The View From Here

The New "Magic Bullet" That Will Fix Education in America

Written by: developer

In my 24 years in education, I have seen many trends and fads come and go, each claiming to be the “magic bullet” to educate students and fix education in America. Whether it be a new reading program, a new way to do multiplication or a realignment of classes and schedules, all have failed to work for every student. Not surprising since every student is different, and no one thing will work for every student.

So, here’s the revelation. It has long been my belief that education in both formal and informal settings needs to be fun, engaging and relevant for students. It seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?

I recall interviewing for teaching jobs in Minnesota when I first started my career. When asked my philosophy of education, I told the interview committees that learning in the classroom needs to be fun. When students are having fun, they will be engaged and learn better. Later, when I asked why I didn’t get the job, time and again I was told that the schools districts at which I was interviewing didn’t believe that fun had any place in their classrooms. Wow!

The funny thing is, the classrooms that are successful around the country and inspiring our next generation of explorers are emphasizing fun.

Fun. Do you recall your days in school? How much fun did you have? I’ll bet the teacher or teachers who made an impact on your life made learning fun. If you have children, I guarantee that the things they want to talk about at the dinner table that happened in school that day were activities where they had fun. Imagine an entire day of learning where the student is having fun and not bored out of their mind doing worksheets or listening to lectures.

Engaging. Having fun is great, but it isn’t everything. The lessons that are being taught also need to be engaging for students. The students need to love the topics and learning as much as the teacher does. Students need to be immersed in their learning, not reading a chapter in a textbook and doing a worksheet. In all my years in the classroom, I never had a student come to me years later and say, “Thank you for that worksheet, Mr. D. It changed my life.” Today, the way we engage students is through some type of technology. Technology needs to be embraced not feared.

Relevant. Students need to be shown that what they are learning has real-life applications. Why do I need to learn this calculus problem? Why do I need to write and communicate (without emoji’s), coherently? Everything that is being taught in the classroom has relevance to real-life. Students just need to be shown that connection. When I was in school, if we asked the question, “Why do I need to learn this?” The answer was, “Because I said so.” And, that was good enough. Today, students need and deserve more. Teachers need to show students that what the students are learning is the same basic function that we do every day.

Those of us in the aerospace industry can help in all these areas, mostly by showing how education is relevant to everyday life. We can assist teachers in our communities and show them the connections between what they are teaching and what we are doing in our shops, labs and cubicles. Let students come on a field trip and see that, yes, you will need to know algebra someday. Yes, you will need to understand how to diagram a sentence and communicate ideas in proper English. From a teacher’s perspective, knowing that there is someone interested in what I am teaching, who will share that real-life relevance with my students, is invaluable. So, please, open your doors.

Luckily, across the U.S., schools are moving toward those areas. I have been in classrooms and schools where students lead their own learning in Project Based Learning classrooms. You see, students think differently and learn differently than we did and do. Their brains are wired differently, due to their immersion in technology at an early age. They want to feel more in control of where they are going. Teachers need to be managers and coaches of that education.

I’m sure we’ve all seen it in our business, already. New employees who don’t feel satisfied with their jobs, or who don’t feel they are in control of what they are contributing to the company, very quickly leave for another job where they feel they can contribute and be in control. That’s how students think in today’s classrooms. The days of memorizing dates, names and places is irrelevant. Students can find the answer in 10 seconds (or less) on their phones. The Who, What, When, Where and How is no longer as important. The big question that students need to know and answer is Why?

This is a huge paradigm shift, one that we embrace at the Space Foundation, where thousands of school children are inspired through this paradigm shift. Even though this type of thinking is difficult for many of us to understand, because we were brought up to be a very different type of employee, it is today’s work culture and we must get used to it.

This article is part of Space Watch: March 2017 (Volume: 16, Issue: 3).