My Daughter, A Poster Child For Learning In The 21st Century

Darby Is A 21st Century Student

She is well on her way to a lifetime journey of learning, limited only by having enough time to obtain all the information and skills she desires. Just how does my prodigy achieve this array of abilities? Is she a savant? Is she genetically enhanced? No, she has simply grown up in a generation that acknowledges the classroom is just one small element in the larger educational picture. Like those “Where’s Waldo” pictures she and I shared when she was little, she now searches for anything, anytime, anywhere courtesy of today’s technology.

Darby’s Story

Working outside of school would have been very difficult without the resources I have today. When my dad fell ill this past fall, I knew I had to be with him, I brought along some clothes, my laptop, cell phone, and iPod Touch. I visited my dad every day in the hospital, bringing along my stuff and making it like a regular school day. Only this time school was on my laptop. Every middle school student at my school has an email that connects them together on the same server. My best friend would email me after every class with my assignments. Having no textbooks with me was OK since they are all online.So the only problem I had was math, a subject hard to learn without guidance. Initially we thought there would be no way to send worksheets. My math teacher solved this by scanning them into the computer and emailing them as PDFs. I was able to fill them out using Adobe Reader highlighter and sticky note options to write my answers. I then emailed them to my teacher. I even took two math tests during the two weeks I was gone. I could not allow myself to get behind, besides when you’re alone and bored in an unfamiliar place, you begin to miss school, even the classwork.

During this time, I had two “article of the week” assignments. These require you to read an article from CNN, the New York Times, Newsweek, etc., highlight important things, make comments on what you have underlined and write an 8-10 sentence review of the article. Using my common sense and excellent computer skills, I copied each article into Microsoft Word using the highlighter option to mark key items; and then used the comment feature making comments wherever I felt was necessary. I then wrote my 8-10 sentences on the articles, like one on how “texting can affect your driving.” Thanks to spelling and grammar check, I verified everything was ready, and using my student email, sent it straight to my English teacher.

My Language Arts assignment befuddled me a little, but then the solution hit me. I had to create vocabulary note cards. The first problem was getting the printed word list and definitions. Sending a text would take too long so my friends had to be a little more creative. They took a cellphone pictures of the words and definitions and posted it on my Facebook wall. With the exact word and definition eliminated the confusion of text message abbreviations. The assignment requires the word to be written on the front of a note card seven times for spelling practice; then on the back you have to write the definition and how to use it in a sentence. Unfortunately my computer can’t legibly take large pictures of all fifteen note cards together, so I used my iPod Touch camera to take pictures of each note card - front and back. Using photo sharing options, I emailed the pictures to my teacher, and bam! got a ten out of ten on the assignment.

Growing up in the twenty-first century has opened many educational doors for me. If I don’t understand something all I have to do is hop on Google to find the answers. I have some of the best teachers at my fingertips including Khan Academy, a site that really helped me with all of the math I was learning. My smart phone was with me so I could look up anything at any time. Going to school could become such a brand new thing. This is a great study and it raises a huge question. Do we really need teachers? I got along fine without one; can every child get around without one? Maybe we can use teachers in the classroom to help with homework and receive our main learning from online teachers.

Ken’s Reflections

When I hear how far behind we are in education in the United States - many other countries are facing this as well - I have to question which generation is being used as the baseline. I believe, if we provide more “guide on the side” instead of “sage on the stage,” teaching them more about how to fish for what they need and less about feeding them a morsel at a time, we will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome. These children want to learn. As Darby said, "Maybe we can use teachers in the classroom to help with homework and receive our main learning from online teachers." I know in her experience using the Khan Academy, she was able to pick and choose from a variety of instructors until she found the one who presented the material in a way she could understand it. With a network of similar subject matter experts in all subjects (see MIT and Harvard's new OpenSource college courses for example) and for a variety of demographics, students from around the globe may finally have equal access to the best instruction for their own personal condition. These students will find a way; with technology and access we just need to let them.

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