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Last month we raised the question of why our parents and students have not placed a higher value on cultural and intellectual engagement in our society. The authors of the Cardus Survey also indicate that the data shows a reluctance of students to aspire to more elite institutions for continued study. What might be the reasons for these choices?
For starters, perhaps we should trace back our DNA a bit as schools in Reformed tradition. Many of the schools in the Christian Schools International family were begun by Dutch immigrants of the mid to late 1800’s and in Canada the early to mid 1900’s and this may contribute to what results have been achieved by students from our schools. These immigrants were a group who were leaving the Netherlands in part due to religious dissent and the desire to maintain spiritual purity and preservation of their religious beliefs. They were not from the intellectual elites or the professional class, but mostly lower class working poor. Many went into farming and other types of manual labor as is typical for first generation groups. Yet they placed a high value on education and not just any education, but an education that was Christian and supportive of what was being taught at home and church. Their faith and practice of living virtuously enabled them to become successful in the North American culture, but may not have changed their identity as much. As is true with immigrants, they may have suffered from an “inferiority complex” of being strangers/outsiders who couldn’t speak the language fluently or navigate social structures easily. They naturally tended to want to conserve their culture and traditions. However these tendencies did not encourage their descendents to typically move much outside of the comfortable cultural confines of church and local community. Might this a reason for the limited aspiration and cultural engagement of graduates from their schools?
While graduates did well over the years as immigrants turned into second, third, and fourth generation citizens, these outstanding individuals seemed to be the exceptions rather than the product of a strategic vision of the school where they were educated. As we now understand more of what makes an exceptional worker, professional, or cultural contributor and the soft skills needed, which include high moral grounding and work habits, we understand that our graduates are much more likely to succeed wherever they end up because of the type of beliefs and values they have been exposed to in a strong Christian education.
It seems then that our issue is one of vision, expectations, and pedagogical practices for our students, rather than a wholesale change in the intangibles they are currently receiving from our schools. We must recognize that as educators we are by profession and nature “conservers” and not the risk taker big picture visionaries that are needed to bring a global picture to our students. We may need to enlist others as student mentors and coaches to help effectively challenge and prepare our students and to teach them how to navigate as a Christian in different cultural settings. A Christian businessperson, cultural leader, professional, entrepreneur may be more able to do this in a mentor relationship. To more effectively raise up students who are going to be cultural leaders, we must expose them to the kinds of experiences that allow them to understand “how the world works” and develop an even deeper framework of belief and understanding that helps them to understand the spectrum of belief and thought represented by cultural leaders. We must also take advantage of technology that allows our students to connect and collaborate with others around the world and that moves them out of local cultural isolation. However, it is critical that we continue to embed strong theological and prophetic ideals, Christian disciplines and practices, and personal moral and ethical development into their educational experiences.
To engage more effectively in this discussion, I recommend these five excellent questions drawn from the discussion guide that follows the Cardus Education Survey:
- What if Christian school leaders were more audacious in their goal, expecting students to be unwaveringly committed both to their families and to being part of culture through politics, the arts, and the world of ideas?
- If Christian schools want to promote those bold outcomes, will they be willing to make the structural changes necessary to do so?
- What structures and pedagogy must be in place for schools to more thoroughly develop culture engagement in their graduates?
- Are there more effective means of cultivating critical thought as a way for students to effect culture more meaningfully? Would this require new methods of training teachers and preparing and selecting school leaders?
- Are Protestant schools focusing on pietistic behaviors rather than a systematic theology and therefore unable to produce graduates who are truly engaged in culture?
(Thanks to my friend David Mulder, technology director at Sioux Center Christian
Schools, for sharing this blog post.)
Part 2 – Now that we are here, what should we do about it?
Last month, I broached the subject of how we use technology in our classrooms. I explained the “Tech-on-the-Side” model and left off with the thought that this mode of thinking about technology in school may not be engaging 21st Century learners.
Here’s what I mean. Tech-on-the-Side might mean:
- Having your students word process a paper instead of handwriting it.
- Having your students research a topic on Wikipedia instead of cracking open the World Book.
- Having your students create a PowerPoint presentation instead of drawing a poster with colored pencils.
Now please don’t feel like I’m picking on you—I’m pointing the finger at myself first and foremost here, as I’ve done all of these things, even in the last couple of years. It’s not that these activities are bad or “wrong” in and of themselves. Rather, I don’t think they go far enough in shifting to really integrating technology in a seamless way in classroom practice. In each of these cases, we may be using a different tool, but the task is fundamentally the same.
As I see it, we are setting up a “digital dichotomy” in regard to the way kids use technology at school and at home. At home, many kids are living a tech-saturated life. At school, technology is perhaps viewed—by teachers—as something “extra,” rather than integrated into the fabric of everyday experience. How frustrating that must be for some of our students! Please note, I am not arguing that every lesson needs to be tech-enhanced…but teachers need to consider how their students see the world. At the risk of sounding trite, we are (largely) using a 19th Century school model to educate 21st Century learners.
At Sioux Center Christian School, we’re starting to work at this. We’ve in a process of shifting our vision for how we use technology from tech-on-the-side to technology integration. Changing vision can be a hard process—it means rethinking how we’ve “always done things,” which can be painful. Here are the significant points to our shift of vision:
- We must think differently about the kinds of assignments we give. We can’t just change the media from pencil-and-paper to keystrokes! The technologies we choose should allow students to employ higher-level thinking skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
- We must get the technology into students’ hands. The closer to them, the better. (SMARTBoards are good, iPads are better.)
- We must teach students how to use the technologies available to them, preferably just as they need to use them by embedding the tech learning in the project they are undertaking. Yes, they tend to be quick studies, but our students’ proclivities to use technology do not excuse us from the crucial role of guiding our students and teaching them to use technology responsibly.
- We must create a culture where it is okay to experiment, play, and reflect. Technology integration does not just “happen.” Teachers need the freedom (and time!) to explore. So do students.
- We must support teachers. Some teachers will naturally gravitate to incorporating technology into their teaching. Others will need some coaxing. In either case, teachers need to have a person (or preferably, people) they can rely on to support them as they try out new technologies. A technology coordinator is a great resource, but a professional learning community is even better. Teachers need training, coaching, and encouragement; we need to plan for this!
- We must budget for technology-related spending. (Aaargh…the money…) Yes, technology is expensive. Computers are not furniture, but neither are they consumables like pencils and erasers. It might make the most sense to think of technology in a similar category to textbooks; eventually they get worn out and need to be replaced. Just as schools plan to replace old, outdated, worn-out texts with new editions, schools need to have a responsible plan for regularly updating technology.
I recognize that some schools are already doing these things, but many others are surely not. Certainly change can be hard, but if it will ultimately provide our students with a more engaging, more authentic learning experience, our efforts are not misspent! In any case, I sincerely encourage you to start having conversations with your colleagues about how you use technology, and further how you integrate technology into your teaching practices.
In the past few years, I have found that my learning has been enriched and simplified – (no not really simplified, but expanded!) through the tools I am going to describe in this post. As a global thinker, I enjoy looking widely across the landscape, but also want tools to improve my basic efficiency and productivity as well as expand my capacity. These tools may be old hat for some of you, but if you have been wanting to venture out a bit, give some of these a try over Christmas break!
Tools I use everyday include Twitter and Evernote. I have explained in an earlier post why I find Twitter so valuable so I won’t repeat that here. Evernote is a note keeping and web collection tool that operates equally well on my smartphone, iPad, or laptop and syncs between them. I can send the tweets I want to save to Evernote, or make a voice or written note on it via my smartphone. I can put them into notebooks and assign tags (descriptive terms) to them. This makes it easy for me to categorize and search them.
What works better for me than bookmarks is the LiveBinders web application. When I find a webpage that I want to save, I simply click on my toolbar icon called “Live Binder It!” and a photo is taken of the webpage. I can save the screen shot in a particular notebook. Given my work, I have notebooks for presentations, writing, and particular subjects such as engagement, essential questions, etc. I can quickly look around my notebook and see visually what I have saved.
I use Google Reader – a collector tool that sends me updates whenever blogs that I want to keep up with are updated. This allows me to scan the subject matter quickly and the short descriptions help me choose what I want to read.
I find I am using wikis and Google Docs with increasing frequency. I started using wikis to share information related to my presentations or to set up spaces for staff groups to collaborate and do their work. They are simple to use and manage. I personally like Wikispaces. If I want to share a document quickly, build a mutual agenda, share information over time, and have it all be private or shared by invitation only, then I use a Google Doc (www.google.>>>). You can get to it quickly if you are already using Gmail for your mail program. In Gmail, I am using Google Calendar, which also syncs with a free touch screen calendar in my smartphone called Touch Calendar. I finally have given up my paper calendars!
Sometimes I want to share a larger document or save a presentation and so I would use Dropbox. I can access the information from anywhere because it is cloud based storage of larger files. I can also share these files or give others access to my folder in Dropbox.
If I am going to write a longer article or make a presentation or diagram, I still find Inspiration to be very helpful. I have used other mind mapping programs, but like the basic functionality and ease of use of Inspiration.
Reflect via this article from Donald Clark how these tools might change your learning and life – and how we have experienced more changes in the past 10 years than the last 100.
If you just got a new iPad for Christmas you may benefit from essential-ipad-guide written especially for school administrators – a helpful starting spot.
Blessings on the new year ahead – may it be a productive one for you! Please feel free to share other apps that you may have found helpful via the comments below.