How did you find your answer? Chances are you used your phone. A tiny piece of technology that fits in the palm of your hand, yet provides quick and easy access to every piece of information known to man. A wealth of knowledge right at your fingertips.
As a child, my first instinct was to go to the encyclopedia. We had a set Santa had brought. Those books served us well for many years. In fact, I only recently parted with them. I loved looking up random topics and reading about it; following the "see also" to discover even more. The encyclopedias provided me information about Hernando DeSoto in 5th grade. I used them to research rock formations in 8th and win the school science fair that year (even going to the district fair.) They helped me write papers on presidents, planets, and world events. Santa was even so kind as to get us a subscription to the Year Books the publisher printed. For a number of years, we received a yearly book of updates to the world's events. Apparently, one book provides plenty of print room to include all the events and news that transpired that year.
I loved riding my bicycle to the library to find books on my research topic. That feeling of spending time sifting through shelves of books to see if the one I needed was there never leaves you. Even with today's speed in book publishing, encyclopedias are out of date before they hit the shelves. Libraries offered just as much frustration to this voracious reader as they offered enjoyment.
So why, if encyclopedias and libraries offered us so much information and enjoyment do we, as adults not use them anymore?
Probably the same reason our children don't. Efficiency. If your first instinct when asked a question to which you do not know the answer is to "google it" on your phone, why do we not encourage this access to information in our children's schools? Why spend the time searching through encyclopedias (which are bound to be out of date) when I can search via my computer and find more information at a faster rate? Plus, I can get up to the minute information.
What I am saying is that with all things, comes progress. I don't complete a 5 digit long division problem on paper when I have a calculator on my phone. I don't use an inkwell and quill when I have a ball-point pen. I don't wait for shipping if I can get the book instantly on my Kindle. I download professional and pleasure reading almost daily (it's a sickness). If I need information that is not in one of my books, "Google" is my friend. There is most certainly room for both versions of accessing text, but we need to face reality: 21st Century Learners learn differently and education needs to change with them. We need to be willing to accept that there will come a time when print versions of some materials will be obsolete. And, we need to be OK with this.
Our classrooms can no longer fit the mold of the past. The mold that prepared students for the assembly line and cubicle jobs of the 1950's through 1980's no longer meets our needs. Classrooms where teacher talk dominates the day, imparting knowledge for students to retain are no longer preparing students for success. As the needs of society change so too, must our classrooms.
Today's jobs require students to search out information, push their limits of understanding, challenge what we know, and create something new. They require communication and interaction skills. This is what our 21st Century Learners deserve from their classrooms. They crave a classroom that challenges them to figure it out on their own in order to find that pride. They have the means in their pocket; right at their fingertips.
21st Century Learners are social creatures- they share everything with each other. Haircuts, boyfriends, current mood swings, new outfits are all shared via social media. They ask advice, congratulate each other, stand up for the rights of others, and share in each others sorrows on a minute-by-minute basis. They are constantly powered up.
Why do we power them down when they walk in the school? That's just asking for trouble.
They should be sharing, discussing, blogging, and posting about their learning. Why have them ask four people for information, when they can tweet it, blog it, Facebook it, or SnapChat it and get hundreds of answers? Which method provides the student of today with more chance for dialogue, analysis, and global perspective? We need to use what 21st Century Learners are already doing.
The students of the past were prepared for the past. Our 21st Century Learners need to be prepared for the future. What that future looks like is anybody's guess. I mean really, researchers have invented a device to translate your dog's thoughts to English. Honest. It'll be released in April of this year. Google it.
(Anyone else have a "Jetson's" flashback?)
Change needs to happen. Our 21st Century Learners deserve it. They are already equipped; cell phones in hand, typing skills of legend, and computer expertise rival to none.
As an educator, are you on Twitter? Does your class have an account? A class blog? Do you provide easy access to digital information whenever students need it? Do you allow reading on a mobile device, Kindle, Nook or iPad? Does your school district have a "Bring Your Own Device" policy in place? Are you helping to get one written? Do you access interactive sites (polleverywhere, todaysmeet, etc.) during class?
Jump off the cliff.
Become a 21st Century Learner yourself and help build the 21st Century classroom.