Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Teaching for Tomorrow: Incorporating Technology and Student Choice

I have just finished reading an excellent book, Teaching for Tomorrow by Ted McCain. His thoughts on introducing problem based learning into the classroom resonate strongly with me, as I have discussed in my prior blog post where I proposed that problem based learning should be combined with project based learning. To truly prepare students for their future, we need to provide them with problem-solving skills which will help them be successful in life as well as in their careers. As Ted McCain states frequently throughout the book, we are graduating students to be "highly educated, useless people."

Over the course of the last year, I have unknowingly applied some of what Mr. McCain is talking about into my own classroom. Maybe it is because I am a business teacher, or maybe it is because of my ten years experience in the corporate world, but I like to provide authentic situations for my students. Though I did not incorporate as many situations as I would have liked, it did provide some problem-solving situations. Did my students successfully completely them entirely on their own? No. Did they struggle with parts of them? Yes. Was it therefore worthwhile? Definitely.

There are two main points I am left thinking about after reading this book. The first is incorporating technology. There is a big push in schools to incorporate Web 2.0 applications into our classrooms for purposes of engagement, meeting different learning styles and to replicate life outside of school. However, I am of the feeling that technology should be used when technology should be used! We should not be using it artificially just to say we are using technology. For example, if a student needs to ask a question of a professional, they should be able to use email. When they want to create a presentation, they should be able to choose from a variety of software and Web 2.0 applications to do so. I believe in making them aware of what is available, but then letting them choose which technology they want to use (I have them justify their choice - another learning opportunity). When we move towards project based learning, we need to be able to have the technological resources needed for the students to work on their project authentically. Through Twitter and a list-serve I am a part of, I have been finding many great web sites from free CAD design, to free web design, to many slide show/poster/multimedia applications. Instead of instructing our students to use certain ones at certain times, we need to be able to help them find the ones they need when they need them, show them the ones we already know about and of course let them find their own!

Mr. McCain has many good examples of problem-based learning in his book; however, they all seem to be teacher led. The teacher has created the problem and requirements, and all the students work on this same problem. The one benefit to this is how he creates problems with certain requirements that mirror the business world. How can we incorporate student choice, which is a large part of project-based learning, yet still get the authentic experiences of the business world? Or do we need to worry about this? Is it enough that the students are solving problems in their project, so they have an idea of how to approach a problem, which would carry over into future situations, whether they are personal (repairing something you own) or career related (working on something for a client.) I don't have the answer to this, but am inclined to agree with the latter view that solving any type of problem helps you approach future problems.

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