Envision the School Day of the Future

| December 17, 2010 | 7 Comments
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By all accounts, the education community is in the midst of a profound shift, straddling between the constraints of its legacy while pushing for much-needed change.

Part of the anxiety around these changes is the uncertainty of the future. No one wants to experiment with the welfare of our kids, but at the same time, it’s clear as day that the status quo is holding them back from succeeding.

Everyone has an opinion about what the idealistic school day of the future will look like, if not specifically hour-by-hour, then at least by broad themes. I spoke to a number of changemakers and progressives about this topic and will post those interviews below.

My question: How do you think an average school day in 2020 (or even beyond) for a K-12 student will be structured? At home, in the community, online? Where and how will educators interact with learners? You can leave your answers as a comment on this post, or on the MindShift Facebook page.

Some revolutionary changes are already happening in pockets across the country and across the world. That’s natural — grassroots movements take shape organically, especially with technology as the medium and the rocket fuel. And maybe those changes will continue to grow over time rather than by a sudden decree of state or federal mandate.

Either way, those abstract ideas are becoming more crystallized day by day. The future might not be here, but it’s near. I believe we’re closing in on it.

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  • Esther Wojcicki

    Schools of the future hopefully will be very different from the schools of today since many of these schools today fail to meet the needs of students and fail to prepare students for jobs in today’s job market. Schools of the future will focus more on individualized learning with the support of technology. This means that students will work in groups and be supported by collaborative learning environments both online and offline. The world is a more connected space thanks to the Internet and social networking, and a space where students can learn easily online. Students need to be prepared for a technical world where they can learn 24/7 at their own pace. They cannot wait around for some teacher to teach them. They need to be trained to be self-learners. Teachers need to re-conceptualize themselves as facilitators of learning and not the sages on the stage.

  • Christian Long

    While much is said of innovation, rarely do we discuss the ‘power’ of the schedule. In some respects, it is the most powerful agent in modern day education. And in many respects it prevents true innovation from happening.

    Thus, there are 2 ways to approach this question with an eye on the future:

    a) assume that schedule will continue to be the dominant feature in a student’s/teacher’s day/week/year — or —
    b) assume that ‘learning’ will be.

    If the former is true, then there will be modest changes (thematic/discipline-based block schedules vs. 6+ subjects a day, for instance) over time, and most likely a greater effort to maximize outcomes by ‘wringing more value’ from the same hours (or taking academic hours from previously ‘extra-curricular’ or non-school times).

    If the later is true, however, than the schedule and calendar may in fact become a much more organic experience based on customized (to the student and task), just-in-time, ‘mastery’ based scenarios.

    Assuming that the point will be a student’s ‘mastery’ — and not just iconic dependence on the maintenance of the agrarian calendar and year long course frames — we will be freed up to allow time to become an agile element in future learning environments.

    Another way to look at this will be to consider it thru one of two lenses –> 1) school as a ‘deficit’ model where we assume students’ weaknesses need to be repaired — or — 2) school as a ‘passion’ model where students pursue topics of interest at the speed of their abilities. The first assumes that we must maximize time at the cost of other opportunities. The second assumes that time will be an extension of the pace of a student’s learning curve.

    Finally, the question of ‘if’ we can frame new versions of schedules/calendars is no longer the key point. Instead, we must decide what the underlying point of formal education/schools is, then let schedules respond accordingly.

    I am hopeful we’ll see more of the later.

  • Rob Lippincott

    Learning is a dynamic, just-in-time, fully interactive set of experiences which add up to life. We are ALL learning at ALL times. Schooling is a societal structure designed to accomplish a frustratingly amoprphous set of developmental goals and fulfill a shifting set of social expectations.

    Ideally, schools should be resource-rich envirnonments where people from 2-102 (perhaps only required for those from 4-16 or 18) can participate and receive formal recognition for achievement. They should be some combination of the attributes of temples/gymnasia/libraries/laboratories/game parlors and all carefully designed and staffed to encourage, engage, inspire, assess and reward learning. They should not be modeled on penitentries built to most efficient accomodate and process a specific class of behavior difficulties.

    We need to balance the needs of the workforce (keep immature minds and hands out of jobs until they can be productive; allow parents to work a full day without neglecting their children) and the natural developmental sequence of the human mind and spirit (challenge and support each individual to identify and accomplish proximal development milestones and desired learning outcomes).

    To do this we need to do a better job of differentiating the teaching tasks – and design a professional sequence of preparation, induction, development and mastery – and understanding the learning tasks (presenting appropriate challenges, supporting successive attemots to achieve mastery, rewarding accomplisment and linking outcomes with progressively higher skill expectations).

    Time (start and end time in any day; days per week/weeks per month/months per year) spent in a school context should be measured by a more contemporaneously sensical segments (not the traditional northern european agrarian calendar).

    Experience – including work, service, play and exploration – should accompany and supplement “in-class” time. “Seat time” should be reserved for the few kinds of learning which involve sitting down.

    Technology should be fully integral to the process – exploiting the advances which have transformed the way we work, play, research, write, explain, test ourselves and share – so that children do not “interupt learning to attend school”.

    Teachers should include and depend upon a wide “cloud” of expertise which extends the learning moment for every child through technology, imagination and geography (outside the school walls but inside the curriculum) by enlisting assistants, older (and younger) students, parents and family, experts and mentors from the “real world” and the human web which surrounds each learner.

  • Hitomi

    A former colleague of mine, Edward Teller, once told me that “You can’t know, what you don’t know.” So it is with the future of education. We don’t have a crystal ball as to what the future holds for us in terms of tools and technology. But we have an idea of what does exist, and how it has and hasn’t changed education.

    We have seen the arrival of Email, the Internet, PowerPoint, and a variety of other productivity and instructional technologies…not to mention all the toys, such as SMART Boards and clickers. Yet, for the most part we have not seen the “revolution”. For the most part teachers still teach through direct instruction and students still sit in neat rows for their prescribed 45 – 55 minute periods. We have seen technology used to substitute (ie – PowerPoint for white/chalk boards) and augment, but rarely do we witness anything transformative.

    In our classrooms the other day, I saw students creating PowerPoint presentations. They were presenting them from the front of the room, one-by-one. What I hope to see in the future is students sharing their work through networking strategies such as NING. The strength in learning is in the quality, quantity, and frequency of feedback….that is why “gaming” has such an impact on learning! By allowing students the freedom to provide and receive feedback beyond the constraint of classroom hours will surely deepen the learning experience.

    Another, glimpse into the future will be the use of computer modeling and simulations. These make it possible to transcend the limitations of time, cost, and safety. Virtual experiments, engineering models, and economic simulations will allow students to use critical thinking skills and their imaginations. They will be able to study global issues such as climate change and alternative energy, and deepen their understanding and awareness of their global environment.

    The implementation of these tools and strategies will require some face-to-face time with a skilled and knowledgeable teacher…there is no substitution for that. But this does not require being in the same room at the same time. I hope we do not see the end of the traditional classroom…I believe in-person interaction between humans is critical. But I do think we can leverage resources and expertise through technology and deepen the learning experience for our children. To do that we will need to re-think our traditional models of schools.

  • http://www.connectedcalifornia.org Brad Stam

    All the elements outlined below are happening in schools currently, but the task is to get more of them happening in each school.

    Gabriela Garcia is a high school junior in the Central Valley enrolled in a Linked Learning pathway focused on Engineering. She rises early so she can attend a breakfast meeting with her industry mentor who is helping her with her current engineering project. A local manufacturer of harvesting equipment has discovered a design flaw and students are working in teams of three to determine a solution and then design and fabricate a new part to correct the flaw. If the team’s solution/part is selected, they will be offered summer jobs at the business.

    After reviewing Gabriela’s design plans with her mentor, who challenges her rationale and provides some suggestions, she attends her advisory class. There her teacher/advisor, who has worked with Gabriela since freshman year, reviews the progress on her project and suggests possible roles for project team members. Gabriela also uploads her mentor’s suggestions for possible design revisions into her online portfolio and requests feedback from other industry professionals. Then she reviews her schedule for second semester with her advisor to ascertain if she qualifies for a dual enrollment college physics class next year.

    The next session in her individualized daily schedule is a math workshop where the students and teachers help each other solve math problems related to the project and the design specifications. The last half of this block session is an online introductory calculus lesson designed to prepare them for their next project, created by teachers and students at another school. In her English workshop, Gabriela continues to draft and edit her written proposal to the local manufacturer and gets feedback from peers on an application essay through Google Docs annotated comments. Her application is for a UCLA summer residency class in the Evolution of Machines and Their Impact on Mankind. This will fulfill her last Social Studies graduation requirement, as well as meet a college Humanities requirement.

    Although she entered high school as an English learner, her engaged experience working with teams in the Engineering pathway has accelerated her progress in learning the language and now she only seeks help in the after school writing center on occasion.

    After lunch, Gabriela meets with her project team. She shares the information from her mentor and the team works together on Computer-Aided Design (CAD) to refine their design. Animated discussions ensue around which materials are the best options for their machine part. They are each going to draft a pro and con for their own suggestions. Each student writes separate sections of the proposal that they will submit to the local manufacturer so they take time to review each others’ latest revisions.

    In her AP chemistry class, Gabriela designs tests to determine if the material she is suggesting is viable. She discovers that the heat levels of the engine will create conditions beyond the tolerance of that specific polymer. Now she must research to determine which material might be equally as light, just as strong and temperature tolerant.

    Every Tuesday and Thursday Gabriela leaves school to work in an internship from 2:30pm-5:30pm at ABC Dairy. Even though ABC Dairy is not an engineering firm, they have several engineers on staff to maintain the various processing facilities. Gabriela is working under the Chief Engineer on an expansion plan for the dairy’s main processing plant. Gabriela current assignment is to use the auto-CAD skills she learned in school to trace out the existing process piping and then engineering possible integrations of between the old and new sections.

  • http://www.twelchconsulting.com Tom Welch

    Please, please, PLEASE let’s step back! I hate the thought of a “school” day of the future. It drags with it the outdated notion of primacy of place as the determiner of the opportunities that will be available. Let’s start talking about “learning time” and make sure that we develop ways to honor learning no matter when or where it takes place. For many reasons I can see the need for a place where students go, where they can be safe, and where they can be out of the workforce, but we must let go of the crippling notion that the only place that “real” learning occurs is in school! That’s like saying the only place that real work gets done is in . . . factories!
    That factory-based notion of “school” has set up a crippling culture of dependency for students, teachers and administrators alike. It’s the 21st Century, and I for one will not allow geography to be the main determining factor for opportunities for learning. We cannot afford another 20 years of trying to “reform” an outdated model.
    Let’s stop trying to fix a past that served us adequately but is now hopelessly inadequate. Instead, let’s focus on helping every learner meet the opportunities of the future!

  • Steve Taffee

    If we would have asked the question in 1991, what the school day of the future 20 years from now will look like, I doubt very much that we would have said: “not much will have changed.” But fundamentally, things are not that much different in 2011 than they were in 1991, 1941, or even 1891. Schools are still largely teacher-centric, compartmentalized into subject areas, rectangular classrooms with an identifiable front (for the teacher), bells for passing, textbook driven, 9 month schedules, and on and on.

    So part of me wants to say that 2031 will look a lot like 2011.

    But I hope I am very, very wrong. Our planet, our country, and our neighborhoods can’t continue to miseducate children as usual. Progressive education ideas must supplant the mire that holds us so tightly bound to high-stakes testing, perceiving teaching as a profession populated by “those who can’t”, and chronic under-investment.