From Chapter 8 in Ted Dintersmith’s What School Could Be:
We need to empower our teachers, engage our students, and deliver learning experiences that recognize, and capitalize on, the reality that our students will have digital devices at their fingertips for the rest of their lives.
The context of this quote, said by an unnamed teacher at a Washington, D.C. education summit the author attended some years ago, underscores the friction I sometimes feel in this field. In some ways, we waited so long to finally go 1:1 with devices in student hands. But in others, we’re still waiting for the expectations around pedagogy to catch-up.
I’ve heard educators tell me “well, what’s he gonna do when he doesn’t have that cellphone or laptop to depend on?”
I really don’t think these super powerful devices are going anywhere. And I have to say, it took time for me to really catch up and learn to depend upon my phone. Today I can’t imagine going anywhere without it. It’s not so much an addiction to the device as it is a dependency on its power.
- messages from a friend a thousand miles away,
- checking on the national news at lunch,
- checking the delivery status of an Amazon order,
- looking at the day’s weather before heading outside,
- listening to music while I edited video,
- receiving a notification that medication is ready at the pharmacy,
- looking up the definition of a word…
These were all very passive pursuits, but I valued having the phone and the connectivity it provided. But think about what else! I could have written this blog post on the phone. I could have edited the video I was working on. I can get in touch with all the people I care about. It’s an incredible tool.
If I see a plane overhead, I can ask my phone (yes, talk to it!) and find out what flight is overhead. Wacky!
And it’s sad, I think, that we’re still not capitalizing on the power of today’s mobile technology. Dintersmith’s example in the book is about calculus. At one point John King thought more calculus was the answer to our education woes. More calculus.
Fewer than 20% of adults in our country use any math beyond the basics of middle school. Nearly one-third of American adults prefer cleaning the bathroom to solving a math problem.
The point is this: the tool in our pocket is capable of working out calculus problems. Now, I think working a few out isn’t going to hurt you, and it can lead toward an appreciation for what it is, exactly, the problem is “doing.” But when we have a tool in our pocket that can give us the answer, the whole paradigm has shifted. That student needs to understand the theory behind the integrals and derivatives. But working it out manually? That’s what Ted is asking us.
I don’t fault any math teachers out there for how we teach advanced math. Their hands are tied. The tests we give kids ask them to solve calculus problems. It’s a skill they spent a year preparing for.
So—we’ve done the big lifting. And now it’s time to change. But big systems tend to move slowly.