Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Vocabulary of Educational Reform

In my last two blogs, the topic has been 21st-Century Skills. This blog will make a homework assignment to conclude that subject and, also, introduce the reader to two more terms relevant to contemporary education: the STEM disciplines and the concept of blended learning. All of these reflect the growing importance of technology in the contemporary classroom.

The remaining set of 21st-Century Skills not discussed previously were Information, Media and Technology Skills, and Life and Career Skills. These categories include a broad array of technical and social skills and personal values. Rather than list them all in this blog, I encourage my followers to go to "The Partnership for 21st Century Skills," a web site that comprehensively treats the subject.

Now let's turn from 21st-Century Skills to another theme of contemporary learning: the STEM disciplines. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. These disciplines are related to each other and reflect a growing concern for and commitment to the physical sciences and higher mathematics. The United States and other Western European countries dominated these fields early in the 20th century, but our nation has not retained its preeminence in the last half-century. STEM disciplines are essential to manufacturing and the aerospace and defense industries. The iPad initiative at Gaston Day is an important expression of our commitment to these branches of learning. The iGEM program is another example of the way in which advanced scientific research is taught here.

The concept of blended learning is an outgrowth of the explosion in personal technology. Blended learning combines traditional teaching styles and practices with online learning. Teachers assign students at least part of their work to be done independently online. This means that students have more control over the pace, path, and place of study because they do it on their own computers. Again, Gaston Day's iPad initiative insures that there will be more blended learning as personal technology becomes a basic feature of learning here.

In my opinion, the technology revolution unites all of these educational reforms: 21st-Century Skills, STEM disciplines, and blended learning. I once believed personal computers were tools that would enhance learning, but not transform it. No longer. At the most fundamental level, personal computers are changing the way we humans interact with our environments and becoming extensions of our brains. Small children embrace personal technology practically as infants. Young people--the students of today--use personal technology (laptops, iPhones, etc.) to interpret the world and relate to others. If Gaston Day School is going to remain relevant to and for our students, we must embrace the creative possibilities of personal technology. Meanwhile, the task remains to teach our students how to use that technology responsibly and what it means to live a good life.