A Model for 21st Century Education
Education in the 21st Century should prepare a student for success in the workplace of that Century, but traditional Education is mired in the 19th Century. Success in that Century, as today, depended on reading, writing, and arithmetic, but the tools were different. Handwriting, computation, and spelling were essential; and memory was treasured. In the 21th Century, keyboarding is more important than handwriting, computation is automated, and memory means you can find information quickly. With three changes that are simple and economical, Education can look to the future, not hold on to the past.
The First Change
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
In the 19th Century, arithmetic was the gateway to higher mathematics and the sciences, but arithmetic was automated in the 20th Century. Education-21 takes advantage of this automation and, replaces arithmetic with accurate estimation. The process of arithmetic is tedious at best and a barrier at worst. Concentrating on the details of the numbers competes with developing concepts. Estimation, on the other hand, is a self-teaching program of progressive accuracy. It is not limited by the number of digits or the arithmetic operation. The student understands the concept and guesses the answer. Feedback allows the guesses to become accurate estimation.
Higher mathematics and the sciences will be taught on a spreadsheet platform where arithmetic is invisible and graphical representation is automatic. The student can concentrate and explore concepts. Mathematics and Science become more interesting.
Math Phobia is a barrier to STEM subjects, how much of what we call “math phobia” is actually “arithmetic phobia”. For some, the math phobia will disappear without the threat of arithmetic. The expectation is that without the arithmetic barrier, more students will consider the STEM subjects.
The Second Change
The use of standardized test arose during the 20th Century and plays a central role in Education today. Perhaps the strongest argument against standardized tests in Education is that they are NOT standardized tests. In contrast with the SAT and other aptitude tests, tests used in school have no information on validity or reliability. Most importantly, there are no norms or standardization samples. Instead, individuals estimate what the passing grade will be in this State.
School tests can be improved by making them longitudinal and evaluating growth in specific areas. However, I do not want to fix tests, I want to go back to the 19th Century and the phrase by John Dewey: learning by doing.
Project Based Learning is learning that takes place during the completion of an assignment or project. Think of a a teacher’s lesson plan. There is an overall goal, objectives, activities. Project Based Learning starts with objectives and builds assignments and projects around them. Students first learn diverse skills, and then use those skills to complete a project.
The evaluation of these projects is called Authentic Assessment, a demonstration what a student knows about a particular subject. The project is precisely what a “standardized test” is trying to predict.
The Third Change
Reading typically starts with the alphabet and the sounds of the letters. The letters and their sounds are used to create and decode words. The process starts after the child can speak.
Compare that with listening. The parent points to an object and speaks it aloud. With a bit of repetition the baby understands the meaning of the spoken word.
With Education-21, parents show the printed word when they say that word. The baby will understand the spoken word and text, at the same time.
Reading and writing should be the responsibility of parents in the same way they are responsible for listening and speaking. In this day of electronic devices, an app to teach babies to read is inevitable. Preschool will expand this and children will come to school reading and writing.
But, can babies read? Decide for yourself
In summary, three changes will bring Education into the 21st Century. They are simple and inexpensive, but they challenge tradition.
Stress project based learning and minimize the use of tests. Project based learning shows how well the student can integrate their skills.
Use authentic assessment to evaluate how well a person can complete a task, rather than use a test to predict how well the person will do. That means we need to start trusting our teachers rather than test makers. A teacher can mark a project as inadequate, adequate, and superior. The project is always available for consultation. How much time and money will be saved if we eliminated tests?!
Substitute estimation for arithmetic. Arithmetic has been automated, but estimation can be used in those cases where absolute precision is not needed. The student can give a good “ballpark” figure for planning. The process of estimation is game-like and does not intrude on concepts. And it naturally follows to use a spreadsheet for math and science with arithmetic invisible.
Postpone the alphabet until the child can read words. Then teach the alphabet using the words the child knows. Its most intriguing advantage is that a baby can read and write before they can speak. Expand this in preschool and children will come to school reading and writing. That will be the birthplace of Education in the 21st Century.