Our Educational World Today 3/26/2020

Who would have thought that nearly all the people in our world today would be home-bound but still be connected.  It’s 2020 after all! Wasn’t our future supposed to be full of flying cars and shirts with communicators pinned on them like Jim and Spock from Star Trek?

In 2020, our communicators are our laptops and phones.  I made the comment the other day that my phone is the only one who knows the date at my house. During the 1960’s, this would have been an outlandish statement; in our current decade this is just an everyday reality for most of us.  Very few people in our developed and developing countries today could function without their phones and computers!

Educationally, things are changing at a rapid pace because of a tiny little virus causing a huge pandemic across the globe.  Educators of all levels are rolling out remote learning resources for students and their families. Educational technology is no longer a side tool but IS our tool to teach our students.  Now, technology resides side by side with physical learning experiences such as doing scavenger hunts, creating inventions out of recycled materials and performances. Our students are already comfortable being in front and behind a camera presenting their new learning.  What a great time to be a student!

Being born in the early 60’s and educated in the 70’s, my world of learning was very different.  Every school day, I walked into a two-story brick building called Shannon Elementary in a small southeast Colorado town.  I went to school in this building as a first grader until I graduated as a 6th grader. Those steps into the school were so far apart and there were so many of them.  I had to walk to the second floor of this building to reach my third-sixth grade classrooms so I had extra time to think and watch my school mates. I constantly wondered if I fit in – a part about growing up that hasn’t changed!

I’m 12 years old in this picture.

As in every classroom in Shannon Elementary, I was surrounded by wooden desks in rows, black chalkboards, somewhat dingy windows.  One teacher that I remember was Mrs. Woodward. She would walk around the room with a ruler and an eagle eye for anyone who wasn’t holding a pencil correctly or staring out the window too long.  I can still smell my classroom. Books, wood, dust, chalk all combine in my memory. I can’t remember everyone’s name but Billy (nicknamed Boob) and Bob (who was my heartthrob at the time) were among the most notable.  Those boys were always up to something!

Shannon Elementary School.

We walked across the hall to our Science class.  It had tall three-legged bar stools and a large front counter where the teacher stood.  Picture the Muppet character Beaker, assistant to Bunson Honeydew, and you’ve got the image of this Science teacher.  I don’t remember a thing we did in the class but I can picture all of us sitting facing forward, waiting for our teacher to deliver his wisdom on the subject.  We had Science books that had 4-5 other names handwritten on the inside cover from the students who had used the book before us. And we had spiral notebooks in my later grades, Big Chief tablets in my younger grades.

In the late 60’s, families in my small geographical area had only three channels on our home TV and no perspective whatsoever of having a TV in our school classrooms. Why do I bring this up?  Because this was my reality, just as today it’s our teachers’ and students’ reality to have hundreds of TV channels at home, projectors, laptops, ipads and computers in their school classrooms. We tend to accept our realities and simply adapt to them.  In other words, I believe that today’s teachers will settle into their new role with very little struggle. I believe students will simply adapt to remote learning without even a thought that anything could be different. I believe that teachers will now educate their students with more intent on functioning in a world that we can not yet imagine.  Why? Because we have all come from a world quite different from what we experienced as elementary students. We’ve adapted and learned so much since the 60’s and 70’s!

Can I say that my third grade teachers prepared me for a world they couldn’t imagine?  Small towns struggle with resources and money. My teachers of the late 60’s and 70’s did what they could with the resources they had.  Other schools in big cities and urban areas had different resources and money. I was given more and more tools and resources as I moved to a larger school district and then to college.  Every step of my learning process was vital to where I am today as a learner and as an adaptor.

Since the sudden transition worldwide to online learning in the past few weeks, today’s students have also gained new resources and opportunities–notably, the opportunity to take charge of their own learning.  This is something that I’ve reiterated to my gifted and talented students. Now, let’s see if they take this piece of wisdom to heart. Today’s students have a huge jump start on past generations. They like being entertained, for sure, and they don’t mind being in front of the camera–something that I for one will never feel comfortable with!

Our current context has propelled digital learning forward. Before, it was sometimes an afterthought or extra tool that teachers were forced to use. Every observation has a “use of technology” category.   People usually decry sudden change yet I haven’t seen any complaints, only eagerness from our educators or students. Maybe we are getting ever closer to those flying cars and pinned on communicators, after all.  Our elementary students today will be the ones to make it happen!