While curriculum and instruction are extremely important to developing the creative problem solvers of the future, it is also essential to make sure the learning environment evolves to meet their needs.
Below, we have outlined 5 important design characteristics that are foundational for the classroom of the future.
Small Class Sizes
The costs to deliver great educational experiences for kids has continued to increase. Due to the non-linear nature of learning, it is not necessarily sufficient that if you present information on topic X that students will immediately learn it. Most of the time, it takes repeated interaction before students become comfortable and ultimately knowledgeable about a topic area.
While there has been recognition of this within the education environment, there has not been corresponding action on what it takes to deliver positive repeated interactions with students. Often, as costs to serve has increased, the number of students has also grown to try and balance.
This increase has inevitably forced teachers to do more with less. Less time to engage with individual students. Less time to deliver whole group instruction. As a result, students who do well in school are often those who are best able to learn the concepts within a large group. Those who may need additional help often find that their teacher doesn’t have the time to dive deeper.
As a result, there has been the unfortunate belief that students who are falling behind in large group instruction need to be pulled out to work with specialists instead of addressing the root cause which is large class sizes that don’t appropriately balance individual instruction.
For topics such as learning to build with technology, this can be especially challenging. We may overwhelm students who have the capability but lack a well designed learning environment. In fact, some of our best learning comes from when students ask specific questions and we are able to engage 1:1 to help them debug the problem and then rebuild to the ultimate solution.
To effectively do this for technology and other topics, we need to prioritize learning environments with small class sizes.
More and more kids at a younger and younger ages are being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. We’ve become such a performance based culture, that we are introducing a higher level of pressure to kids at an early age.
While there are certainly benefits to assessment, when we prioritize the outcome of the test versus the actual learning of students then we create a culture were we teach to the test and test scores is all that matters.
In reality, the professional solutions that today’s students create in the future will be largely the result of solving difficult problems that don’t necessarily have an answer that can’t easily be defined.
To get them comfortable pursuing these solutions, we need to encourage them to take risks and ultimately fail a lot. If not, they will only pursue iterative solutions instead of the disruptive solutions that are really necessary.
One of the best ways to get students more comfortable taking risks and embracing failure is to remove the visible assessments. This is not to suggest that we don’t want to know how they are progressing.
Instead, it’s a recognition that not everything needs to be in their face to have a positive impact on their learning.
With all the technology that is out there, it is becoming harder and harder for kids to learn how to interact with each other in person. Not only are kids finding social engagement difficult, but our individual first society has de-prioritized collaboration.
While this may earn kids individual accolades and top grades in school, it does not come close to matching the reality they will face in the workforce. By and large, future professionals will have to work more closely together. Although this may be using the latest video conferencing technology, the trends in automation suggest that more and more challenging problems will have to be solved by humans.
To get future professionals comfortable with this ongoing trend, we need to encourage collaboration in our classrooms. We see all the times in our studios that students tend to shy away from working with others either because they believe their teammates won’t be as helpful or they think that they know the best path.
Given that there are very few individuals that are fully versed in all that 21st century problem solving requires, collaboration zones in classrooms of the future need to recognize and encourage students to work together. Through this process, students can understand their strengths and weaknesses so that they input their value add in areas they are strongest while hanging back in areas that are still developing.
In cases that personalities are strong, it may be tempting to jump in when someone is trying to dominate the conversation or push a group in a certain direction. Most often this singular solution approach advocated by one individual fails. Better that the group sees and understands that when the stakes are low than professionally when much more is on the line.
Face 2 Face Interaction
The internet is one of the most amazing technologies ever invented. And, while there have been incredible inventions built on top of this platform, it is unlikely that the bulk of student education will ever migrate online.
One of the biggest benefits of the internet is the ability to scale and deliver a product or service to a large group of people with an increase in the number of servers instead of people.
Within education, there is an essential and foundational need for students to engage and interact with each other and an instructor. Humans are inherently social creatures. We talk, we laugh, we cry, we argue and we disagree.
While there are opportunities to slice the core educational components into a compelling online experience, learning is so much more than simply skill development.
Students should also learn how to collaboration, work together in teams, build confidence and develop interpersonal skills. Each of these key elements of cultivating the whole child are more challenging in an online only environment.
Technology Creation Tools
Over the last several years, there has been an increased amount of technology introduced into the classroom. Tablets, laptops and smart boards were one of the ways that schools could show that there was a bigger focus on technology.
Unfortunately, simply having devices in the classroom or the school environment does not better develop the capability of students to build with technology.
In fact, the increased screens within educational environments has only created a different way of consuming content. Now instead of going to the library and learning how to find books using the Dewey Decimal system, students are now asked to do their research on Google.
While that certainly helps them find the answer, it misses an opportunity to teach them how databases are structured and the importance of the systems thinking that went into designing the Dewey Decimal system.
Going forward, there needs to be a much greater emphasis on incorporating tools used for building with technology. Whether that is simple laptops or powerful desktops, students need to have multiple, repeated opportunities to practice logic and write lines of codes.
We need to distinguish between tools that simply digitize existing information and those that create new paths to create content using technology tools.
Education is one of the most important gifts that we can give to our children. However, we must be willing to revisit and reconsider the structure of our learning environments to make sure that they create the right boundary conditions for maximizing knowledge development.