How can you recognize digital age learning when you see it?
It looks a lot like students doing original scientific research or making documentaries. It’s kids creating business plans or political action campaigns. Or it can be groups of learners doing historical analysis and applying what they learn to modern situations. That’s the message Chris Lehmann, founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, wants other school leaders to understand.
Modern learning is authentic, empowered and caring. It gives students freedom to do real work that matters now.
Leaders who think this kind of a model is unrealistic, or just unwieldy, should keep these four things in mind before rejecting the concept.
No special facilities are required. While it may look different, this type of learning doesn’t require fancy amenities. “Our building is nothing all that special,” Lehmann says. “The very cool thing is that, while I wish we had millions to spend on a brand-new fabulous facility, what you do is rethink the spaces you have to make them work more authentically.”
That notion can apply to a single classroom or an entire educational system.
The traditional model is not working. School leaders who resist transformational change tend to have similar objections. “It's too hard.” “We don’t have the resources.” “Our kids don't have the right skill set.” “We need to be sure they pass the test.” When Lehmann hears these concerns, he asks leaders to consider if their schools are currently preparing kids for the world they are going to inherit.
“If it’s worth doing, don’t we have an obligation to figure out how to do it? We have to honor that it’s hard, it’s messy and it takes a long time. Then we have to say, ‘If the outcome is transformative to the lives of children, that’s what you have to do.' "
It’s about equity. Those who think the system is just fine the way it is because it worked for them should reflect on whether that’s true for everyone.
"I would challenge the soft nostalgia of people’s memories and say we’re not at that place where everybody thought we were. School wasn’t always wonderful. School has always worked for some kids — the overwhelmingly white and the overwhelmingly wealthy — but we can make it work for all kids, and we can make it work better for those it’s always worked for."
Inquiry-driven advocacy leads to transformation. Many school leaders say they want to move toward a student-centered, inquiry model, but they fear resistance from other stakeholders.
When it comes to getting buy-in for transformative learning initiatives, Lehmann suggests using the inquiry-based model he touts for students. It’s about asking better questions of students, teachers and leaders because the answer to the challenge of inquiry is more inquiry. “It's less about what we say and more about what we ask. If we believe in inquiry-driven learning, so should our advocacy,” Lehmann says.