I like to say that I’m a realist. And the reality is that the digital age is here. The internet is here. 24/7 access to information is here. Students constantly engaging in varied digital mediums is here. There is no way around it. Nobody will argue it.
Some adults (parents / teachers / schools) embrace it. Some run and hide from it. And some cautiously navigate their way through it. The truth is that the foundation of classrooms needs to drastically shift because of it.
Some of the scariest phrases in education are:
- “We’ve always done it this way.”
- “I know what works, I’ve been doing this for years.”
- And really any statement that alludes to the idea that whatever worked 25 years ago is still ideal today
Sidebar regarding this type of language….Experience is a beautiful thing. It's the necessary basis of a strong foundation to be built upon. It is not an excuse to be complacent and stagnant. Think of it like this, experience is an elevator that brings you up to new heights, not a chair that lets you sit stagnantly on your rear-end.
So what shift am I referencing that educators, parents, and schools need to embrace? A high percentage of our school system, assessments, lessons, etc. are still based on the idea of memorizing material. We always needed to memorize material. Who had time to run and grab an encyclopedia off the shelf every time you needed a piece of information? Nobody. It is what most adults still think of when they picture education; can you remember the needed facts? But the reality is that those days of memorization are over. It is a waste of your time and your students’ time. Memorization has become less relevant because of the time in which we live (yes, I understand multiplication tables and such still need to be memorized). During colonial times, navigation was the most taught topic in school. Once it became a skill that was no longer as applicable for the masses, it was no longer taught. Sure some screamed about “the way it used to be”, but change was needed as society evolved.
At an assembly we hosted last year, a student asked the presenter, a scientist from Brookhaven National Lab, if he memorized the Periodic Table of Elements. His response was, “No, of course not, I can just pull it up and look whenever I need it”.
This is the embodiment of how education must change. We can no longer teach and assess students for their ability to memorize. It doesn’t make any sense. That is not the world in which they live. They have instant access to almost any piece of information they may need. When they get to the real-world and job market, their success is more reliant on their ability to apply important information and problem solve, rather than simply memorize it. We need to shift our focus from memorization to a Locate, Analyze, Apply system.
We say students have unlimited access to the almost any piece of information they may need, but do they know how and where to find it? Some may. Some may not. Providing students the skills to find information of varied topics is of utmost importance. It sets their inquiry process in motion. The second piece to this is determining credible sources and information versus internet “fluff”.
This step ties into and is a natural progression from Locate. Students need to take the time to analyze the material they have found. Is it credible? Do I understand this source? Is the information to complex/simplistic for me? Does it directly relate to my focus or question? What have I found? What is important? What can I take and bring to my paper, presentation, project, or assessment? There are many facets to the analyze stage, culminating in developing a deeper understanding of the content the student is trying to locate.
This last step is imperative, and it shows if the student has found applicable information on their topic, analyzed it, and created a deeper understanding for themselves. It most resembles what the professional atmosphere is currently like. This step says, “We know you can find the information, but can you use it?” It asks students to take that next critical step.
There are many classrooms employing this type of pedagogy. Approaches like Project Based Learning (check out @BIEpbl), Design Thinking, and Maker Movements all employ certain aspects of this idea. Many teachers are designing lessons, assessments, and projects around this idea. But the challenge is to get to a point, where these forward-thinking educators are no longer the exception, but have become the rule. To make our schools value memorization vs. application in the same proportionality in which our job market does. It is no easy burden to take on, as it goes against many traditional educational instincts. But hey, I’m willing to take on that challenge….are you?