I believe high school does not have to define my students’ whole life and their possibility to be successful. I believe that each student is capable of learning and applying that knowledge to help them grow. I believe that each student sets their own pace of learning and that some will exit high school with a straight golden path, whereas others will have a rocky road that can be traversed with effort. I know that my purpose is to show them how to travel that path, whatever it may be. My goal is for them to become self-sufficient learners that have the capacity to critically think and reason. How else will they overcome the obstacles on their personal road? My vehicle to achieve this goal is to use the science course of astronomy to train them on how to achieve this goal. I want my students to have the confidence to succeed in life.
I believe that educators must prepare learners for the world in which they live. Our current society wants workers that can communicate, manage time, project manage, work independently, be flexible, and think critically (Lieberman, 2021). We must ask ourselves if we are instilling these values into the learners of today. I teach students that are seniors in high school. I view these students as emerging adults, as soon they will graduate from high school and move on to the workforce and/or higher education. When these students enter my classroom on the first day, a large majority of them fail to meet a quarter of the requested skills. These learners fail to understand what independent work looks like, as most of them have never been truly given the opportunity to work independently throughout their time in school. My job is to help them understand that they are required to take an idea and create some work from that concept, not merely fill out notes or complete today’s paint-by-numbers worksheet. These learners must understand how to manage their learning by creating a timeline of learning for themselves. They must be flexible and return to concepts or remove concepts that fail to achieve the results they need. They must be capable of explaining to their peers what they have learned and listen to their peers to discover what they have yet to know. Most importantly, they must meet their prescribed deadline as they will have deadlines and requirements to meet after high school that come with a large penalty when they fail to meet their obligations. I believe as an educator I am here not to merely teach them about astronomy. I am here to prepare them for success in life, and astronomy is the medium.
A little bit of what is wrong with our educational system.
Students constantly have access to technology that could potentially supplement learning in the classroom. However, the COVID pandemic saw many children who were thrust into the digital learning environment fail to use technology properly or remain completely unmotivated. Worse yet, research indicates that nearly a year of learning was lost during the two years after the onset of the COVID pandemic (Dorn, 2021). Teachers and students alike hold a negative view of digital learning as most found the online education implementation to be subpar during the pandemic (Stuchlikova, 2021). The reason for this was found to be because teachers tried to take their in-person classroom and attempted to simply recreate that same concept in a digital world. This is not the answer to using digital learning. Uploading a worksheet to Google Classroom does not mean you are using technology as an effective learning tool. Instead, they should have used this time to allow children to explore topics and become excited about learning. Instead, educators across the world just recreated and piled on regular classroom work as if they were still in the classroom.
Technology allows for a variety of learning possibilities in the classroom. However, the issue is proper implementation, because many people believe that merely adding a device to learning accomplishes digital learning. In reality, merely adding a device only recreates the same boring classroom that students are immersed in during regular school. On top of that, students reported that a lack of personnel to help them acted as a barrier to their e-learning (Abuhammad, 2020). Students are incapable of understanding what they do not know when they already know so little, thus students are unable to find what they need to know to begin succeeding. Until we convince teachers to teach students how to recognize what they do not understand, break that apart into its smaller components, and then locate solutions or assistance, our students will be unable to learn by just handing them a device.
What do we need to do to enhance learning?
In high school, too many students cannot reason. When critical thinking questions are asked students frequently write “idk” and genuinely mean it. Critical thinking questions are typically only a small part of the student’s grade which means they still pass without answering a single one of these questions. There has been a major push to remove rote memorization in order to fix this lack of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this push has only been successful to the detriment of the learners. For instance, the requirement for children to memorize their multiplication tables has been removed for nearly a decade. The assumption by educators was that students would learn the information organically since they are immersed in a math classroom. That is not what happened, with students barely able to consistently perform basic arithmetic while in high school. Thankfully, reciting multiplication tables has been returned to the classroom. However, I had students for years that continued to struggle with simple math, including single digit multiplication. Even after this obvious failure, many educators still push rote memorization as the primary issue plaguing critical thinking shortcomings. Rather, educators need learners to internalize the concepts, so they can build up their relational knowledge, and have the foundation to answer critical thinking questions which require rote memorization building blocks. I believe the issue has nothing to do with what they learn, but rather how they learn and demonstrate their learning. Educators spend the majority of their time relaying the information and having the students practice what was just given to them. However, educators spend very little time ensuring students have the opportunity to apply the information critically. Educators must move from a cookie cutter worksheet to one that allows students to flex their minds and grow.
What impacts can digital learning bring to the educational system?
I believe that educators can achieve improved critical thinking by implementing a blended learning classroom that allows for personalized instruction. This type of learning allows students to take ownership in their learning by allowing them to control the pace of their learning, while still making steady progress. There are four models of blended learning: station rotation model, lab rotation model, flipped classroom model, and individual rotation model (Horn et al., 2017; Ayob et al., 2020). I plan to implement the station rotation model. This is conducted in a classroom setting where students rotate on a fixed schedule or according to the educator’s direction with at least one online learning station and one educator-led group (Horn et al., 2017; Ayob et al. 2020). When the time is up, the teacher makes an announcement and instructs the students to rotate and go to the next activity at the next station. Rotations have been used for many years in a variety of programs; however, what makes this a proper blended learning environment is the involvement of online learning. Students must navigate internet and digital content as part of at least one station, while seamlessly working on directed goals between both digital and non-digital stations. Students are also not being actively led by the educator at all times, but rather must be self-directed and self-motivated to accomplish learning goals at a given station within a given time. As an educator, I must move into a role of facilitator and mentor, moving away from being the sole source of information which necessitates moving away from the traditional classroom. By implementation of this process, students that have fallen behind will have an opportunity to fill in their own learning gaps via newly created differentiation instruction through the use of blended learning in a station rotation setting.
Current innovation practices
I have implemented a personal technology spin on the concept of lectures. I instruct my learners to read and annotate an article, looking for key information over a given concept. Once everyone was finished, students would discuss the information with each other and make sure all students had all of the important details noted. As a class, each group would share their details ensuring that no group missed any concepts. Then the next day students would play a Kahoot game using those concepts. Using images, diagrams, and definitions, I would flip between the game and instruction. The students never realized that they were being actively taught, and both engagement and retention were high.
Another beneficial aspect of using technology is the instant feedback that a person can give. I used a Nearpod for a quick formative assessment as they responded to a question. This program allowed for the responses to be displayed on the board anonymously. Using CK-12 my learners would take mini-assessments focused on adaptive learning. This simple formative assessment allowed for learners to answer 10 questions correctly before they could move on to another concept or activity. Other programs added dimension to the lesson by using interactive programs like PHET Labs, Gizmos, and Educaplay, to name a few. These programs created an interaction with the students that is personalized and responsive to their input.
To improve quality of life as a teacher, technology implementation reduced my grading time to a fraction of the time previously required. Many of my fellow teachers refused to use the benefit of self-grading exams in Skyward or quizzes in Google classroom. I thought at first the teachers must have had more free response questions and did not want to use multiple choice, which both of these programs have the capacity to allow. However, after I surveyed my coworkers, I found that was not the case. They simply do not want to incorporate technology into their classrooms, as some felt that it was only a distraction, whereas others wanted to personally enter each person’s score for no consistent or discernible reason. The aversion to technology is not limited to just tests, as many of my fellow instructors are not comfortable with using technology at all and want a very limited amount of exposure. If professional development continues on its current path, their opinion will not change. Instructional coaches must change their approach by incorporating technology into their lessons. I have learned that modeling is a powerful motivator (Cross, 2013) and our campaign for change must include the aspects we want our learners to include in their lessons.
Ayob, N. F. S., Halim, N. D. A., Zulkifli, N. N., Zaid, N. M., & Mokhtar, M. (2020). Overview of blende learning: The effect of station rotation model on students’ achievement. Journal of Critical Reviews, 7(06). https://doi.org/10.31838/jcr.07.06.56
Horn, M. B., Staker, H., & Christensen, C. M. (2017). In Blended: Using disruptive innovation to improve schools. essay, Jossey-Bass.
Lieberman, M. (2021, May 3). Top U.S. companies: These are the skills students need in a post-pandemic world. Education Week. Retrieved November 19, 2022, from https://www.edweek.org/technology/top-u-s-companies-these-are-the-skills-students-need-in-a-post-pandemic-world/2021/03
Three Myths of Behavior Change – What You Think You Know That You Don’t. (2013). YouTube. Retrieved November 20, 2022, from https://youtu.be/l5d8GW6GdR0.