Friday, August 31, 2012

Innovative Classrooms

We have spent the past 2 days at the Microsoft Innovative Classrooms conference. It has been a great opportunity to make connections with secondary school teachers and leaders, a chance to listen to what is going on in education through technological advances, the ability to look forward and see what potential there is in innovations of the future.

Several of the comments throughout the 2 days really resonated with me.

"The easiest skills to teach and master are the easiest ones to automate and digitise."

For our pupils, this means that the more complex the skills, the more transferable they are in the future. So how do we make sure we are equipping them with these challenging skills? They have moved from looking at lifetime employment to lifetime employability, meaning that they will need to have mastered a broad set of transferable, flexible skills that can be applied in a range of contexts. What are these skills and how do we measure them or teach them?

And what will the world look like for them? We know that there will be a massive weighting on technology in everyday life but what does that mean for our students today? What has changed the most is the fact that we always considered school to be the hallowed places of learning. Somehow, learning had a home, a location, whereas now we recognise asynchronous learning, which takes place anyplace, anytime in any way. Our learning is not a pathway, nor is it even a destination. Learning is a journey from which we can only say that from life's first cry to final breath, we are always travelling on that learning journey. We, as educators, need to align ourselves with this fact. We cannot simply continue to add to what we are already doing, we must change and revolutionise our teaching and learning programmes. We must transform our practice rather than trying to build on the old model. I believe that primary schools, in large, are already enabling this change and have recognised the paradigm shift which has then directly affected our pedagogical changes.

However, the constraints of exams and results tend to tie the hands of the secondary schools in a rather different way. Primary schools have no set destination - we are able to travel along however we like, with a set of broad key competencies to underpin the curriculum which is open, flexible and designed to be student driven and rich in student engagement. For secondary schools, they can attempt to be 'innovative' but they know perfectly well that they have a set destination. Exams mean that they must get students to a certain place to be considered able to achieve a predestined level which enables them to be university goers and so on.

“Adding wings to caterpillars does not create butterflies- it creates awkward and dysfunctional caterpillars. Butterflies are created through transformation.”- Stephanie Pace Marshall (Founding President and President Emerita of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.)

 We now must look at transforming our secondary schools, so that they are part of the transformation of our students into critical thinkers, problem-solvers and creators, self-reflective, self-managing, collaborative lifelong learners. We need to get rid of the text books and bring back 'real life' authentic learning contexts for our secondary students so that the grounding they have had in primary school is not seen as a totally separated experience from that of high school. What a huge challenge that is for the whole secondary sector! But what I saw over the past two days is hope. There are some awesome, innovative, creative, passionate, fun and life-experience rich teachers who are holding the baton. And they are sharing their knowledge and passion. They are inspiring others to be like them and that gives me great hope for the future that my own children are passing into right now - life at secondary school.

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