Part II

Preparing Students for the Technology Driven World

HGS Prematunge

Western educators have realised that it is high time the education system redefined ‘teaching’ to ready students for the growing technology-driven world, providing them with real-world applications while promoting hands-on learning. Gone are the days when students were expected to listen attentively as teachers lectured over them for 45-minute school periods. The learning methods discussed in this article, in addition to those discussed in the previous Counterpoint issue, is in the process of reinventing ‘learning’ in the Western education system.

Growth Mindset

According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, one’s true learning capabilities are unknowable. And the mindset that you can achieve any learning goal at any point in life with the right degree of passion and toil is referred to as ‘Growth Mindset’.

Dweck points out that as opposed to the Growth Mindset, the ‘fixed mindset’ assumes that our personality, intelligence and creativity are static. But the growth mindset is fostered on challenges and treats failure as learning opportunities. Dweck argues that believing one’s abilities are etched in stone makes one yearn to prove oneself over and over again. This will eventually lead to the learner second guessing his or her every move. It creates an inferiority complex because the expectations imposed by society is often times unrealistic at individual level.

For example take an AL math stream student who is not so confident that he might get through to engineering faculty. He would be mortified at losing his only chance at a free tertiary education. But had he fostered a growth mindset he would realize that he could take up something entirely new, like architecture for example, which requires a lower entrance grade.

It is an ideal mindset to cultivate in Sri Lankan school-going children as it revolutionizes what one strives for and what one sees as success. According to Dweck, the effort one puts into learning is redefined by changing the definition, significance, and impact of failure and the hand that you are dealt with is only the starting point for development.

Dweck’s experiments themselves point us towards how one could cultivate a growth mindset at class level in schools. The fixed mindset shames imperfections. In other words if you are not ‘smart’ enough to pass a certain exam, then your scope for growth is curtailed. The key is to not harp on ‘smarts’ and instead complement kids on how hard they work to achieve a set goal. Moreover, children with a growth mindset are keen on learning anything new and are adept at absorbing new information. Consequently, instead of a hunger for approval such kids display a true passion for leaning.

Microlearning

According to a 2015 Time Magazine article, the average human attention span is down to eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish. In such a scenario how practical are 45-minute school periods, six-moth terms or for that matter O/L and A/L examinations that test schools children on years’ worth of study?

Short term attention span has long been a problem for students, who’ve had to struggle with bulky text books with lengthy text and counteractive learning content that blunt students learning abilities. Education systems in developed nations are increasingly depending on digital technology to cater to the education needs of individual students. They have introduced a novel learning concept by dividing the education model to two interactive sessions that employ microlearning modules.

Microlearning is a skill-based approach that uses relatively small learning units referred to by Western educators as bite-sized content. Bit-sized modules are in effect small, self-contained nuggets of information, specifically designed for short-term-focused strategies.

Project-Based Learning

Similar to Genius Hour discussed last week, Project-Based Learning is research-driven. As opposed to expecting kids to soak up hours of tutoring with little input of their own PBL encourages collaboration, critical thinking and team work to develop innovative projects and answers complex questions. But most importantly it facilitates interaction with the curriculum in an engaging and entertaining manner, much similar to genius hour. But PBL adds to the workload of teachers, mostly in the form of prep work. Educationist Lauren Ayer reiterates that the teacher’s role in PBL is to ‘facilitate learning and guide students toward finding answers to their questions – not to answer the question themselves.’

The key is to generate questions. Ayer recommends that the project focus should be what students think they know about any given topic, brainstorm and record all ideas even if they are inaccurate. In PBL it is vital to not correct the students at this stage and let the students find out that they were wrong in their assumptions through the research process. Another important question is, what students want to know. It is imperative that students develop their own questions using these questions as a model.

For the actual research part of the project, it is essential to provide engaging opportunities for kids to tackle the topic, such as field trips, guest lectures, online research, online games, interactive activities or experiments. PBL recommends that students are left to their own devices, in the process of finding answers to their own questions.

This method teaches students to think like experts. For example if the class is learning about forests each student would invariably pick their most favourite forest and aspire to find out everything about that forest. For instance, if a certain student picks Sinharaja as his or her subject area, he or she could research to create their own questions to find out about the various fauna and flora species in the forest, location and extent, benefits, threats to the forest, economic benefits, etc. Ayer points out that this process cultivates 21st century skills of critical thinking and problem solving, flexibility and adaptability, and productivity and accountability.

The last step in PBL involves presentation of the findings, where students are required to organize the information they gathered in a comprehensive manner, so they can be shared with the rest of the class. This stage hones creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration skills of students. Presentations can take any form from a model of a forest, a brochure or reenacting an experience from a field trip. Students must be let to study and criticize each other’s presentations.

Robotics/Coding

 In this age of smartphones, tablets and social media, software and apps are no longer just a tool, they are a lifestyle choice. And a number of software development companies have already churned out software to help students develop apps of their own, such as HopScotch–an iPad app that teaches code by creating basic games; Hackety Hack, a downloadable application for Windows that introduces kids to Ruby, an object-oriented programming language or Code School, a learning platform for programming that allows students to take courses or prepared paths for Ruby, JavaScript, iOS and HTML/CSS. The platform uses a badge and prize-based incentive system similar to online gaming.

Programming language, Scratch, an MIT product allows students to program interactive animations, games and stories while honing their problem solving skills and while they learn advanced programming concepts. It’s designed for students aged eight to 16. PurposeGames is a web-based fun-to-use app that allow students to create general knowledge based games and quizzes for friends, school mates and family. Its simplicity means that no prior experience in game design or programming is required.

Robotics and Coding can go a long way in preparing kids for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) job roles. The US is leading the way in this front, training students as early as junior high in robotics, engineering design, and 3-Dimensional printing, according to an article titled, ‘Investment in STEM education adds up,’ by Lauren Foreman.

Part III of New educational trends will discuss trends including Team-Building For Learning, Smart Spaces and Blended Learning in the next Counterpoint edition.

(This article is the 17th installment in a series of articles which discusses education related issues on a fortnightly basis in counterpoint.)

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