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Give students a ‘digital sandpit'

Educationalist says give students a ‘digital sandpit’


Sitting in the classroom can feel like a step back in time for some students, says a leading Australian educator.

A speaker at this week’s New Zealand Principals’ Federation conference in Wellington, Di Fleming says many students who have technology at their fingertips at home end up feeling like they’re in a time capsule when they go to school.

“There’s a lot of adolescent kids, particularly young boys, who are bored out of their brains sitting in a classroom. Educators need to work alongside kids, rather than just standing up and talking at them.

Di Fleming says technology is an “absolutely critical vehicle” for learning.

“Microsoft Office is probably the most powerful tool we know. It’s like a digital sandpit. It’s a place where kids will build their sandcastles, where they’ll be creative and they’ll be able to draw on all the bits of information available in their immediate environment. In this case it happens to be cyber space.

“I’m fighting strongly this idea that the web is the content delivery, that it’s where you go to get all the information. I’m arguing that the web is the place for young people to construct their learning and their knowledge.”

Di Fleming says technology not only provides students with information, but also with access to software that helps them learn.

“It’s about young people constructing, being builders of their own learning. It’s the difference between knowledge and understanding. And it’s important to be tested, because your knowledge has to be tested to prove that you actually understand.

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“I remember as a child using a ruler and pencil to draw graphs, but today young people are actually going straight to the software. Some people think kids aren’t learning on the computer, that the computer is doing it for them. However, the reality is that the kids have to actually tell the computer what they want. You have to understand the concepts before you can apply them so it’s about young people being able to direct technology, not the technology directing them.”

With the speed of technological advancement, the best thing educators can do for young people is to give them the skills they will use in their professional life – skills like the ability to diagnose and analyse, to categorise and problem solve, to work in teams and collaborate, she says.

“For today’s students, their future will be their past. It’s scary how fast the world is progressing but that’s the reality.”

Di Fleming says the speed of change means teaching colleges and classroom teachers need to focus on what today’s children need now rather than what was needed in the past.

“I’m challenging educators to be willing to unlearn what they already know because that’s what prevents change. People say they can’t unlearn things, but I say if you don’t you’ll just do more of the same. You’ve to actually get rid of some of the stuff you believe in that isn’t true anymore.”

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