In an earlier post, we talked about Marc Prensky urging educators to find “new ways to do new things” with technology. In the most recent issue of Educational Leadership, Prensky again talks about the importance of school reform on student learning.edlead.jpg

Titled “Turn on the Lights,” the article documents how the lives of students outside of school has changed dramatically from when you and I were young. When we were school age, the classroom was where the light came on for us. We learned about far off lands, manipulated math concepts, worked our way through Hamlet and ate the mystery meat on Fridays. School was our enlightenment.

Today’s kids, Prensky writes, “grow up in the light. They’re connected to the world.” Twenty-four / seven access provides a rich environment for learning. School no longer has the light monopoly.

Given this new state of affairs, one might suppose that educators would acknowledge that today’s kids grow up differently and that kids are enlightened by all their various connections to the world. Educators would figure out ways to use, build on, and strengthen students’ reservoirs of knowledge.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Especially given what we know about constructivist learning and the importance of activating prior knowledge. But it doesn’t happen often enough. Prensky suggests that educators often choose exactly the opposite.

But we’ve chosen something else. Somehow, schools have decided that all the light that surrounds kids—that is, their electronic connections to the world—is somehow detrimental to their education.

I still hear teachers tell students to stack their laptops in the corner or to close laptops lids because “we are going to be learning in this classroom.” The implication clearly stated – learning only happens when knowledge travels from teacher to student.

Many of us are still refusing to see that the someone else has figured out a way to turn on the lights in the minds of our students. The result? Massive amounts of boredom, behavior problems, a lack of real learning and wasted time.

“Whenever I go to school,” says one student I know, “I have to power down.” He’s not just talking about his devices—he’s talking about his brain. Schools, despite our best intentions, are leading kids away from the light.

Prensky continues to document what happens when already enlightened minds come to school.

I asked a bright 10-year-old from one of the very best schools how often she’s bored in class. “Ninety-nine percent of the time” was her immediate answer— she didn’t even have to reflect. Even with the best teachers we have, most middle school and high school kids say they’re bored 50–70 percent of the time.

His solution?

  • Give students the opportunity to use technology in school.
    We vastly underestimate our students’ ability in technological areas and vastly inflate the threat of harm. These two perceptions have the combined effect of locking students in the past.
  • Find out how students want to be taught.
    This means devoting a meaningful amount of school time (and after-school time if possible) to conversing with students. It also involves promoting discussions on this topic among students, parents, teachers, and administrators.
  • Connect students to the world.
    Many kids are in touch, through instant messaging, with friends and relatives around the world. So if students are studying the Middle East, why aren’t they hooked up with Middle Eastern kids their own age? If they’re learning Spanish, why aren’t they connecting with kids in Latin America?
  • Understand where kids are going—that is, into the future—and help them get there.
    Covering the material and preparing kids for the test is not preparing them for the future. Kids need computer and technology skills, critical thinking and problem solving, teamwork and collaboration, ethics and responsibility, and global awareness.

What about your school? How bright’s the light?