Asleep in the Classroom: A Wakeup Call from Tomorrow

Loose notes from SXSW 2011 session: Asleep in the Classroom: A Wakeup Call from Tomorrow

America’s students are bored. According to the Gates Foundation, boredom is the number one reason they give for dropping out of school. How can creativity, innovation and technology address this growing crisis in education? If technology is a driver for shorter attention spans, can it also be the solution to bring back the wonder of education? Can we extend the reach further and engage our students more both inside and outside of the classroom, to reawaken a love of learning?

With: Wood, Shelton, Childress, Goldman

Goldman: Challenges are two-folde: Financial (budgets are going and gone) and overburdened teachers who are unable to fulfill their missions.

Childress: We talk a lot about classrooms, teachers, but we need to be talking about the learning. Class sizes are going up to 37. But not everyone needs the same thing every day.

Shelton: The system is NOT broken – it’s working as designed. We need x people going into professions, x people going into factories. We’re getting exactly what we designed for. That’s what it’s so hard to change.

Wood: What are the smallest changes we can make that can have a big impact?

Goldman: The Grammy Foundation is involved everywhere, in ways that might shock you. We go into classrooms and find ONE teacher who may have 200-500 students in a music program, on their own. They’re doing it on less than $2,000/year. We show up with $5,000 and suddenly there’s sheet music, more instruments. For many administrators, the decision between keeping a program and not is as simple as flipping a switch. Even with the minimal amt of money we expend, we make a big difference. But that’s not a *systemic* difference – we touch a tiny slice of it. The bar to making a difference is not as high as you think.

Shelton: We don’t treat education like we treat other sectors. Because of convergence of ever-cheaper technologies, and because of cloud computing, big data, we should be able to provide tools and resources that are out of reach right now.

Private sector players who hope to sell into a market after kids graduate don’t have the incentive to invest in poorer communities, where they’re needed most.

We’re looking for tools that help put problem solving, skills development into the hands of kids – not just digitizing content. That would be a huge missed opportunity.

If you interview kids about school, the most common attitude is “School is boring.” So the question is, given that technology is what makes things come alive for kids. “Boredom” is why most kids leave school. When attention spans are short, as they are for a lot of kids, boredom kicks in faster.

4th graders in Massachussetts are being asked the same things as 8th graders in Mississippi – HUGE differences across the country.

A lot of conversation lately about “gamification” – do we run the risk of entertaining instead of education. What gamification models can we use that will actually work and that parents will buy into.

Early attempts at “edutainment” largely failed.

The most strident parent, who says “I don’t let me kids watch TV” etc., often turn around when they see 3 year olds learning the alphabet on an iPad faster than their peers.

Foldit – online multiplayer game about folding proteins. Kids can become more expert at protein folding than expert biologists, in a relatively short period of time. So Childress is creating a similar experience for algebra skills. Using this analytical engine and very high standards of game design (one of the Halo developers is on the project) – high hopes.

DARPA has asked developers to come up with games to teach science, math, biology to K-3 grade levels – they’re investing in the future. And they want stuff to be built on re-usable platforms.

We need to focus on tools to ENGAGE, not just to manage them on their way to meeting a certain standard.

Most parents want school to look like it looked to us. We think we’re all experts because we went to school, but it’s not that simple.

“School of One” : The idea that kids program their school day like htey program their iPod playlist. How do you get enough of those models in place and working so that it has real traction. As long as kids are moving towards mastery, we can have all kinds of content models.

So many of the modern tech companies know more about me than my kid’s teachers know about my kid. This is something corporations can bring to the classroom – tools to help teachers know more about their own students.

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