The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: December 14, 2010

A Vision for 21st Century Education

The BC government just released a report from the Premier’s Technology Council (PTC) on the future of education in British Columbia which is a fantastic read. It’s like someone took the conversations we have on #edchat on Twitter and bottled it up into an official report.

The report starts with discussing the needs of a knowledge-based society1, which it describes as

  • Functional Numeracy and Literacy
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Technological Literacy
  • Communication and Media Literacy
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Personal Organization
  • Motivation, Self-regulation and Adaptability
  • Ethics, Civic Responsibility, Cross-Cultural Awareness

They move onto some over-arching principles about what they feel a 21st century education should look like. Specifically, the document indicates "[t]he system must place greater emphasis on the learning of skills over the learning of content…[which] will have to evolve constantly, not only to remain relevant but so students are ready to deal with how rapidly information changes in a knowledge-based society."2 Of course information in our society is changing very rapidly. Kurzweil, in his article entitled "The Law of Accelerating Returns" said "[t]he Singularity is technological change so rapid and so profound that it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history"3 referring to his prediction that the rapidly approaching time when our ability to digest and create knowledge as a species will exceed our current ability to comprehend and predict the changes.

How would such a system operate? According to the document4 "the transformed system would have a flexible curriculum that allows for more in depth study…The system would have a mixture of face-to-face classroom and online learning." According to the Premier’s Technology council, the system would require:

  • A Flexible Educational Path
  • A Blended System
  • Access to Learning Objects and Teaching Tools
  • Open Access to Information Systems
  • Constant Feedback and Assessment

Many of these requirements will need additional infrastructure supports, and certainly the opponents of such a radical transformation will point to the lack of access to the Internet in rural communities, or the disparities and inequities5 in the necessary technology between communities as reasons not to move toward this educational system. The Premier’s Technology report does say that "a critical component of adding connectivity to the system is equity of access"6 so obviously they recognize this as an issue but the report does not make any recommendations on how to address this issue.

These are issues which we address daily in our discussions on #edchat. If you look through our conversation topics from the past year our wiki, you’ll find that they address the current problems in our system, and acknowledge a desire to move toward this system by many educators. The transformation of our system, as the PTC acknowledges, is not going to happen from a single report, but from the combined effort of educators, parents, students and other stake-holders in our educational community.

What is refreshing is to see that the very same ideas are being discussed at the highest levels in our (BC’s anyway, sorry to you US folks) educational system. Unfortunately there will be much opposition to these proposed changes. Many teachers in BC will naturally resist change, since it is easier to keep doing what one is doing than to transform one’s practice. The BC teacher’s union will resist these changes since many of them will require changes to how teacher contracts in BC are structured. I have hope however, that a majority of BC educators see that our system is not working and that it is not currently meeting of the learners it is intended to support. We must change, our children depend on our ability to be flexible and adapt to a rapidly changing world.

References:

1. Premier’s Technology Council, (2010). A Vision for 21st Century Education, retrieved from http://www.gov.bc.ca/premier/attachments/PTC_vision%20for_education.pdf on December 14th, 2010

2. Kurzweil, R. (2001). The Law of Accelerating Returns, retrieved from http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns on December 14th, 2010

3. BBC News, (1999). Online Education Increases Inequality, retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/323272.stm on December 14th, 2010

Making group work effective

I just read Dave Lanovaz’s request for help making group work in a math class effective, and I was writing a comment when I realized it was going to be a long one, so I decided to blog about it instead. I use group work in my math class a fair bit so I have some suggestions for Dave.

1. The assignment students are expected to do must obviously break down into separate discrete tasks that each person can work on. You can’t assume that a task that 1 person could do will be more efficient because 4 people are doing it.

2. The tasks need to be things which can be worked on in parallel. The worst type of group work is done in series with each person contributing part of the work one after another.

3. Use a system which makes each student contributing to the project independently easy, like Google Docs for example. This way the students will have to do less managing of meeting to do the work and passing around paper.

4. Google Docs has the added advantage of revision history so you can actually tell which students have contributed to the work, and which students have not. Make sure students know in advance you will be looking at the revision history…

5. You can’t really use a mark from work assigned in a group and use it as an assessment of an individual student’s progress. My recommendation is to make sure that there is some other reason why the project needs to be done, some other motivator besides grades, and don’t grade the assignment at all.

6. Initially, you should be in charge of the groups. Students who aren’t used to working together are not likely to choose the best people for their group. Once students develop some proficiency and cooperation skills, you can let them mix and match more often. Yes, this isn’t very democratic, but then if you’ve ever witnessed question period in Canada, you’ll know that democracy != cooperation.

7. Small groups work better than large groups. 2 or 3 people working together is easier to manage than 4 or 5 people. 

8. Discuss your expectations ahead of time. "What are our beliefs? Why are we doing group work? How will this help us learn?" Make sure the kids understand the purpose behind the group and make sure YOU understand the purpose behind it.

9. Watch your colleagues who use group work a lot and see what they do. They’ll have picked up tricks and tips I haven’t mentioned, and can support you in making group work a useful part of your teaching repertoire.

10. Keep trying. You won’t get group work to be effective the first time you do it, or possibly the 10th time you try it. It’s not easy to manage, but you get better at it, and once you have students working together effectively, there are lots of learning dividends. Think of the time you put into learning this instructional technique as an investment in your pedagogy.