As we think back to how education looked 30 years ago, it is a completely different entity than it was back then. When we were growing up going to school, teachers started teaching on page one of the textbook in September (not August!), and progressed in an orderly fashion through the book during the year. If it was not in the book, we did not do it; if it was in the book, then we were sure to do it. I am certain there were state curriculum standards, but as students, we thought teachers just taught us based on what was in the textbook. Class consisted of teachers standing in front of the room doing most of the talking, or writing with chalk on the chalkboard; students felt lucky if the teacher let them do a math problem with the chalk on the board. If we needed to do a research project, we would go to the school library after school, and since it was not open very late, we usually ended up at the public library in the evenings and weekends doing our research. Before we could even begin looking for information, we had to know how to use a card catalog to find resources. If it was research material, chances are it was located on microfilm. (Remember those rolls of film we inserted into the machines that illuminated the tiny material onto a screen?) Once we found information, we had to pull out our stash of dimes and begin inserting them in the microfiche machine for copies. If we were lucky enough to find information from encyclopedias on the shelf, then we had to take out paper and pencil and begin to take notes or stand in line at the copy machine with some more dimes. These are just a few examples of how school used to be for students across America a generation ago.
When walking into a school building today, things look and feel a lot different than they did from even a few years ago. Interactive whiteboards attached to computers have replaced chalkboards, students sitting on the floor in circles working in groups based on individual learning needs have replaced desks in rows, hand-held technology devices have replaced handwriting paper, and online resources have replaced textbooks. Technology has completely transformed our classrooms over the last decade. Teachers now have access to resources from all over the world, whether it is for their students to use in class or for their own professional learning. If your class would like to go on a field trip to learn more about a topic – not a problem – you can participate in a virtual field trip with anyone who has a computer with internet access and a webcam, and there is usually no cost for these services. Instead of looking up words for homework and writing the definition five times in cursive on paper, students now use their hand-held devices to look up definitions of unknown words during reading assignments, and then type the definitions or apply them to something they studied in class earlier in the day. And who needs textbooks to teach or worksheets to hand out to students? Teachers are no longer bound by the resources pre-scripted on paper in books made years earlier. Remember math class being the same every day? Students did the odd numbered problems in class, and the even numbered problems for homework. Teachers today have learned how to use online resources that align with grade level standards, and when they have a question about what to do for a lesson, they can collaborate with their PLC group from around the world. Teachers assign projects where students create something with the knowledge gained from lessons, not simply just reading about it in their textbook or doing one step problems/questions at the end of the chapter.
Technology is a tool to use in the classroom, but it takes more than just having new, shiny tools to make a difference. A person could go out to a hardware store and buy $1,000 worth of power tools, but that doesn’t mean they could build a beautiful house with those tools. Learning how to use the tools where the worker is in control of the objective and training those entrusted to their care is paramount to their success. Allowing workers the freedom to decide how best to use the materials is what separates custom homes from prefabricated homes.
In the classroom, we want our teachers to train students how to use the technology and how to think and apply the content. Good teachers no longer expect every student to do the same thing to show mastery of a standard. With the integration of technology in the classrooms, students and teachers now have more options for what occurs in their classroom. Students can do their research quicker because of instant access to online resources, so more time is now allocated to applying what was learned. This technology has completely changed the level of instruction and learning that takes place in classrooms around the world.
More than just the physical change in schools and the types of projects being completed, there is a noticeable change in the attitudes of teachers towards students. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of world anymore. Teachers want to ensure that all students learn, and they strive to learn and implement ways to make that happen. Whereas teachers used to teach a topic one day and move on the next whether the class was ready or not, now teachers use formative assessments to drive instruction each day. Sure, technology helps students do tasks more quickly than they used to, interact and collaborate with others around the world more freely, organize classroom data quickly, and create engaging lesson plans for their students, but classrooms have changed even beyond that. Teachers rely on their standards and feedback from students to guide instruction; they are not bound by a textbook. In fact, many teachers no longer even use textbooks in their classrooms. Yes, technology has made it easier for some of the recent improvements to occur in classrooms, but more so than even the technology, there is something bigger that has changed the way classrooms look and feel. It’s the mindset of teachers that has revolutionized the modern classroom. This new mindset has had a huge impact on the learning and lives of students all over America. Thank goodness things have changed! I can’t imagine ever going back to the way things used to be!