For many of us, Spring Break offers a time to get away from it all, to find a remote beach, to bask in the warm glow of the coastal sunshine, to hear nothing but the crashing of powerful waves as they reach the shore. While this sound is immense, it provides a delectable white noise that leaves one alone with one’s thoughts, an enjoyable solitude void of the bluster of everyday life’s trivialities. In the education arena these days, white noise is necessary to allow those of us in the field to focus on our real mission: creating student learning and growth. Talk of tax caps, the state’s failure to meet economic predictions, budget shortfalls, staff reductions, ISTEP+ scores, graduation rates, and races to the top are all topics of distraction. While none of these issues is trivial, each takes away from the meaningful discussions about teaching and learning.
A few days back, as I waded through several educational blogposts, I ran across one that particularly intrigued me. The topic was the new national educational technology plan, and the post suggested that the U.S. Department of Education had successfully created a vision for 21st century education. I quickly followed the link to the document entitled “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology.” As I opened the document and looked through it, I was metaphorically moved to a tropical paradise. I read:
“The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures. In contrast to traditional classroom instruction, this requires that we put students at the center and empower them to take control of their own learning by providing flexibility on several dimensions. A core set of standards-based concepts and competencies should form the basis of what all students should learn, but beyond that students and educators should have options for engaging in learning: large groups, small groups, and work tailored to individual goals, needs, interests, and prior experience of each learner. By supporting student learning in areas that are of real concern or particular interest to them, personalized learning adds to its relevance, inspiring higher levels of motivation and achievement.
“In addition, technology provides access to more learning resources than are available in classrooms and connections to a wider set of “educators,” including teachers, parents, experts, and mentors outside the classroom. On-demand learning is now within reach, supporting learning that is life-long and life-wide.”
I remember where I was when ordinary citizens took sledge hammers to the Berlin Wall, when the space shuttle Columbia tragically exploded during its ascent, and when the Colts beat the Patriots on the way to winning the Super Bowl. Similarly, I believe I will always remember the day when our nation’s DOE recognized the need to employ all of the tools available to us in making our classrooms relevant and meaningful, and in order to structure learning based on an individual student’s needs, abilities, and interests. I am thrilled that the technology plan for the nation’s schools sees technology use as a means to an end, not as a goal in and of itself. I am elated that technology is not viewed as a one-way delivery system for one-size-fits-all content, but rather as a vehicle to differentiated content and as an instrument to create meaningful, relevant, and connected student work.
I am also proud that Zionsville Middle School is well down this road. Oftentimes a document such as this one produces as thought such as, “Well, that sounds great, but how would we ever make that work?” Thanks to a supportive community and a visionary, hard-working teaching staff, Zionsville Middle School is tasking itself not just with making it work, but with making it the best it can be for the benefit of our students.
May you enjoy your Spring Break, and find relaxation and happiness whatever your endeavor. The knowledge that your child’s school embodies in the present what others envision for the future may not be your equivalent to a tropical island getaway, but I do hope it can provide some white noise amidst the dour education headlines of the day.