My Ideal School (But Where’s the Technology?)


Uncommunicativeness_by_barnaulsky_zeek

Recently, I made a list of what I think my perfect school would look like. As I began developing the list, I was struck by two things: Firstly, how most of it was about making school more student-centered, and secondly, that I didn't mention technology once. For me, this second trend bears a little more fleshing out. I would never say that there is no place for technology in education, far from it… But I think the place of technology is to support a more student-focused, relevant and engaging methodology. It is the 'how', not the 'what'. For me, technology in the ideal school plays a supporting role – and it is a vital one, since my dream school relies on it to work, but it is still only there as a means to support the growth and flourishing of our students.

The specific technologies will change and evolve, but once a school has reliable and fast Internet connectivity, other technologies can grow around it. Just as if our students are given primary status over the syllabus, everything else will fall into place.

 

Finally, some of these ideas you will recognise as eminating from leading education gurus such as Sir Ken Robinson. For this, I make no apologies: I have embraced the learning revolution! With that in mind, here's what I think the ideal school should be like: (Please feel free to comment and add your own below.)

The perfect school:

  • The primary focus is on tinkering, experimenting, problem-solving and making mistakes, rather than getting content into heads. 'Remembering' is very much a required skill, but it is closer to the bottom of the pyramid than it is currently in most schools.
  • The whole school environment is challenging, supportive, caring and aimed at personal growth.
  • Students are encouraged to feel as proud of their failures and the lessons learnt from them as they are of their successes.
  • The teachers are passionate about upgrading their skills and embracing the most effective methodologies.
  • The priority in lessons is about engagement and collaboration.
  • There is a focus on helping students to discover their 'element', or the thing they feel they can spend their lives doing. (This is what 'creativity' in education really means.)
  • There is no hierarchy of subjects. Art, Drama, Music and the Humanities are treated with the same reverance as Maths, Science and Languages. Subject boundaries are also blurred and intermingled.
  • Lessons are customized to the individual, rather than a one-size fits all.
  • Students have a significant amount of input into the design and delivery of lessons.
  • Learning spaces are orientated and arranged around the comfort and learning of the student, not the priorities of the teacher.
  • Enrichment opportunities, running both parallel to the school day, and taking place after school are an essential part of the learning process.

I acknowledge that teachers can implement many of these in their own classrooms very quickly, but the most important ones require a systemic shift. I would like to challenge our school leaders to ponder this list and to attempt to put in place the policies and procedures required to make every school the perfect school.

Don't forget to look me up on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/SeanHCole

 

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5 Responses to My Ideal School (But Where’s the Technology?)

  1. Mark says:

    Hi Sean,
    I really like your ideas and have recently started reading up on whatever I can find that promotes this kind of teaching approach. If you haven’t already, check out the following:

    TED Books: Why School? Will Richardson (http://www.amazon.com/Why-School-Information-Everywhere-ebook/dp/B00998J5YQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347467716&sr=8-1&keywords=why+school%3F+will+richardson)

    Personal Learning Networks. Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli (http://www.amazon.com/Personal-Learning-Networks-Connections-Transform/dp/193554327X)

    The blog of Terie Engelbrecht (http://www.crazyteacherlady.com/)

    There is plenty there to think about, so I won’t go into all the details here. What I really wanted to ask though is how best to implement that kind of teaching strategy in a system that so obviously squashes creativity? I also teach in South Africa. I am at Selborne College in East London where I teach Life Science and Natural Science. I would happily chuck large portions of the syllabus out the window this instant, but being a government school, we are pretty much tied to what we have to teach. I try where possible to get the kids in my class to think, and having recently read the books listed above, as well as having found your blog and that of the crazy teacher lady, I have some more things I want to try next year. I just find though that in sticking to the prescribed syllabus and assessment tasks makes “playing” a little tricky. Any thoughts on how best to go forward? Your input would be much appreciated.

  2. ideasoutthere Sean Hampton-Cole says:

    Thanks Fiona! Look forward to more debate… Please know that I am very much in favour of technology in the classroom – it’s just that I think it plays a supporting role. Technology which is not in service of a more engaged, child-centered method is not worth much…

  3. Fiona Beal says:

    Thank you for your very thought-provoking post, Sean. I thought I’d add some comments as you’ve got me thinking! I like the concept of an ‘ideal school’ or a ‘dream school’- something we should all be constantly thinking into being since these kind of school experiences you mention leave fond memories ever etched in the mind and heart. I also love the Ken Robinson videos – recently enjoyed that one where a team of Middle schoolers interview him about his dream school in the context of no financial restraints. I like your emphasis on pedagogy because without that technology would most likely fail. You mention in your introduction that initially technology didn’t come into your thoughts. That interested me a lot. That wouldn’t be the case with me. I see technology as a vital tool that takes pedagogy and innovation to a new level. Just thinking – lack of technology can easily ignite boredom in the classroom in this day and age especially as students know there is so much ‘out there’. I have seen the impact that global projects have on students. I just love reading about the use of smart phones to teach Grade 1s to read in Finland and how iPads can be so effective in upgrading reading in a First Grade class. I love hearing about teenagers starting to enjoy reading because they are presented with serial stories via Mixit. I love the engagement of students when they pick up concepts so easily via game-based learning. Classroom learning platforms like Edmodo are great motivational tools and cn also bring the parents into the equations. Classroom blogs and wikis are revolutionising education. For years education just stayed the same – everything else changed but not education. Now we are on the brink of an education revolution. It is an exciting time to live in. To me an outstanding teacher plus technology makes a formidable team. To me the type of school environment you are describing here sounds like a version of the flipped classroom? Maybe that is because that is a concept I would love to explore. The idea of the subject boundaries being blurred and intermingled merging with no particular hierarchy sound great! But I have a feeling very few would choose Maths and Science. I guess we would have to instil a culture of learning in the students first. I’m not too sure about students discovering that ‘one thing’ they’ll do for the rest of their lives. They might be too young and immature for that don’t you think?You don’t mention assessment in your list? Some teachers are overburdened by assessment. I think it was Finland that I read about that had such minimal assessment yet achieves so well. I’d be interested to hear your views on assessment in your ideal school.You talk about teachers being passionate about upgrading their skills. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! One of the methodologies that teachers could possibly embrace more is understanding how the brain works. I heard a talk recently on teenagers and the neo-millennial brain, and how neo-millennial are our new challenge. http://help4teachers.com/prefrontalcortex.htm The conclusion of the talk was that IT mediums are very effective in teaching neo-millennials. The other thing you mention is the importance of the leadership team being on board in order to make systemic changes. In my thinking a school can only go as far as the leadership team allows it to. A good principal and school leadership team is vital to the growth of a school. By the way did you know what Microsoft has an innovative school programme? They choose one school a year from SA. (To date it is St Cyprians, Eunice in Bloemfontein and Rondebosch Boys Prep. ) The principal and the teacher driving the programme – which is to bring out your school’s own creativity – travel twice a year around the world to conferences at Microsoft’s expense. I have been to a couple of conferences where the schools display and talk about that they do and it’s mind-boggling. I can send you information of the programme if you like. In Seattle most of the 50 teachers at the PIL Institute were from such schools. Thanks for your post – you should write a lot more! You have a knack of getting us thinking. We need to spur each other on to ever be moving forward and up in education. I think though that this ideal school will take LOADS of money and resources, so it might have to remain a dream! It just saddens me that most public schools in SA cannot even dream of an ideal school…but that’s another story for another day. (Sorry my comment is so long!)

  4. ideasoutthere Sean Hampton-Cole says:

    Thanks so much Vijay!

  5. Vijay says:

    Dear Sean,Such a lovely post first of all, so I congratulate you on that. The ideas you have expressed in this piece have always crossed my mind and I guess it’s time that like minded educators like yourself and me come together and actually conceptualize our ideas and turn them into reality.An ideal school, if you ask me would allow kids to learn only what interests them. For eg I will have kids learn Art if they are inclined towards it, Math if they love it and so and so forth. Each kid must be given the freedom to learn and benefit from their ideas and thoughts. Dear Sean, you have started an excellent initiative all I can say please don’t let these ideas die down. I am with you on this one and if ever we will meet in this lifetime which I am sure I will, we must sit together and work out on these very thoughts.I quote Louis Armstrong here that as and when that happens I would ugly sing, “What A Wonderful World”Cheers manVijay@bucharesttutor

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