The focus on “21st century skills” while scrupulously avoiding the only real new 21st century skill completely puzzles me. This post nails it… please read…
So all I’m asking, on behalf of the thousands of nerds who could one day change the world for the better, is that we give them access to simple, open, programmable devices; a little time to work on them; and a safe space to work in. They’ll take it from there. They don’t need adult supervision, or a certified curriculum. If we network them together, they’ll answer each others’ questions and collaborate on projects we can hardly imagine.
Every year, Project Tomorrow administers the annual SpeakUp survey of students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Every year, we hear from U.S. students that they are fascinated by technology, love learning, and want more. Results from the over 300,000 participants in the 2008 survey should be available soon.
While we wait, let’s look at some interesting data from the science questions from 2007.
In the U.S., STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is a hot topic these days. Pundits bemoan the lack of basic science literacy, blame American students for apathy, and predict we will be crushed by global competition. But who ever asks students what they are interested in or how best they learn?
In looking at the report, Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators: Students, Parents and Educators Speak Up about Science Education, you immediately see the glaring inconsistencies in how students learn, what fascinates and excites them, how teachers want to teach, and what’s actually happening in classrooms. What does it mean for the future when less than 40 percent of these students see learning science as important for making informed decisions in the future? How does that square with the same students reporting that they “…are open to learning science and pursuing STEM careers—intrigued by opportunities to participate in hands-on, group-oriented, “fun” experiences, as well as by opportunities to meet with professionals and use professional-level tools.”
It’s obvious that students are experiencing a disconnect. They are interested and intrigued by science — but not in school.
Students report that their especially fun or interesting learning experiences using science and math have been hands-on and group-oriented.
Students are interested in pursuing careers in STEM fields — when they know about them.
When asked about the essential features of their imagined ultimate science classroom, the leading answer for students in grades K-2 and in grades 9-12 was “teachers excited about science”. Students in grades 3-5 were more interested in “fun experiments” (69 percent). Other highly essential features for students in grades 3-12 were “real tools” (standard lab and technology-based tools) and being able to do “real research,” including online research on computers.
Imagine that — students want teachers who are inspired and inspiring, who bring the classroom to life with real world tools and examples. These teachers are out there, students want and need them, but apparently are getting them too rarely.
This disconnect is reflected in the teacher responses as well.
Just 25% of teachers say they’re using inquiry-based methods with their students; methods that both educators and researchers argue are essential for the development of scientific literacy.
Only 16 percent of teachers reported they are assigning projects that help students develop problem-solving skills.
Teachers report that 21st century tools and projects would help — but lack the time and funding to implement them, and feel constrained by mandated curriculum.
But the biggest disconnect is that most K-12 school administrators don’t see this problem. Here’s the percentage of each category that gave a passing grade to their school for preparing students for jobs of the future.
This perception gap is a crucial indicator that we are not only failing our students in providing the relevant, inquiry-based, hands-on science education they hunger for, but that we are fooling ourselves about it. What’s worse?
Last year, with very little publicity and a shoestring distribution network, people funded over 100,000 laptops now in use around the world. That was an amazing show of support. But this year is going to be different.
Amazon.com is handling the distribution, with their reliable shipping, tracking, and return handling. There should be no repeat of last year’s long delays and lack of information.
The publicity this year is being handled by some big names too. According to the New York Times,
The advertising time is donated, and the spots are expected to start conversations. One spot is an uplifting vision of a 7-year-old girl in a South African township, sitting in a dark room, her face lighted only by the laptop’s glow. “With education, we will solve our own problems,” she says.
Another TV spot says children learn quickly, whatever their tools of survival are — whether loading an AK-47 or mastering an XO laptop. Other settings show child labor camps and child prostitutes. “There are some very challenging scenes,” said Paul Lavoie, chairman of Taxi, the agency that created the ads.
(For those of you with YouTube blocked, this is one of the planned commercials, Zimi’s Story.)
There’s room for us too!
Just because some big names are pitching in doesn’t mean there’s no room for us regular folks! This is still a grass roots campaign, and we can all help. Everything from blog posts and fundraisers at schools, to using the XO as a lesson for our well-off children about how education matters most to those who have the least.
This website, Laptops4Kids.net, helps people understand how the G1G1 program works by pulling together information that is scattered on various websites and wikis. For example, they created a downloadable flyer that would be useful for a school event or fundraiser.
Not only did they build this website, they sent out a press release to announce it. These educators are learning that technology in education is not just about the equipment, but about winning the hearts and minds of everyone involved to build support for initiatives they believe in.
Give One, Get One, Change the World!
Next up – what can K-12 schools and students do to support the XO laptop program?