Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Only Constant in Education is Change

Pain of Change Quote
I will attempt to discuss the way teaching has changed from what I experienced as a student, as a result of the use of technology as tools and the current focus on problem, project or challenged based learning.  These changes in education are being implemented as a result of the ACCRS (Alabama College and Career Ready Standards).  I say “attempt” because I have not personally been a part of this new approach to teaching or have been exposed to the ACCRS because I have not taught in the public school for 16 years.  So, the opinion I am providing is largely based on the experiences of others and my own research. Since I was a high school math teacher, I first turned to actually reading the “Common Core” standards and found this statement about teaching mathematics: “In the middle grades and high school, effective mathematics teachers plan relevant classroom activities such as projects and problem-solving situations that require active participation by all students and help them make important connections between mathematics and their personal lives.” How is this statement relevant?

My little brother would have said, “Finally, school makes sense to me!”  He was a creative kind of kid who loved discovering new things and craved the use of technology. His first question about math especially, was always, “when will I ever use this?”  By the time he reached middle school his motivation to perform in school was waning and by high school his motivation to even show up for school was completely gone.  Although I believe all students can benefit by the integration of technology and implementation of project/challenged based learning, he was one of those kids I truly believe would have stayed in school and flourished.  Instead he was another high school dropout studying for his GED.  Don’t get me wrong; students with GEDs can become productive members of society and find success and happiness on whatever path they choose to take, but let’s talk about the potential that is lost through students who are not engaged in their own learning.

1950s elementary school room
I cannot recall one single moment in elementary school when I was asked to collaborate with other students to complete a project in order to enhance learning.  In middle school, our projects were always for extra credit on some topic we had already covered in class using traditional teaching techniques.  I can only really recall using problem solving and project based learning twice in high school: once in junior trigonometry and once in senior English (thank goodness because As I Lay Dying was a difficult read for me).  There were a handful of my classmates that never made it to high school, and even more that didn’t graduate.  I knew a few of those dropouts personally and they were smart people, just not interested in sitting in classes all day listening to a teacher lecture about this or that.  There were FAR more interesting things to do.  What would have happened to those students if they were engaged in the learning process?  What if they were asked to be creative and take the lead on developing a project or solving a complex problem while working with other students?  What if they were asked to evaluate other students work and provide input on how they could improve?

Anthony Capps may have an answer to these questions.  As I watched the assigned videos with Anthony and Dr. Strange, one part of their discussion really stuck with me.  Anthony described outside visitors in his classroom asking him about his project based learning.  Anthony posed the question to the kids and ALL of their hands went up!  They were ALL engaged in their own learning and WANTED to share that information with perfect strangers.  Had that question been posed in my third grade class, and if the teacher was inclined to allow us to answer, there would have been maybe the customary 1 or 2 teacher’s pets speak up and tell the visitors what they wanted to hear (to please Mrs. SoandSo of course).

Critical Thinking Skills
Much of what was taught when I was in school was learned through rote memory and most did not require critical thinking or reasoning skills.  How do you even teach a Geometry or Physics class without hands-on projects or requiring complex problem-solving?  I’ll tell you how.  Teach procedures and make those the focus most of the assessments.  How did I make it through college math courses?  The same way.  How do we as teachers who were taught using these methods change the approach so that the next generations develop those critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving skills?  We use technology as a tool to help students develop research, writing, creative thinking and problem solving skills and we teachers should share information with one another!  And not just the success, but the failures as well.  Unlike our teenage years, I’m sure most of us welcome the opportunity to learn from other’s mistakes!  And it’s okay to ask questions about what works and what doesn’t.

Speaking of questions, I still have a few about project based learning and still so many when it comes to the ACCRS.  How do you effectively assess individual learning during a project? I still question some of the methods that are being used to teach elementary school math and language.  Why have we made long division so difficult?  I am not a fan of constructivism.  I still feel education standards have been lowered over the last 100 years.  I question why (although I know why - it’s an easy and quick way of compiling metrics) we focus on multiple choice or similar assessment strategies when this does not demonstrate critical thinking skills.  As Anthony said in one of his videos, plan with the end in mind.  What do we expect of our students in the end?  An example of an exit test from 1910 clearly asks students open ended questions which require students to formulate thought and express those answers in the form of composition. (Exit Test for 8th graders).

Isn’t that what we all really want from our students?  Baldwin County is heading in the right direction, providing the tools (iCurio, Discovery Ed, MacBook’s) and the teacher training.  How do we convince other local districts to follow the same path? 

Project Based Learning

I believe, if applied correctly, and consistently, project/problem/challenged based learning can achieve these result in conjunction with some tried and true traditional teaching strategies, like drills for factual information.

I still hope for the future of education.


  1. Lynn,

    I really enjoyed your blog post. It was nice to hear a teacher’s opinion about Project Based Learning. I agree that traditional learning and project based learning can co-inside with each other. I realized that sometimes, especially with Secondary Education, not every topic that I cover will need a project. Sometime, you will have to use the power points and worksheets in order to cover a topic. When it comes to other schools getting the up to date technology like Baldwin County it is not that easy. For example, Mobile County is a larger school system than Baldwin County. Baldwin County has donations from various companies and possibly other private funding. I would love to see all the school districts become like Baldwin County however, I know that it will not happen anytime soon.

  2. "These changes in education are being implemented as a result of the ACCRS (Alabama College and Career Ready Standards)." I don't think the ACCRS standards have had much of an impact yet. That will happen, but it is only beginning. The real impetus is the result of certain superintendents/school districts wanting to move away from burp-back for a lot of reasons: use technology, prepare for 21st century, success elsewhere, etc.

    "I am not a fan of constructivism." Really? It sounds like you are. Constructivists are the primary users of project/problem/challenge based instruction.

    " I question why (although I know why - it’s an easy and quick way of compiling metrics) we focus on multiple choice or similar assessment strategies when this does not demonstrate critical thinking skills." Because what some considered as assessment is easy.

    Thoughtful. Well written. Very well done!

  3. Dr. Strange,
    I am learning more and more about Constructivism in my EdPsych class. This week's unit if focusing primarily on this topic. I may be revising my postiion. It has been interesting reading!