I Saw the Future on a Snow Day
Whenever I think about personalized learning, I drift toward the ways adults learn. We know what we like, how we remember things, the topics that interest us, and the best ways to absorb new information. It's easy for us. I know I'm a kinesthetic learner so I recall things much better if I'm active. For example, I like to listen to audiobooks and podcasts while I'm running, doing yard work, or driving because I remember a lot more when I associate a passage or new bit of information with what I was doing at the time. But students don't have the years (decades) or experience to know what works for them—they're still going through trial and error and as adults, we need to give them every chance they can get to play around with their own learning.
About a month ago, my boys had a snow day and it coincided with the Hour of Code that Code.org was pushing out via social media channels. I asked my boys if they wanted to try it and explained that it was a look-behind-the-scenes of apps and games. Full disclosure: they are both very hooked on their iDevices and are already scaring me with the knowledge they possess about apps I've never even heard of. My younger boy (he's eight) took the bait and picked up the iPad to try it out.
The hour is broken up into 20 steps with entertaining and short videos about what the student would be doing next. The video narrators varied from an NBA player to programmers to Bill Gates (as an aside, I asked, "do you know who that is?" and the answer was quick and not-so-surprising: "Nope!") and were great examples to keep him engaged. I must admit, it helped that the tutorial was based on moving an Angry Bird or a zombie because he was familiar with these characters already and thought it was cool. He got frustrated once or twice and around step 18, I could see he was getting visibly upset—perhaps even upset enough to be tempted to toss our iPad across the room—so I suggested he take a break. He did so and then came back to finish later that same day. My wallet was thankful for the interruption.
The thing that struck me was how into it he was and his interest is still there, even several weeks later. He wanted to learn more and continued beyond the hour. We tried several of the suggested apps and websites, but bumped into age-limit suggestions such as "recommended for middle/high school." Since he's just in the 3rd grade, he has been intimidated by those suggestions. The entire time he was working on this, I kept thinking, "this is the future." He learned a great deal sitting on the couch next to me while I teleworked and I was there to answer questions and keep him focused, but he learned on his own. To be honest, I don't think I could've completed the hour as easily as he did.
While educators debate what the true meaning of personalized learning looks like (according to a recent EdPulse Poll survey), this interaction with my son demonstrated that, with some support and well-crafted technology, I think the elementary students of today are going to expand their knowledge and gain critical skills faster than any generation before them. Of course, I'm assuming students will need access to qualified professionals, technology, and opportunity. What does personalized learning look like to you?
Kevin Scott is a strategic advisor for Constituent Programs at ASCD, facilitating its programs and initiatives created for younger educators, such as the Emerging Leaders and ASCD Student Chapter programs. He also provides services and consultation to ASCD affiliates. Before coming to ASCD, Scott served as member services manager for the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) at the National School Board Association (NSBA), where he facilitated meetings with members, wrote CUBE's Urban Edge newsletter, provided content for NSBA's BoardBuzz blog, and maintained CUBE's presence on Twitter. Scott spent seven years teaching 7th grade history in Fairfax County Public Schools and has worked for other associations as the education director.
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