When I consider how rapidly 21st-century tools are transforming education, I think fondly of the legacy passed down from my mom, a retired educator. She was grateful to come from Austria to the United States as a high-school-aged student at a time when U.S. education was envied the world over. She earned her education degree, became a certified FLES teacher and then an elementary school reading specialist in Scarsdale, N.Y. She was a career educator as well as eventually a school board member and subsequently the president in our home district. I recall minor explosions in the kitchen as she enlisted my father to help her try out science projects for her classes.
Over the years, I have heard from my mother's grown students about her straightforward method of reaching each child on his or her own terms, with less emphasis on traditional methods and more on discovering who the child was. She was a highly qualified teacher and was using individualized instruction before it became a buzz word.
As educators and others struggle to rethink education as it exists today, we focus this month on some of the new technologies and delivery systems that, with pedagogical know-how, will promote the 21st century version of individualized instruction.
For instance, across the nation, more teachers are guiding students to learn the way they want to learn, assisting them to creatively produce content, rather than just consume content, using mobile devices. This is just one of the many reasons that districts are moving to mobile learning. "We realized that for us to continue helping students develop 21st-century skills, we were not going to be able to have the budget or capacity to add devices as rapidly as we wish we could," says Superintendent Gail Pletnick of the Dysart (Ariz.) Unified School District #89. Products Editor Kurt Eisele-Dyrli's special tech report, "Mobile Goes Mainstream," brings us up-to-date on this rapidly developing movement that is taking us toward a "device agnostic" future.
Last fall while attending DA 's inaugural Superintendents' Summit in Orlando, I met Diane Lewis, the director of instructional technology for Seminole County (Fla.) Public Schools. DA created the summit and its accompanying Leadership Institute to provide cutting-edge professional development, and Lewis offered just that. Lewis has emerged as a guru for online education, and last year she opened two successful virtual schools. As she says, "A lot of kids don't fit the mold anymore of four walls and a clock." In "Virtually Possible," written by Ericka Mellon, Lewis busts the myths and offers tips for starting a virtual school.
Our District Profile this month, written by Mary Johnson Patt, features another unique learning program, this one at Eastlake High School within the Socorro (Texas) Independent School District. Fifty-six ninth-graders each equipped with a computer and a headset are learning Mandarin Chinese from teachers in China who conduct onscreen lessons and provide additional one-to-one sessions. The program has attracted low-income, high-income and special-needs students, all of whom are thriving. "Because of our proximity to Mexico, we have a unique opportunity to have more students leave our school system not just bilingual, but trilingual," says Xavier De La Torre, superintendent of schools.
As the mother of a teenager who is nearing the end of her high school years, my hope is that whatever changes technology brings, my daughter's generation will always know the value of passionate teachers who have students' individual needs at heart.
Judy Faust Hartnett, Editor in Chief