11 February 2011

Thinking Constructively (about changing the status quo)

During Christmas Break my family and I were invited over to my parents' home for lunch with some of their friends. Unbeknownst to me, one of their friends, Mike, had spent over 40 years in education. Of those 40 plus years, he spent about 10 years in the classroom and the remainder in various leadership positions working with curriculum, instruction, and technology integration.

We "talked shop" for well over an hour, and I mostly just listened. Even though Mike had "retired three times in three different states" he was still full of passion for his profession and the changes he had worked so hard to make over the years.

Somewhere during the conversation I mentioned that I had completed an independent study on constructivism a number of years ago. Mike's face lit up.

"Did you know that constructivism has been around for over 30 years?" he asked.

"So why do you think it has taken so long to catch on despite research to support its effectiveness?" I replied.

Without hesitation Mike replied, "constructivism is a student-centered approach to learning. The teaching profession is and has been teacher-centered. That's the status quo. Changing the status quo is difficult."

I've spent the past month pondering the idea of changing the status quo.

I was first introduced to the idea of inquiry (a constructivist teaching practice) a decade ago by the Building Science Leaders program at the Regional Math and Science Center. Over the past ten years as I've experimented with moving towards a more student-centered classroom I've had many successes, and just as many failures. I know it is working well when my students are excited, engaged, and motivated to learn, to prove, to share their learning.

One of the huge challenges of inquiry-based learning I've experienced over the years is having materials available for students on-demand. If I had a dollar for every time I've told my students "now, if you each had a computer sitting in front of you, this is what we'd do..." I could have bought my own class set of laptops. The most exciting thing about our 1:1 initiative is that this will now be a reality. Students will have instant access to information, the ability to discuss their learning and questions with their peers -- locally and globally, and the ability to share the products of their learning with the world.

Do these reflections bring us any closer to changing the status quo? I don't know. However, I am hopeful that as teachers and students start to see the benefits of student-centered learning made possible by 1:1 technologies, we will be able to finally transform teaching and learning for the benefit of all.