“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” ~ Ignacio Estrada
Nearly two weeks ago, on the otherwise typical afternoon of October 5th, the world lost an amazingly visionary leader and champion of technological progress. Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, Inc., passed away at the age of 56 from pancreatic cancer, a disease that does not discriminate. Having seen family members struck down by this type of cancer, I hope this sad event at least grants new urgency to the ongoing search for a cure. Like many people, I truly appreciate Apple products for their sleek, simple design. I switched from a Thinkpad to a MacBook Pro in late summer of 2009 and haven’t looked back since. I also currently own an iPod Touch and thanks to Teach For America’s outreach I recently received a first-generation iPad for use in my classroom. I was never sold on the iPhone itself, but after multiple annoyances with my Droid 3, I’m probably going to switch over to the new iPhone 4S by the end of the month…
Now, this post isn’t meant to be an endorsement of Apple; however, I am awed in pondering how his company turned around its fortunes in just the past decade. What if education reform had a Steve Jobs? No Child Left Behind has had almost as much tenure as Jobs’ second run as CEO and yet Apple has blossomed as public education has floundered. What’s the difference? More importantly, how can education reformers truly “think different” à la Apple? Based on what I know from my personal experience with Apple gadgets, there are a lot of things to takeaway; I want to focus on just two: reinventing the wheel and human behavior.
One of the things Steve Jobs did well was take existing technology and make it better and more accessible. He didn’t feel a need to reinvent the wheel, but he did find new uses for it, hence, the iPod with its trademark scroll wheel. It is not reaching to claim there was nothing particularly revolutionary about the original iPod; however, it did combine a number of useful, fun features into one complete, appealing package. Why can’t curriculum and lesson planning incorporate some of these principles? As a teacher, I have serious issues with having to plan science lessons from scratch. Honestly, I have better things to be doing than reinventing the wheel. I’d rather put some rims on it. I’ll speak to that point more in a later post….
“Other computer makers know how machines work and want humans to alter their behavior accordingly. Mr. Jobs and his team labored to understand how humans behave and think and built machines to suit us.”
The other Apple design principle is that Apple bases its interfaces on how it believes people work. When I first bought my MacBook Pro, I was worried that it would fragment my brain- it was too intuitive and I thought it would magnify my bad habit of multi-tasking. As far as I know, I still possess a whole brain, and the benefits of my MacBook Pro have far outweighed any negative side-effects. Likewise, educators should focus on how students learn and work to tailor instruction to their needs. Granted, middle school children are biologically crazy and illogical, but we still have to work with what we are given. I think the whole emphasis on “learning styles” is overrated but there is a lot to be said for differentiated instruction, where lessons are tailored to individual student levels and needs to achieve mastery of a given objective or learning goal.
That said, to state that differentiation is tough is a gross understatement! (CAVEAT: I know there are teachers who could do this with just a chalkboard, but I’m not there yet!) Fortunately, technology makes differentiation a lot easier. After waiting almost a year, I was finally given the five desktop computers I had been promised for my science classroom. How exciting it is to move to the 21st Century! Combined with my iPad, I’m looking forward to figuring out how to best use these products to raise the level of rigor and achievement in my classroom.
This is where I need your help. I know that a few schools in my home state (Maine) are piloting programs where all kindergarteners receive a personal iPad2 (true story), so I’m sure there are apps and programs that can boost the learning of 8th graders. I plan to play around with my iPad but rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m interested to here how fellow educators are using iPads and other devices to help increase effective, engaging instruction (e-struction?) in their classrooms. I’m seen a few links already and have some cool ideas of my own but feel free to leave a comment below!
iThank you for your assistance in this collaborative endeavor!