How Classroom Technology Sparks Self-Discovery and New Ideas

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”- John Dewey. This thought provoking statement issued by one of the all-time leaders in educational reform was mentioned in the video, and for good reason. In an ever-changing world where new advancements one day are considered outdated the next, an overwhelming emphasis has been placed on the importance of technology and media, particularly in the classroom. Change is rapid and having the skills to adapt to and understand these changes is vital. In the PBS Video, “Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century,” five different types of schools different from the traditional “lecture” schools are highlighted that exemplify the adaptation to technological advancements in everyday classwork. To see the video, visit: 

Watch Full Show on PBS. See more from Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century.

The first school, “Quest to Learn” for digital kids school in New York, New York is a school that focuses on learning through gaming, specifically through videoTechnologygames and computers. The platform for studying is based on system based thinking and trial-and-error. The school finds unique ways to rename traditional school subjects, substituting “the way things work” for science, “Code Worlds” for math, and “Being, Space, and Place” for social studies. They are large proponents of the power and importance of play. They believe the old way of saying, “I’m just gonna teach you what you need to know for the rest of your life” is useless and that the new solution should be, “I’m gonna teach you how to figure out and tackle new sets of problems.” They also believe that videogames are just a set of problems you need to figure out in order to win and are a form of stealth learning, or learning without even knowing it. Kids are constantly having fun and are excited to learn and have the liberty to design their own games, challenging them to think outside the box. The culture of gaming in this school places a different meaning on the word “addiction.” Many people would say that someone who practices a sport for hours everyday is dedicated or someone who reads every night is hungry for knowledge, but often times when people play videogames frequently they’re titled as “addicted.” Although I do agree that playing videogames and computer games frequently is not an addiction, I do believe that it needs to be in moderation, as does anything else, because although games provide avenues to think deeply, critically, and challenge new ideas, it does detract from the crucial life skills of communication- collaborating with others, debating, arguing, finding harmony, working in groups, etc.

The “Digital Youth Network” of Chicago teaches youth to utilize digital media in all aspects of life. They provide numerous tools for students to find their inspiration: cameras, computers, video cameras, musical and movie equipment, and more. This provides alternatives for kids to stay out of trouble. Many of them recognize they could be doing other less-valuable activities with their time and that having an outlet to discover and express themselves through the arts of technology excites them for school. While many think that students are doing less reading and writing in scenarios like this, contrary to popular belief, they’re actually doing more reading and writing now than ever before, just not in the old-school way of sitting on the couch with a novel in hand.

The “Smithsonian Institution” of Washington DC has created new ways for students to participate in scavenger hunts in museums, like the Smithsonian museum, while incorporating technology. They provide students with cameras and phones and allow them to capture photos and make videos about their learning experiences at the museums. They’re out and about, rather than confined to a hardwood desk. This offers them the chance to participate in lots of group work and collaboration. They not only become creators and producers, but they ultimately become participators. They often give each other feedback on assignments and feel the empowerment of selecting personal paths for themselves and find understanding and meaning in the work of great artists.

The students of Middleton School in Middleton, Wisconsin find themselves actively going out into the community and entertained while seeing the design structures of homes and buildings in the area, researching and understanding the history of the community, and much more. They take pictures of current buildings and neighborhoods and research what they looked like decades ago and use the help of Internet programs to do so. They even interview people in the community to ask questions about changes they’ve seen through the years. They strive to figure out why things are the way they are. For example, they’ll observe and take notes on which businesses in town have lack of parking or have very few customers and develop thoughts as to why these occurrences exist. They become ethnographers, photographers, geographers, and more and make it their goal to help their community solve problems.

The last stop in the video was the “Science Leadership Academy” of Philadelphia. This institution makes use of the Internet in nearly every class. It offers students the freedom to research whatever topics they want, rather than force every student to research the same topic. I found it amazing to hear a teacher tell her student, “Look up the history in Google scholar.” Google scholar is a resource for finding peer-reviewed scholarly articles and isn’t something I was informed of until reaching college, so seeing secondary schools offer that guidance is something I found impressive. Students also use Moodle (something we utilize everyday) to share their ideas in forums. Instead of having one speaker and one conversation in the classroom at once, you can have all students participating and sharing their views, opinions, and values simultaneously. The teachers have taken notice that many of the shy and quiet students who don’t speak up in class love this technology and use it as their time to shine, typically writing more forums and responses than the outspoken, enthusiastic children.

There was one thing in particular that I observed in every single one of these settings- lots and lots of smiles. Every one of these schools breed excitement, happiness, enthusiasm, and an unparalleled eagerness to learn. I hope that when I begin teaching, my students will have the same opportunities to learn about and discover themselves. I want to allow them to do their own research. I want them to go out into the community and solve problems. I want them design and create movies and games. And most importantly, I want them to have fun and become excited to learn. At the end of the video, a man stressed the point that in the near future, there will be two types of schools: the poor and the rich. The poor schools will only supply the basics and rudimentary skills and will only suit students for a service job. However, the rich schools will teach students to try everything and anything possible, while innovating and producing new knowledge. Hopefully someday every school will be “rich.”

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