Friday, March 10, 2017

Why We Need to Rethink Our Approach to K-12 Education

     My 13 year-old son has been sick this week.  He has a soccer tournament this weekend and wanted to play tonight so last night he decided he would go to school for part of the day.  This is what he said to my husband, “Playing soccer is easier than going to school.  If I can go to school, I can play soccer.”
     While I found his comment amusing, it also made me sad. I think he was saying that sitting in school all day in classes is hard for him. Knowing how active he has been since he was little, it doesn’t surprise me.  Even now when he watches TV, he is either kicking a ball or throwing a ball—never sitting still unless he doesn’t feel well.
     Last week, he asked me if my classes were the same every day.  I said that it depended on my class, but one of them was never really the same any day.  He then said that he doesn’t like school and thinks it is boring because his classes have the same structure every day.
     This is why the concept of Personalized Learning is very intriguing to me.  Personalized learning allows students some freedom in how they demonstrate their learning of specific learning targets.  I was fortunate enough to go on a trip to Chaska, Minnesota to visit a district that has personalized learning. The middle school we visited was so interesting and you could see how much the kids loved school. 
     This week I watched a webinar on the Global Math Department called Pathways to Learning, which was presented by one of our alumni, Carla Diede.  Carla teaches at Harrisburg South Middle School in Harrisburg, SD and it was so interesting to hear how she uses personalized learning in her classroom. 
     After this recent exposure to personalized learning and listening to my child, I firmly believe that it should be the future of education.  Kids are different so why should they all have to demonstrate learning the same way.  Giving kids choices empowers them to take ownership of their learning.  When listening to the panel of 6th graders in Chaska, all I could think about was how mature they were and how much they understood about themselves as learners.
     So have I embraced this idea in my own classes?  Not entirely, but I am making baby steps. In my Math 371 course, each student is presenting a technology topic that interests them to the rest of the class.  I also give them choices when creating their 3D projects, their Desmos art projects, and their teaching lesson.  I guess maybe I am better about giving students choices than I thought.  Offering options to students is going to make them better decision makers and problem solvers—ultimately those are the skills needed for the workforce.