Engagement is King!

I recently read a news article about a teacher who was using social media in their classroom to engage students.  They were using Twitter as a tool to learn and discuss various issues related to the content.  The students who were interviewed enjoyed it and the teacher commented on how student learning was improved by using Twitter as a tool in the classroom.

I should have stopped there, but unfortunately I went on to read the comments.  Multiple people were complaining and saying this was the reason why our educational system is in trouble.  They said that the teacher was too focused on the kids enjoying themselves and not enough on the learning.  That got me thinking, what would those who complained imagine when asked about what does good learning look like.  Would they rather see the students obediently taking notes while listening to a lecture?  Would they rather see worksheet after worksheet being completed and turned in?  What would they think of as good teaching and how does it compare to how we view good teaching?

Unfortunately we face a major problem in schools, we are teaching students who live in a culture that is vastly different than what their parents grew up in.  We have technology in schools that was not even thought of 20 years ago but yet many parents expect to see students doing what they did in school.  Many do not understand how important it is that we engage our students and not let them passively exist in our classrooms.  Many do not understand how a lecture or a worksheet is not engaging to students and how just because they completed something, does not mean they learned anything.  Just because there are points in a grade book, that doesn’t mean that those points mean anything.

One of the biggest challenges today in education is related to how we engage our students into the learning.  Where memorizing lots of facts was used before, that becomes obsolete thanks to technology which allows us to look up a list of state capitols faster than anyone can spit them out.  I do not need to memorize a periodic table or a list of constants if I have an app that shows that to me instantly.  Even my physics professors told me it was useless to memorize all those numbers, we write them down and look them up later because they are not what is important.  The understanding and use of those facts are what is important.  It is not what you know that matters anymore, it was what you can do with that information.  This is not a bad thing, this is just the next step in our learning process.

Teachers have to find ways to engage students such that they can not only learn the information, but so that they can use that information.  We need students to think critically, collaborate and communicate with each other.  We need students who can innovate and do things that were not done before.  We can use technology to not only engage these students but also to help them use that information to do something with it.  Learning today is not about facts but it is about thinking.

If using technology can create a more engaging lesson for students that moves beyond memorization and towards creation, then we must use it.   Use the technology to allow your students to communicate with other people, to allow them to create and share that with the world.  Use the technology to let your students debate a topic online and use the resources that they find to defend their statements.  Use the technology to create a learning space that goes beyond the 45 minutes of class and the 4 walls of the classroom.  Use the technology to engage your students into thinking critically about what they are learning and not to just take notes and complete worksheets.  If we are still focusing too much on factual knowledge and not understanding, then we are wasting our students’ time.

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