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The incredible change in educational pedagogy

By Staff | Mar 10, 2011


There has been a dramatic shift in educational pedagogy over the past two years as educational leaders engage their faculties in focusing instruction on the development of 21st Century skills.

The shift is due to an awareness that students today: 1) learn in different ways; 2) are “digital natives” exposed to modern technology almost from birth; 3) have 24/7 access to learning and research resources; 4) have access to instant live global news; 5) live in a global economy unlike any previous era; and 6) have adopted amazing levels of technology resources into their every day lives.

The shift is also the result of extensive research by Harvard professor Dr. Tony Wagner into defining the essential skills necessary for success in our modern world. The research focused on a standard set of questions utilized in interviews and surveys of over 5,000 multinational corporate executives, CEOs and ranking officers in all branches of the military. The data gathered was used to create a matrix of essential skills sought and valued as being critical qualities by potential global employers.

In schools over the past 200 years, students were exposed to most essential skills in elementary school. The three “Rs” were the mark of a basic education, while middle and high schools focused on giving a general background in content areas. Much of that content was focused on classical literature, classical and romance languages and research gleaned from tomes located through card catalogues in quiet libraries. Memorization of facts and acceptance of the unquestionable authority of the teacher were the mandates for students.

The new 21st Century pedagogy recognizes that books become outdated almost as soon as they are published because of the incredible range of online resources tied to current research. The teacher can no longer be the “sage on the stage,” knowing all the facts, but rather a partner in facilitating learning, questioning and guiding students through real time research and helping them to locate reliable resources. Student projects are designed to be more collaborative and to take advantage of research methods used on projects that address real world problems.

At Maui Prep, our Environmental Science students learn the same research methods and skills used by environmentalists when researching coral reef bleaching, and then use what they have learned to record data about the reefs of West Maui. Rather than being individual projects, students typically work in teams defining problems, establishing methods, and recording and analyzing data in order to reach a meaningful result to be shared with others. Collaborative teams dominate the real world and now are a centerpiece in the new pedagogy. Throughout the process, students learn to use the varied forms of technology available. Cell phones, iPads, Skype and Wi-Fi laptops become essential in connecting students to experts in the field, finding data points and bringing real world relevance into the student team projects.

Students in Maui Prep’s Engineering class are designing models for rockets, robotics and alternative energy. Our Industrial Technology class gives students a range of experiences, including creating detailed project proposals, estimating materials and costs, setting up realistic timeframes for project completion and addressing other aspects of a project, such as design elements, options and modifications, safety issues, aesthetics and the value added. As a result, students gain the confidence and skills that come from engaging in real life processes that result in projects built on our campus, while at the same time, they are being prepared for the real world beyond high school and college.

Internships, externships and mentoring also offer students real life experience and skills by putting students in the field working with experts. Maui Prep’s Senior Project Program is designed to do precisely that. One of our seniors is currently working on a proposal for a running shoe that will lessen the enormous pressure on runners’ legs. His mentor is on Nike’s Development Team in Portland, Oregon. This student will also create a complete Marketing Plan focused on student runners that he will present to Nike. Practical learning, using real resources, can take students to new levels of understanding in their areas of interest. This is a mantra of the new pedagogy.

Schools today need to fully understand this major shift in pedagogy and the importance of preparing students for the world of their future, not dwelling on using old learning pedagogy and curriculums that prepared kids for a world that no longer exists. Today, schools have a new mandate to be more relevant in preparing students to enter a technological global economy.