Edutopia (which if you don’t mind I’ll call Edutropia) ran a piece last year on “Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design” that someone made me aware of. The first line grabbed my attention:
“Problem-based learning, makerspaces, flipped learning, student blogging — these are becoming perceived staples of 21st-century learning.”
The phrase “Problem-based learning” of course is always a red flag for me, but followed so closely by “makerspaces” and “flipped learning”, I found myself puzzled as usual.
What do “makerspaces” have to do with teaching a particular subject like math? Unless of course they mean building a model of a bridge in order to solve a problem, (which I’ve seen done), or bending pipe cleaners in the shape of parabolas and glueing them to poster boards (which I’ve also seen done). All of this is supposedly engaging and fun for students not to mention allowing teachers to facilitate rather than teach, although I’m told it’s a lot more complicated than I make out. One teacher who is an adherent of this type of 21-century classroom wrote on his blog that there’s a lot of things going on that people don’t realize: facilitating, assessing, questioning–yes, everything but teaching.
And of course there’s the flipped learning aspect of things, in which students watch videos like Khan Academy in which information is presented in direct and explicit fashion in the manner held in disdain by those promoting 21-st century classrooms. (Not to mention the fact that some students tune out when watching videos, and if someone does not understand something in the video, there’s no way to ask for clarification. Playing back the same explanation repeatedly just repeats what the student found confusing in the first place. But not to worry: reformers have been quick to point out that things like Khan Academy are not really math–they are just how-to’s on procedures, and the real learning goes on in places like, well, like 21st-century classrooms where teachers facilitate, assess, question, and don’t teach.
“We need to be sure that we’re not catering to just one type of learner. Be mindful of your introverts, extroverts, collaborators, solo thinkers, writers, dreamers, and fidgeters — and design a flexible environment that can meet everyone’s needs.”
Right. Good idea. Because assuming they’ll be able to get a job someday, they need to know that if they feel like writing and dreaming and fidgeting they should feel free to do so. But let me ask one question. For the introverts and/or socially awkward student (for any number of reasons), are they exempt from group work, or doing posters or art projects, and allowed to obtain knowledge in conventional ways? Uh, what’s that? They can watch Khan Academy? And what about those students–uh, I mean learners–who prefer to sit at desks arranged in rows rather than in groups. Is there a conventional or traditional zone in addition to the bean bag zone or the creation/inspiration zone? Or would that be anathema to learning?
“Explicitly teach and emphasize process over product, growth mindset, and metacognition. We cannot cultivate risk taking, failing, and perseverance — all essential characteristics of creativity — if we repeatedly demonstrate to students how all that really matters is neatly filling out our worksheets.”
Process over product–now there’s a phrase we don’t hear enough of these days. I’m all for students showing their work and giving credit for writing an equation correctly even though they made numerical mistakes. But I do note the numerical mistakes. And I don’t give credit to “guess and check” approaches to solving a problem when an equation is called for. But I’m open to compromise. Although I have them do worksheets, I do ensure that they know there are correct answers to the questions and whether or not they got them right. I’d best end this now before some of you call Child Protective Services on me.