This video is an interesting project that asks students to sort of videotape and monologue their various experiences with school. The results were a compilation of student grievances and troubles with the modern educational system whether in high school or college. It serves as a reminder that the politics and polarizing issues of education are not just visible to teachers but students as well. Some comments that resonated with me include student perceptions of standardize testing, learning, and shifts in student lifestyle. Most significantly that students can recognize the disconnect between valuable learning and merely regurgitating irrelevant facts for a test or a grade. It is ultimately leading students to lose faith in the significance or value of most schooling. Furthermore, students today are more enveloped in digital multimedia than ever before. Students are using these various formats to participate in self learning yet this is not translating to the classroom scene. Finally it is very apparent in this video and in my own experience that students strive to have purpose. But what we're seeing on most educational platforms is that students' individual values are being marginalized. That is, many feel that they're just another number in the system; that the focus is more on "teaching to the test" and not enough on students as valuable members of the school and contributors to their own learning.
The end game here is that students learn to become activists in change. As one student writes in a notebook, "Life is a design, make it work". Hopefully this signifies a shift in the student narrative towards active engagement.
Google's 20% percent time is essentially an opportunity that Google provides for it's employees to work on any project of their choosing. The interesting thing is that some of the most innovative ideas have sprouted from this format despite no increase in monetary incentive. It seems without direction, it opens the door for people to be more creative and intrinsically driven. As a result, the creations that arise are products of passion, care, and personal investment. Because of this, it's no surprise that they often become finished works of art or inventions.
I am reminded of an RSA video that attempts to explain what truly motivates us. It turns out that based on human experiment, money is not always the primary driver of human incentive. In fact, when it comes to cognitive tasks, money is seemingly detrimental to performance. When it gets to the core of what really stimulates genuine motivation, we can begin to understand why Google's 20% project is beneficial. According to much of the evidence, people do better when provided an opportunity for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. By allowing people to pursue passions, it fosters self direction. When given self direction, people are likely to strive for virtuosity. Finally, it is important for people to feel like they're making an impact or transcending themselves. Ultimately they want to have purpose. All of this is explained in the video below. As for the 20% project, I'll have the privilege or pursuing a passion of my own in my technology class and am excited about the prospect of doing so..
For much of his book, Tony Wagner has explained the widening gap between what it takes to remain competitive in an increasingly global society and what students are learning in school. Additionally he has shed light on several issues plaguing the current educational system in terms of barriers that stand in the way of students learning practical skills for the future. Lastly Wagner has begun to develop ideas for which both teachers and curriculum can change fundamentally to meet these goals. But like he has admitted before, it is hard for people to conceptualize or picture doing something they haven't seen in action yet. Enter schools like High Tech High, the Met, and Francis Parker Charter Essential School. It is here that Wagner gives examples of school that actually implement the ideals behind teaching students the 7 survival skills. Namely connecting learning to student interests, putting learning in student hands, developing important inquiry and critical thinking, and ultimately creating relevant students work through projects and collaboration.
As it turns out, I am not only partial to High Tech High but fairly familiar with it's structure as well. I had heard of this innovative high school in San Diego's North County early in my teaching program. It's methods no doubt draw a lot of interest throughout the up and coming teaching community. For me, this school resonates on an deeper level. I received my undergrad in Electrical Engineering from SDSU and I naturally have an affinity for math and science related fields. High Tech High seeks to instill the essential skills for these intensely sought positions of the future job market within their students. At HTH many student projects and learning activities are centered on discovery style learning, collaboration, hands-on creation, and problem solving. When I think about these skills, I think about the very same projects I worked on as an aspiring engineer in school. Because of this, I would love to teach in this environment and can see myself integrating my undergrad experiences with those of my students if given the chance.
On a final note, it is also worth mentioning my wonderful opportunity to actually observe a math class at High Tech High last semester. It was a simple lesson focused on number sequences but the ideals of the school were clear and on display. Students worked in collaborative groups and largely discussed ideas and approaches to a given problem. The teacher acted merely as a facilitator, only offering more inquiry to student ideas and questions. It was only after the class thoroughly explored a topic that conjectures were agreed upon and explained in detail. The lesson took some time but I sensed the long-term benefits of this type of learning. Students had internalized problems and had genuinely sought solutions with their peers without notions of disengagement, passive learning, or formula dependency. As a result, this experience has contributed to my vision of how learning math should be and has since increased my advocacy for the mission of High Tech High.
Change is natural with time and there always seems to be a giant gap between generations of people and the culture that consumes them. If you think about it, the "great" generation of the WWII era gave way to the baby boomer and hippie generations, which gave way to generations "X" and "Y", and now we have the so-called net generation. Each one before likely thought that the next one coming in were a bunch of dysfunctional crazy kids. A good example of this is to think of the evolution of music. Remember when people thought Elvis was a little too edgy? Or how about when grunge and punk bands like Nirvana started to officially close the book on the 80's rock era? (Some of our parents probably want people to forget how they dressed back then). I know I'm getting old when I start complaining about the music that's becoming popular with the younger crowd these days. The point is, it doesn't surprise me to hear the consensus stigma of today's younger generations are that they lack work ethic and motivation. Like Tony Wagner in his 5th chapter of The Global Achievement Gap, I too believe that this is a misguided statement for the apathetic behavior and attitude of students towards school and potential careers.
As Wagner explains, motivating the net generation starts with understanding the environment students are growing up in and what kind of culture is developing among them in contemporary society. In particular, he talks about the fact that teens nowadays are virtually connected all the time, ubiquitously, and on multiple platforms. Whether it's gaming and chatting with friends on consoles or sifting through a slew of apps on their smart phone or lurking on social media while simultaneously playing itunes, there is now a sense of constant digital connection at every turn. With this ever expanding atmosphere of attention-grabbing media and applications comes the growing trend of multitasking among young adults and especially college students. They are learning to cope with heavy flow of information and activities by learning to do multiple things at once. Whether or not this is detrimental or beneficial remains to be debated. Next is the idea that newer generations are also becoming more adept to instant gratification. In an age where devices run at amazing speeds and information is just a click away, it's easy to get impatient and carried away when the process of anything takes longer than the blink of an eye now.
As someone who is caught somewhere in the spectrum of these newer generations, I can relate and therefore agree with many of these observations. Personally, I have a smart phone, laptop, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, 4 email accounts and more among many of my digital connection avenues. On top of this I avidly utilize search engines and specific go-to sites in my down time to search topics that interest me multiple times daily. With regards to instant gratification, I'm guilty of that too. If I need directions or to do a quick internet search I can immediately use my phone and get frustrated when it dies or doesn't work fast enough. I live and breathe my phone and without it I am lost. Spoiled and proud of it.
This brings me to Wagner's suggestions for adapting educational views to meet this new 24/7 digital culture. In order to meet the needs of students in these conditions, teachers need to advocate learning that fits the style. The first being the integration of more multimedia in the classrooms. Students with the current mindset aren't engaged with old school methods of teaching, hence you have to speak their language so to speak to get through to them. One thing these students definitely speak is digital media and social connections. Next is learning through discovery. I for one hate reading textbooks and being told how it is without an explanation of why. Again, students these days would agree that being given the reigns of learning, using more interaction, and utilizing things like a youtube video to learn something would resonate more with them. Lastly is learning through creativity. An aspect that Wagner mentions near the end is the issue of negative influence of parents on their child's creativity. Allowing students to choose their own path to learning and ultimately a career is paramount to motivating them throughout school.
If a hundred experts in a room have different opinions but swear up and down that they have the right answer, then who are we to believe? Such is seemingly the case with education and rarely is there an undeniable clear cut way to do things whether it be a history lesson, professional development, classroom management, you name it. Yet, there is an unending line of people telling you a million different ways to do them. One thing is for certain though, there is always room for improvement. The question is where and how to improve as educators.
In general, Tony Wagner believes that improved teacher education and continuing development is key for positive change in education and an important cog in the wheel in closing the achievement gap. Specifically with the first idea, he believes that credential programs need to be more practical and rigorous (referring to his definition of "rigor" of course). According to him, too many courses focus too much on theoretical ideas and not enough on actually giving teachers tools and strategies to better help students. To borrow his own driver's ed metaphor, memorizing all the parts of a car doesn't help the person learn or demonstrate that they can drive. As for the second idea, Wagner is a big opponent to tenure and states that measly professional development credits every few years are not nearly enough to ensure that teachers remain competent. As a result, he advocates that the bar be raised on standards for teachers and that professional development is made more meaningful, useful, and effective.
As someone who came into my credential program 4 years removed from even a college classroom setting, needless to say I was looking forward to learning tangible tools and strategies that I could implement. Unfortunately, and some of my colleagues would agree, I was left wanting in that department and rather thrust into my student teaching position with little to go off of. That is not to say that my program hasn't given me valuable information - it has certainly made me more aware of ELD strategies, differentiation, and more - but much of it has been a myriad of articles, reading, and theory and has given me little to show for practical ways of teaching my students. As Wagner states in the beginning of this chapter, a big reason why it's so hard for teachers to agree on what the best methods are is that everyone is virtually going off their own self-learned experiences within the classroom. As for how professional development plays out, I have yet to reach that milestone of my young career. However, as much as tenure and relaxed regulations on continuing education would benefit me as a teacher, I agree with Wagner's point of view that it does little to give incentive to teachers to become better at their profession.
If I were to input my own recipe of teacher education, I would suggest that theory and educational reflection remain within credential programs. They are important to understanding the system in which teachers operate in and allow for creativity and avenues of progress. However, I believe that much of this can be spread through professional development later in a career. For young teachers, it would benefit them greatly to have more practical strategies during or before reaching the inside of a classroom. Granted having a master teacher and parallel experience from the very beginning as my program does is very helpful, but I think more can be done. As for the concept of improving teachers within the classroom, I agree with Wagner that standards have to be raised. I think an important step in the right direction is his suggestion of a systematic review so that teachers are compelled to keep an ongoing portfolio as well as an investment in their own teaching.
This chapter hits on the ever polarizing topic of standardized testing and even testing in general. In it Wagner explains two major problems associated the large amount of testing that is going on today.
The first, and this is something I've mentioned before as well, is that education has begun to serve testing instead of the other way around. In other words, all these consequences for low test scores and stresses on academic testing achievement have begun to influence the curriculum and the way we teach students. Instead of focusing on engaging content and actual learning, students by the masses are being pushed towards memorization and only being taught "what's on the test." Furthermore, because of this, students follow tilt and begin to only care about what their test score was as opposed to what they've actually learned. It's as if the learning itself has taken a backseat to a number on a paper or computer screen in terms of value.
With this in mind, the second major problem Wagner points out is one that revisits his main point: are any tests right now really evaluating any useful student skills for their future? Even if curriculum wasn't collectively aimed at test scores, it seems the subject matter being analyzed is itself becoming marginalized in terms of actual value in society. If a student knows how to solve for an algebraic equation, does that necessarily mean they have problem solving skills? If a student writes a decent paper in a formulaic template, does that really mean they can organize and explain research to someone in the real world? Wagner doesn't believe so, though even he himself doesn't totally doubt testing. "Some say, and I agree, that teaching to the test isn't necessarily bad - as long as it's a good test!" (p.90). The point here being that we're headed in the wrong direction for giving students the tools they need if we continue to assess our schools based on test scores that only measure proficiency in boring content and rather irrelevant skills.
In my own experience, I would have to agree to a high degree with many of Wagner's claims about testing. Regarding the issue of testing negatively influencing the aims of the classroom, I believe most schools nowadays have muddled their allotted time during school year with test prep curriculum and have bombarded students with test after test. This year alone, I have witnessed class time dwindle thanks to MAP testing, CAHSEE, SBAC, SAT and ACT practice, and have furthermore skipped interesting sections in my unit calendar to ensure covering a specific requirement for testing purposes.
On the other hand, I may be slightly less critical of the current system than Wagner is. That is, I believe there is value to be found in how and what we teach our students today. I feel there are limitations to getting students to be more engaged simply just because content is more than just memorization. Yet, I am not far off from where Wagner comes from on these subjects. I wholeheartedly agree that we're not giving students the essential skills they need for the future yet and that there are steps to getting there. Changing what we value and overhauling our accountability system is just a step in that direction. The real hurdle is political barriers and getting people to change a system that been in place for decades.
Lastly, this subject actually reaches me on a personal level with respect to my own brother who is himself a high school dropout. He made the decision on his own as a sophomore, not because of failing grades and bombing tests (though they were stark contributors), but because he had no interest in what school offered nor was it relevant to his goals. Needless to say, he's doing fine and had many talents to offer. Among many of them he's a fantastic self-taught artist, musician, and on occasions a decent cook as well. Wagner stated that "Will not Skill is the single most important factor in school dropout rates" (p. 114). In a way, my brother is the epitome of someone whose will, not skill, defined his success in school and ultimately led him to be "measured" inaccurately by Wagner's standards.