Unintended Consequences

Nancy White

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Student to Learner

Have you heard the story about a young girl observing her mother preparing a ham for a family dinner? Apparently, her mom cut off both ends of the ham before placing it in the pan and the oven. The little girl asked her mother why did she do that and the mother replied that was just how her mother had always done it. Of course, the girl went to her grandmother next and asked the same question and received the same answer.

Finally, when the little girl visited with her great grandmother, she asked the same question hoping to find the real answer to her question. Her great grandmother laughed, and then replied. “I cut of the ends of the ham because I didn’t have an oven big enough to hold the whole ham!”

Doing something for no other reason than because it’s the way it has always been done can definitely create unintended consequences. However, as I think about schools and classrooms, I wonder; how much happens inside those four walls that is done just because that’s the way it has always been done?

Let’s face it, the world has changed dramatically since today’s adults went to school. Technology has changed, how we do everything from shopping, to travel, to how we find transportation, pay our bills, but above all how we communicate in this world. The system of schooling, however, remains mostly unchanged. The bell structure of the school day, seat time requirements, testing, homework, textbooks, worksheets, student desks, letter grades all of these exist in some manner that resembles “how things have always been done.” Technology may exist inside the four walls, but in most cases, it has not changed the ebb and flow of the school day. Worksheets may be electronic, homework might require online research, and testing may also be online, but for the most part, students still read, listen and absorb knowledge, recall it on demand, and swiftly move on to the next required subject and topic of the day. In this environment, students will be students.

Those who enjoy or otherwise are motived to learn in this way, in spite of the fact that they have immense flexibility in how and what they learn outside of the classroom walls, will get good grades. My question is this: will this really prepare them for their future? A future where knowing how to learn is the premium skill, because this generation of students is predicted to have more than 15 different kinds of jobs in their future, and the skills of agility, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving are the most sought-after skills by business and industry in today’s global society?

Technology can help us re-think what learning looks like in and out of the classroom. How are you helping your children harness technology in safe and effective ways to help them develop into a self-motivated learner?

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