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Time to redesign curriculum for the digital age

By Nicole Krueger 12/3/2014 Curriculum Standards

In too many schools, technology integration has come to mean retrofitting new technology to outdated curriculum. Digital tools are tacked onto lessons, simply replacing functions that were once performed with traditional tools, such as pen and paper.

There’s a wide gulf between technology use in the classroom and actual tech integration.

“As technology begins to change things, we naturally want to fit it into what we know and do. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where that no longer works. We need to revisit how we do things in education,” said former educator Tom Whitby, who urges educators to stop trying to fit digital age tools into a 20th (or in some cases 19th) century teaching model.

“When it comes to teaching students in the 21st century I have come to believe that it is more important to teach kids how to learn than it is to teach them what to learn.”

Education needs more than just a facelift. Educators are heading back to the drawing board on everything from classroom design to content delivery methods. Some even advocate for re-conceptualizing school entirely, focusing less on school as a physical place and more on learning as an anytime, anywhere mindset.

Perhaps most important, many say, is the need to refocus curricula to reflect the true demands of a digital world.

“Much of what children learn in schools today was designed for the era of paper-and-pencil,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Mitchel Resnick, who argues in The Global Information Technology Report: Readiness for the Networked World that most education reforms fall short because they fail to overhaul existing curricula and teaching strategies.

“We need to update curricula for the digital age. One reason is obvious: Schools must prepare students with the new skills and ideas that are needed for living and working in a digital society.”

The Common Core and ISTE Standards provide a springboard for doing this. What we need now is for educators to step up and not just adjust their curricula to align with these standards but redesign it from the ground up. Want to answer the charge? Join the Project ReimaginED community, where forward-thinking educators are collaborating to do exactly that.

We’re working on redesigning learning to:

Prepare students for an inconceivable future.

In the video Shift Happens, Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod explore how the global population has grown exponentially, and with it the level of connectivity and information available to students — more than half of whom will end up with careers that don’t even exist yet.

Their assessment: “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist using technologies that haven’t yet been invented in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

Today’s teachers have inherited an education system designed to prepare students for a “punch-clock world,” argues Cathy N. Davidson, author of Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work and Learn. It’s a system focused on developing the task-focused skills demanded first by the Industrial Age assembly line and later by the hierarchical corporation. However, the “interactive, globalized and contributory” world students are preparing to enter demands a very different set of skills.

“Simply put, we can’t keep preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist,” journalist Virginia Heffernan said in the New York Times.

Make room for higher-order skills.

Communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking: These and other higher-order thinking skills outlined in the Common Core and ISTE Standards are the ones students will need to adapt to a changing and unimaginable future. Yet we’re still so busy adhering to the Industrial Age model, teachers are hard-pressed to incorporate the types of learning experiences that allow these skills to flourish.

“The curriculum is already overburdened with content, which makes it much harder for students to acquire — and teachers to teach — both knowledge and skills via deep dives into projects,” said Charles Fadel, founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign.

“There is a strong global consensus on what the skills are and how teaching methods via projects can affect skills acquisition, but there is little time available during the school year, given the overwhelming amount of content to be covered.”

While teachers may not be able to control the amount of content they are required to cover, what they can do is find new ways to connect the content to students’ real-world experiences and explore new ways to guide students toward deeper learning while encouraging them to flex their higher-order skills.

Allow for new possibilities.

“New technologies are changing not only what students should learn, but also what they can learn,” Resnick said.

“There are many ideas and topics that have always been important but were left out of traditional school curricula because they were too difficult to teach and learn with only paper, pencil, books, and blackboard. Some of these ideas are now accessible through creative use of new digital technologies.”

What new ideas does technology allow students to explore? Let’s find out together.

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