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21st-century learning

Having loved libraries since she was a child, Deputy Superintendent Mary Kolek of New Canaan (Conn.) Public Schools was truly happy when the staff of the New Canaan High School Library Media Center won the 2010 National School Library Program of the Year Award, presented by the American Association of School Librarians. "Everything that our library media center is producing," she says, "is reflective of what we're trying to do as a district: create critical thinkers, problem solvers, creative collaborators."

At education conferences, as well as in professional association reports, as a target area of funding for nonprofit foundations and in the literature of industry vendors, the term, "personalized learning" has taken center stage in an arena already crowded with complex and long-standing issues and concerns.

Why personalized learning? And why now?

Schools across the nation have begun the transition toward cloud computing, and administrators knowledge and ease of use with cloud services ranges from early beginners to the very advanced. A new nonprofit organization, eduCloud, plans to level the playing field by developing a set of best practices for the development of K12 content, tools and assessments hosted in the cloud.

PROBLEM

Maryland’s high school assessment (HSA) exams indicated that students in Prince George’s County Public Schools learning STEM subjects were not as prepared for graduation as their statewide counterparts. Just sixty-five percent of first-time takers passed the state’s Biology HSA, indicating a disconnect between the content and the skills and processes portions of the exam. Secondary science instructional specialist Godfrey Rangasammy felt that students were having a difficult time making interdisciplinary connections and interpreting science data they were learning.

Mobile learning—the use of mobile devices for educational purposes by students—is rapidly moving from an experimental initiative by a few innovative districts over the last five years to a broadly accepted concept in K12. The latest research and surveys, results of pilot programs, and analysis of trends in both public education and the broader technology industry all indicate that ubiquitous mobile learning—with mobile devices in every student’s hands and used in every classroom, school and district in the country—is advancing quickly and will arrive faster than many expected.

School librarians took notice when in 2009 Cushing Academy, a private secondary school in Massachusetts, transformed its library from a traditional facility to a digital media center. The library gave away most of its 20,000 books and bought 200 iRiver Story and Kindle e-readers. The school also sold to all of its 445 students a laptop to which the library could deliver databases and Web-based electronic books.

One day last fall, much to my surprise, I walked in the front door and heard something that sounded amazingly like Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" being banged out on the piano in our family room. I couldn't imagine it was my 13-year-old daughter Tess, who had been struggling with the piano for the past five years, getting by with practicing for 15 or 20 minutes just before her weekly lesson. I actually thought we had an unexpected guest.

A new application for touchscreen devices is intended to give learners a physical sense of fractions and the number line. But how does Motion Math, the startup company that developed this application, polish and perfect its product for its target audience? This, unfortunately, is where many projects fall short.

Stop talking about the past! There were 18,628 words in the 12 articles in The New York Times Magazine's 2010 education issue. Of the 12 articles, only one 465- word sidebar used the words "mobile phone," "cell phone" or "smartphone"—13 times. If we were reading the technology section or the business section, those words would be too numerous to count. While we appreciate being told about how education has been, we would have expected The New York Times Magazine to tell us how education is going to be.

Houston, we have an opportunity.

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