think that technology has changed a lot of the way people learn, but mostly I think that traditional learning only centers around what a test can measure, which isn’t authentic learning at all in most cases.

What I really want to look into for the rest of this year and into next year are different ways of teaching and making sense of learning. I want to do more projects that engage students and help them use the material in a real-world fashion. I want to interact with my students more and also give them more options and responsibility when it comes to directing the learning. This is getting easier this year as I become more and more comfortable in my teaching role. My first year was a disaster and I had to stick to a lot of traditional methods because I simply didn’t have time to make up whole new projects nor did I even know what I was measuring when it came to learning. Slowly but surely this year I keep figuring those things out and the few risks I take always pay off in terms of student engagement and added value to the class.

The problem I find with the situation, however, is trying to integrate experimental methods and new technology within the confines of a system that is very rigid and traditional. What I mean is that there are many restrictions on education simply because of the way the system persists. For example, one of the simplest but most frustrating pieces of teaching is the room design. I know why the rooms are the way they are (my high school had so few windows simply because that would have been an added cost, talk about a horrible learning environment), but as a teacher I can’t stand having sterile, square rooms with uncomfortable desks and a projector that is affixed to the wall in the worst possible location. Check out this post of a great idea for new student desks. Let’s not forget the way school scheduling works, the department limitations (most teachers in my department still think the textbook reigns supreme), the technology limitations (seriously, my IT department actually prevents me from utilizing great tech tools), and the list goes on and on. In fact, I think I’m blogging about this mostly because my department is working on textbook adoption for next year and I’m frustrated by the conversations going on throughout the process. It’s my first time obviously, but I’m shocked at how confined I feel in our discussions of future curriculum.

Education is changing. There no room for debate there. In fact, if you haven’t heard of Project-Based Learning then you should really check out some information on it here. If you already have implemented PBL, I would love to hear feedback from you about what works and what are some challenges to anticipate for doing so. The ultimate goal here is to tailor education to the real-world so that students can see and understand the usefulness of what they’re learning in class. I know that they won’t remember the minute details of my content area, so I want to leave a more lasting impression through the skills I afford them by collaborating, problem-solving, questioning, inventing, and reevaluating. Admittedly, this takes a lot of extra effort as a teacher and I think it will be hard the few first few go arounds to figure out how to handle these new situations with students. However, in the long run I think it will make my job much more interesting. I don’t want to be seen as a “teacher”in the traditional sense but rather as a “mentor” of sorts so that the students have more control over what they’re doing and I’m simply there to guide.

Some could say this is just another fad in education, and rightly so. There have been many fads that come and go each and every year with little to no proof that any one is better than another. I firmly believe though that whether you give it a name or not, education itself should and will take on a different look from the traditional schools of before. With the advent of technology it’s imperative to let students seek the information and learn to make sense of everything the world has to offer. This can’t be done through standard lecturing, worksheets, rote memorization, or even limiting assignments that teachers use year after year. Education should be adaptive, engaging, motivating, and above all practical.

So, I am striving to change the education paradigm at least in my one little classroom as best as I can within the given limitations. I enjoy the challenge and I’m so happy that there are others out there like me fighting the same fight. I only wish I could learn these lessons faster so I could know what works best now. I welcome any suggestions on expanding this influence to more school-wide and also helping those traditionalists out there embrace this imminent change.

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