Young children learning all the basics of reading, math and other subjects are going to school with a new style of classroom and teaching.
And even more changes are on the horizon, said Derrel Fincher, director of learning technologies at the state Education Department.
One of the most evident changes can be seen in classrooms themselves.
Students are working together across grade levels, Fincher said. Project-based learning is more common. Remote laboratories and simulators will allow students in small or rural schools to experience the world like students in large, urban districts, Fincher said.
“That’s something that will be very powerful for students to do,” he said.
Computers can identify areas where children struggle, like homonyms or capitalization. Education programs can adapt to those needs, Fincher said.
“It can focus more on those areas that you’re struggling with instead of giving the same thing to everybody,” he said.
Also, curriculum is changing rapidly.
Teachers and students now have access to a vast amount of data, and the amount of knowledge available to the world will only expand.
It will allow students to shift from finding data to analyzing it, Fincher said. It’s a shift from what to why.
“Data used to be the end point,” he said. “Now it’s the beginning point.”
Curriculum is blossoming from critical facts to critical thinking, Fincher said.
“What are the essential things kids need to know?” he said. “How do you tap into their interests, desires and wants?”
Teachers have access to a limitless amount of electronic content — lesson plans, digital books, studies. And the information available is growing and improving, Fincher said.
“This is where crowdsourcing comes in,” he said. “Teachers are very collaborative. They like to share. They like to work with others. They will create these wonderful lessons and improve them.”
The dramatic changes that have happened in recent years — and the revolutions on the horizon — can be tough for some teachers, Fincher said. But for the most part, teachers and administrators are embracing the changes.
“You sometimes hear that people are afraid of doing something or change, and that’s really not the case,” Fincher said.
While few teachers push back against development, most are excited once they see how changes can improve their classrooms, Fincher said.
“Teachers get into teaching to help children,” Fincher said, “and they see how this can help children.”
The key, he said, will be to provide training and information to teachers about how to apply all these strategies in the classroom.
“People talk about all these great things that are going to happen,” Fincher said. “You can’t just put things randomly in a class and say this will change things forever.”
But some things won’t change, Fincher said. Classrooms will still exist, and dynamic, effective teachers will always be in demand.
“You need a place where you can bring students together,” he said. “Especially young ones — they need a safe environment where they can learn. That won’t go away. Teachers won’t go away.”