By Diane Harris
Looking back, I still remember a ninth grade English assignment where I was asked to write a two-page paper on Henry James. It was a good thing I had plenty of time for this assignment because it involved several trips to the library where I gathered a stack of biographies and encyclopedias and took notes on a stack of 4 x 6 note cards.
Afterward, the typewriter came out along with a supply of whiteout for all the mistakes that happen when young teen is learning how to type while completing a paper. I remember pulling each sheet of paper out of the typewriter ever so care- fully so that it wouldn’t get caught in the roller.
Fast forward to several years (or many) later to a scene that took place in my home. My daughter is doing home-work in our living room while simultaneously watching television. Normally, she’d use the dining room table to lay out her textbooks and work on her school-assigned computer. This time, she was in the living room. “How are you able to do homework and watch TV at the same time?” I asked. Her response? “This assignment is easy since Siri knows everything.”
Now I am not opposed to Siri as I use her often when I want to reach my destination or know how to dress for the weather; however her existence is a large reminder of how education has changed from the days of looking through a card catalogue to find books with answers to asking Siri for quick answers to geography questions. With Siri and Google at our fingertips, Rocky Mountain Conference teachers have had to reevaluate how they create lesson plans and what it takes to challenge our kids.
Two years ago, our education team had the privilege of conducting a teacher in-service to introduce a new concept: project-based learning. Teachers were divided into groups of 6-8 and asked to discover the mission, the vision, and the challenges faced by organizations around the city. They were to incorporate the four Cs of twenty-first century learning: critical thinking and innovation, creativity, collaboration, and communication.
The purpose of the assignment was to give our teachers the opportunity to work as a group to solve a problem and then to present their findings to the other groups. It took them outside their comfort zone and gave them an experience they could use in their own classrooms. During in- service events in previous years, teachers sat at long tables and listened to information shared from the front, passed out in nicely organized binders. No doubt most of that information was forgotten before the first day of school and the binders were nicely displayed—unused—in their offices.
The continual challenge for today’s teacher is to find creative ways to teach twenty-first century learners when many educators were taught using encyclopedias. Today’s preschooler will live in a very different working environment than today’s graduating seniors.
We challenge our teachers to Google job descriptions for the top companies in the country to see what skills they are looking for. It isn’t necessarily the ability to recall statistics, though knowledge is important, but the job skills most sought after are the abilities to collaborate and create. We encourage our teachers to practice failing, not so they feel like failures but so they can celebrate the effort along with their students. My son’s class had a motto last year that gave them permission to fail. It was, “If you are going to fail, fail gloriously!” In other words, accept that not every project will be successful, celebrate the effort, and try again.
I encourage you to check out any of our schools in the Rocky Mountain Conference to see what it looks like to incorporate twenty-first century education. You will discover projects at Campion Academy (CA) and Mile High Academy (MHA) where students are learning about globalization and incorporating the four Cs in amazing ways, along with one-room schools where students are learning how to code and where they also study issues in their communities and look for ways to solve them. They’re erecting greenhouses and building community gardens so that our children not only study healthy living, but also educate their neighborhoods. In the last semester in the current school year, my seventh grade son studied homelessness. During the study, he gathered supplies from local companies to donate to a shelter for women. The students at HMS Richards Elementary School have learned how to create a business and then created a pizza company, produced a commercial, and celebrated their work with a family meal. The first graders at MHA wrote a grant to obtain funds for a composter to support their class garden. Students at Lighthouse SDA Christian School in Fort Morgan, Colorado, can study anything they are curious about during “genius hour” and then look for solutions at their own pace.
The goal of the education department is for all of our students—from the youngest to the oldest—to learn how to solve problems and to be leaders. Using our CHERISH core values—a collection of Christian values that represent the way we treat each other in our schools—we prepare them for a world that is constantly changing, the one they will be living in as adults. We want all our students to thrive person- ally, professionally, and, most importantly, spiritually.
I often ask our teachers, “How do you know you had a successful lesson?” It’s a question I often ask myself. How will we know that our lessons have made a difference? I believe God continues to answer that question in each of our classrooms.
This is an exciting time in education, specifically in our Seventh-day Adventist schools as we educate twenty-first century learners to lead our churches, solve problems, and cast a CHERISH influence wherever they go.
Diane Harris is RMC associate superintendent of education.