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Superintendent’s Message for March

Feb 29, 2016 | District News Release, Messages from the Superintendent

True Learning: Thinking beyond textbooks

Superintendent Theresa Davidson

Superintendent Theresa Davidson

All of us look forward to watching our children and grandchildren walk across the stage at high school graduation.  It is a symbol that they have finished a milestone in their journey to adulthood – that they have persevered through a symbolic “rite of passage.”  It is something that must be checked off the list as we begin the business of life.  Certainly for all of us, it is a point of accomplishment and great pride.

In my 20th century world of work, knowing a lot of facts – memorizing tables, rules and formulas – would certainly position one to devise and articulate a precise plan of action and to approach each task with confidence and tenacity.  Those who could recite the most facts were often counted among the best and the brightest.

But what does it mean to be college and career ready in the 21st century?  To answer that question, I’ve taken a few liberties with something Albert Einstein once said: “The real value of education is not in knowing a lot of facts, rather it is in training the mind to think about the things that cannot be found in a textbook already written by someone else.”

In a survey conducted by eSchool News, today’s students reported needing five things from their school experiences.

  1. Today’s students want to experience real-world application and relevancy. They want to see first-hand what makes something work the way it does. Students are well aware that their future is full of jobs that haven’t even been created, yet they are not content to work with models of reality.
  2. Students want choices about the classes they study, but they also want choices within those classes. They want to be able to slow down when something is difficult or when they find it particularly interesting.
  3. Sometimes parents and educators believe we can assure student success by replicating the same activities and experiences that made us successful in school. But we cannot ignore the fact that innovative technologies and experiences that engage students outside of the classroom today are quite different than those of our youth.  It is important to capitalize on the ways that students enjoy learning and the tools they will choose for a  lifetime of personal and professional endeavors.  
  4. Students have always performed best when the teacher respects and cares about them, but today more than ever, students need teachers who engage them in the wonder of learning rather than ‘telling’ them about the things they need to learn; they need a curriculum that connects the ‘what’ and ‘why’ to their lives.
  5. Today’s students want to interact personally with their learning.  They want hands-on experiences where they can try things out and talk about it with their teachers and with others trying it for the first time. They want to reflect on what they observed, and then, they want opportunities to try it again.  People don’t stop doing the things they enjoy just because they reach a point in time. In a system where learners can continue to explore on their own, they can and will continue to learn!  

Change is hard for humans, especially when we know that something has worked for us in the past and when the result of the change is not yet visible in a perfectly formed picture.   I can only imagine how an author must have felt when free libraries were first established. “What? My book in a library where anyone can just walk in and read it for free?”

For today’s college and career-ready students, just knowing the facts is not enough.  The future requires them to design paths that lead beyond anything we can possibly dream; to indulge in creative endeavors unbound by the tedious work of facts and figures; to imagine solutions to problems that never before existed; and “to think about the things that cannot be found in a textbook already written by someone else.”  

For those of us who found success and solace in the power of facts and figures, it can be an uncomfortable transformation.  But just as our parents and their parents before them witnessed dramatic change through the infusion of new technologies, we too, can expect a future filled with surprise and the wonder of a new generation.

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