Moving away from the "drill and practice" routine that encompasses technology instruction in many of today's schools and transitioning students to the "tinkering and making" of learning is a strategy that local educators were asked to consider as they create new ways to reinvigorate education.
The approach is the thinking of Gary Stager, a renowned international speaker, consultant and educator who spoke passionately about his beliefs at last month's Technology Leadership Institute conference held at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff Manor.
He delivered his keynote speech titled, "The Creative Technology Revolution You Can't Afford to Miss" during the event's morning session and later in the afternoon provided educators with more detailed examples of revolutionary educational practices at the preschool level in a talk titled, "Lessons for K-12 and Edtech from the Best Preschools in the World."
Dr. Stager, the executive director of The Constructivist Consortium, has helped learners of all ages embrace the power of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression.
His belief is that children are capable of doing extraordinary things, but that our current education system does not provide them with ways to learn in a "natural, more fluid way."
His primary body of work for the past few years has been centered on the constructivist use of technology, which borrows from the work of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, whose theories on knowledge and learning are widely respected in the field of education.
Believing that the years spent in school are the most valuable to helping children evolve into artists, physicists, philosophers and more is something Dr. Stager promotes as he delivers presentations to educators around the country and across the world. "The endless time-wasting is staggering," said Dr. Stager, referring to a system that he believes doesn't provide enough intensity and creative learning for children.
"We have a perfect storm that's swirling outside of our school buildings," he said. The fast-moving technological changes are certainly making an impact on society, he added, but it's not something that schools are taking advantage of. "This technology revolution has an added benefit of being great for kids and rejuvenating teachers and reinvigorating education. There's never been a cooler time to learn."
Reality TV: A "DIY Revolution"
While others decry the evolution of reality TV, Dr. Stager believes it's a positive trend. What it represents, he explained, is a form of "apprentice expertise," where one gets to see people in their natural surroundings, discover what drives them and see what it is they do. It's also an opportunity, he added, to energize young people and to give them a chance to shine as well as to receive a mentoring experience they might not get in real life.
Describing some of nation's youths as being "dead behind the eyes," Dr. Stager, who founded Constructing Modern Knowledge, a minds-on institute for educators committed to creativity, collaboration and computing, said that many of them do not have enough meaningful conversations with adults. "We can worry all we want about how
is doing on long division tests, but the generation of kids who don't know how to talk to adults is astounding," he added. Finland
To combat this, Dr. Stager suggested that schools move away from the notion of "hiring a pro" to acknowledging the societal shifts, economic trends and increased mobility in technology and then introducing the idea of "tinkering/making" in the classroom.
In recent years, several magazines have been created to cater to this maker movement, a term that encapsulates the practice and habits of millions of people who are into self-producing everything from robots to handmade crafts.
Those publications include "Make Magazine," "Made By Hand," "50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Child Do and Why" and "Geek Dad." The "Maker Faire" is another example of experiential learning in action. The event, which last year attracted over one hundred thousand people in
, includes a coming together of curious people who enjoy learning and sharing what they do. San Diego
"Generations of Americans have never fixed anything," Dr. Stager said. To solve that, schools can use the computer to "kick it up several notches," meaning that students can be taught to use technology creatively and at the same time develop their sense of perseverance, passion, choice, effort, purpose, mindfulness and so much more.
Becoming Their Own Problem Solvers
Engaging students in hands-on projects using computers ensures that students will make more interesting things, he noted. The increased use of 3D printers, for example, has made this even more exciting for students. In fact, Dr. Stager said he'd love to see such printers not just in an art room but in the physics lab and other places around the school where creativity is nurtured.
Dr. Stager, who has worked in schools around the world bringing rich mathematical and scientific thinking experiences to children and teachers, believes that students who are makers will have the ability to solve their own problems, forge their own path and be passionate about what they do.
For example, designing their own videos instead of merely consuming them would teach kids geometry, physics, motion, animation and a whole host of other things. Other interesting projects that have been made by children in the past include digital gingerbread houses, drum sets made out of bananas, a video controller made out of clay, digital origami and more.
"Most of what we are doing with computers in schools is incredibly disappointing," pointed out Dr. Stager. As a result, children have no chance to "get lost in something and to develop expertise." Providing students with rich opportunities for learning and a memorable education is most important, he added. "I think the highest, noblest calling of a teacher is to create memories."
For more information on Dr. Stager's groundbreaking work, visit http://stager.tv/blog/.