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10 things teachers can do today to prepare students for the future

Here's how to support change by allowing students to experience the process within a career and introducing them to the necessary career skills

In 2008, I read Clayton Christensen’s Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. It inspired me to think about changes in education that would benefit students by transforming teaching and learning and I was excited about the possibilities. Technology advancements promised to make a great impact to initiate change in the classroom, but now we are faced with a newer set of obstacles.

Eleven years later, as I walk through the halls in a middle school/high school setting, I see students sitting on a tile floor crowded around a device trying to type, communicate, take videos, and record their voices with background noise and distractions often interrupting their progress. This happens all over the country in traditional educational buildings today. Students are assigned a tech-integrated project and are faced with limited resources and inadequate workspaces to use the latest tools. So how are we supporting change?

Obstacles for teachers who are trying to engage learners during change

The environment

Teachers are diligently meeting state standards while covering course content and using technology to address collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. They are hoping to teach their subject area while enhancing lessons, developing assessments, and engaging students in a more personalized manner. They are trying to contribute to change, disrupt their classes, reach all learning types, and prepare learners for the latest careers. But is the existing standard school building an effective environment for teaching and learning today? It’s no surprise that many teachers are hesitant to assign project-based and technology-integrated lessons knowing that the physical state of the building doesn’t support their efforts.

To keep current, teachers are required to participate in professional development and are faithfully adapting their curricula to include STE(A)M and social skills that are a necessity in the workforce. Yet, in a majority of areas, the infrastructure doesn’t cooperate. A teacher could have an outstanding lesson using technology, but if the wi-fi is slow, the hardware and/or software unavailable, or there’s a lack of space to communicate and collaborate, then teaching and learning becomes a difficult and frustrating practice.

The pedagogy

Throughout history there has always been the suggestion that students should take “college prep” courses to gain acceptance to college. The promise was that this path would result in entry to a specific career. Yet we now find that students are lacking in some of the softer skills that are needed in an age of technology innovation. The resources and tools once used in the classroom have changed and the environment in which students gathered to learn is transforming into a more personalized, high-tech and collaborative space. Education is moving beyond the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic and is surpassing skills assessment through standardized testing. Sitting in rows and facing front is no longer the best option for students to participate in the classroom. The venue now requires students to focus on content with available resources to integrate lifelong skills and share their voices in a global community.

So how do educators deal with the pressure of giving students the appropriate background and skills for the future while our system relies heavily on the concept of grades and test scores to gain access to college? Should we be preparing our students for college coursework or future careers?

How can we prepare students for the future?

It begins with supporting the “change.” When I mention change, I am not suggesting that we change the content that students are learning. I am referring to changing the way in which that content is absorbed by the learners and providing all the necessary resources to accommodate teachers and students.

Is it as simple as bringing real-word goals into the classroom through project-based learning (PBL)? PBL is a key component, but I think we need to take this a step further. As educators, we need to support change by allowing students to experience the actual process within a career and introducing them to the necessary career skills along the way.

10 steps to support change

  1. Create conducive learning spaces with resources to accommodate the curriculum and required skills.
  2. Assign a problem/project that highlights the content that you want students to learn in your curriculum.
  3. Allow time for research to learn how to troubleshoot the project at hand.
  4. Prompt students to write an essential question that they have about the content explored.
  5. Introduce a guest speaker in the field of study to highlight a “day in the life” of their job.
  6. Encourage students to work alone and in groups, knowing that they must communicate, share ideas, and participate in class discussions.
  7. Create a project to-do list with benchmarks and checkpoints for stages of completion.
  8. Highlight participation in daily tasks (writing emails, setting up meetings, and dealing with time-management issues).
  9. Lead students through the professional process required to accomplish their project goal.
  10. Assess students on how well they met all the steps towards their goal.

In the end, there shouldn’t be a grade simply based on learning the content. The students should be able to answer the notorious question, “Why do I need to know this?” by working through the process and applying the content to a real-world situation. The content is learned through inquiry and research by designing, creating, and problem-solving. The grading becomes a performance level that needs to be met. Did the students meet the criteria to work on the project and accomplish the goal? This should be the type of question educators ask and students answer to satisfy the criteria for the new jobs of the future.

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