The Little Falls Board of Education approved Project REAL at its March 22, 2011, meeting. At its core, this project is about two things: training our staff to teach to the needs of all students, and providing each student with the skills to be productive in the future. So what does that mean?
The system and structure of American public schools was developed in the 18th and 19th centuries and was highly influenced by the needs of the country during the Industrial Age and after the two “great wars”. America needed workers who could design and manufacture all of those commodities that were important to our economy, and schools rose to that challenge.
Those industrial needs and expectations were not challenged until the age of the computer, and especially when the Internet burst onto the world scene. Suddenly the playing field became much larger and a global economy was a reality. Business and industry changed and adapted to this new world out of necessity, but education has lagged behind.
So when we talk about the 21st Century skills for our students, we are really referring to creating the capacity to function in a global economy using 21st Century skills. Does that mean we don’t need manufacturers, designers, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc.? Absolutely not! We need those professionals even more now, but they must be able to function at a much higher level than in the past to keep our state and country competitive. Gone are the days of being trained for a trade or profession and practicing that same set of skills for the remainder of a person’s career. Our workforce must adapt and expand their knowledge and skills to remain competitive...or in other words employed.
Our educational system needs to adapt as well. Project REAL seeks to move away from the lecture and worksheet/test model of education that we adults know so well. Teachers will be trained to step back and guide students in their learning. We refer to this as moving from “the sage on the stage, to the guide on the side.” Curriculum can also be adapted to meet the needs of individual learners much more efficiently in a digital medium.
The District’s primary goal is to maintain high expectations for quality teaching and learning in the basic subject areas of math, reading, science, social studies...this will not change or waiver. Without the basic skills, students cannot take their knowledge and apply it to more and more complex problems. It is one thing to be smart, it is another to be able to apply that knowledge in a meaningful way. We need to teach both!
Whenever schools change programming or focus, there is always a concern that something will be lost. I am sure that some may believe that traditional courses in industrial arts, agriculture, the arts, and home economics may be at risk because of Project REAL. That is not the case.
Our District needs those traditional courses because a segment of our students find them engaging and a large part of their future plans. My philosophy is that student enrollment drives what is offered in our high school, and if fifteen or more students enroll for a class we will do our utmost to offer it to them.
Our teachers will be trained to use different methods to assess student learning. Traditional testing is a part of the educational landscape, and will remain so for a long time. However, that doesn’t mean that we should not use other ways to measure student growth when appropriate. Challenge- or Project-Based Learning challenges students to show their understanding of a topic by demonstration. That demonstration may take the place of a PowerPoint presentation, a short film documentary, a play, a simulated newscast, or one of a hundred other ways. This is where the student digital device plays a key role.
This student generation is commonly referred to as “digital natives.”
They were born after the Internet was created and simply do not know of a time that information was not available almost instantly. Research has shown that their neural pathways (brain functions) are different than those whose formative years were not influenced by the digital age. They simply function different than adults. Is that good or bad? Depends on your point of view, but regardless, education must take that difference into account when programming for the children--the digital natives.
When students leave our school, it is our goal that they have the skills to be life-long learners. Armed with 21st Century skills, our students will adapt and flourish in a world that we adults can only imagine. Project REAL is designed to train our teachers to be able to assist our students to be ready for their lives after Little Falls Community Schools.