(Original Article Published in German on Brutkasten)
2020 has been an eye-opening year, bringing to light systemic problems and outdated systems. One of these being our school institutions. The pandemic has forced schools to quickly adapt to remote learning through the use of video systems like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. However, digitally enhanced learning is not just about replacing a physical classroom with a virtual one. There needs to be a fundamental change in how schools function.
We need to modernize our classrooms and prepare the next generation to succeed in this new fast-paced world. So what is the future of schools?
STEAM smart schools. STEAM is an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to education that teaches science, technology, education, arts, and math. It allows children to explore what they are interested in, and curriculums that are grounded in “learning by doing” instead of memorization.
There are a few important pillars of the STEAM-based model that schools will need to implement:
Educators will transition to Facilitators
Information and technology are moving at such a fast past almost no one can keep up. That’s why educators might be very well versed in the subjects they teach but will have to accept that they might not know everything. Which is completely normal! They will need to embrace learning alongside their students while showing them how to work with their frustrations and emotions. Lisa Anthony, Media and Technology Specialist at The Madeleine Elementary School, Berkeley, California once told me: “At some point in my career I had to accept that some of my students, those youngsters are better than me in using technology and excelling in Computer Science. I can not answer all of their questions, but I can support them in their search for answers”.
World Class Online Educational Content
Depending on where children live, they might not have access to world-class teachers who are specialized in a certain field. Luckily with technology, schools can take advantage of streaming these experts straight into their classrooms. Sarah Mintey, the founder of Developing Experts, sought out to address this issue. Many times teachers are asked to teach students a subject outside their expertise. Her company helps provide interactive science lessons taught by experts in the industry and from universities. Being experts, they can provide real-world examples for their lessons. With in-classroom teachers being more facilitators, they don’t need to worry about not knowing it all. They can leverage expert content to help bring meaningful real-life lessons into their classrooms.
Project-Based Learning (PBL) or Phenomenon-Based Learning
Gone are the days of splitting learning into different subjects. Children need to understand how different subjects are interconnected. Our Robo Wunderkind Educators use PBL to help teach children design, literature, coding, and math all in one lesson. This particular lesson combined storytelling with coding one of our Robo Wunderkind robots. Students worked in small groups to discuss what story they wanted to tell and what characters would play a role. Then they outlined their story map and how they could bring this story to life via the robot. To wrap it all up they would code their story, and it would come to life with the help of the robot. This is actually a standard method of teaching in schools in Finland where they call it Phenomenon-Based Learning – a strictly interdisciplinary approach.
Every child is different. Different backgrounds, cultures, and languages plus each has different interests and learns at different paces. So why are we treating all children the same? We need to start tailoring lesson plans to children. There’s nothing more demotivating than being told what to do. That’s why some schools are adopting differentiated instruction. This is similar to PBL in which teachers can customize their curriculum to meet children where they are. For example, when teaching they might ask their students how they want to express their learning. This could be through a project, a written paper, or a play. The teacher would then combine groups of students to work on similar ideas. This at least allows children to creatively decide how they want to share their knowledge.
Learning Together in Schools and Online
In many classrooms, children work independently to memorize class material, in order to do well on a test. This doesn’t help children to understand teamwork or get exposed to different cultures and languages of their peers. That’s why we designed all of our Robo Wunderkind lesson plans to incorporate teamwork. We understand that the earlier children are exposed to teamwork, the easier it will be when they are in the workforce to work together with others.
One great example of this is Tract, an ambitious ed-tech startup from the US founded by schoolchildren. This is a peer to peer online community that kids can learn from each other and learn more about topics that interest them. Some fun non-traditional topics include how to grow a 1 on pumpkin or Pokemon plant biology.
At my company, Robo Wunderkind, we believe the best way to learn is through play. That’s why we created a gender-neutral toy to help children learn to code. It fits in perfectly with STEAM learning as the modular design allows for endless possibilities while experimenting without the risk of failing. That’s why I’m so passionate about how the STEAM model can change schools for the better. I hope that in 100 years from now we will have schools that allow for flexibility, creativity, and most importantly fun.