Educators and experts around the country are trying to figure out how to transform public schools, bringing what they see as outdated practices into the 21st century.
Some believe the solution lies with what’s called “deeper learning.” Author and consultant Monica Martinez profiled eight innovative public schools involved in deeper learning in her recent book, with the same title. Martinez is also an appointee to the White House Commission of Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
She recently visited Houston as part of the Houston A+ Challenge Speaker Series and talked with News 88.7 Education Reporter Laura Isensee.
Here are five things to know about deeper learning from their conversation:
- It’s not about technology: “Technology fits into all of this as simply a tool … When I would ask the schools about their use of technology, they never made that the centerpiece of the conversation. And so, finally, when I asked one of the principals, ‘Why won’t you guys talk about technology? I can’t get any of these schools to talk about it.’ He says, ‘Why would you ask about something that’s as natural as you breathing? Technology is like the oxygen that you breath in every day, and it’s in service of learning, and we don’t make that the focus.'”
- It’s about real life problems: “Deeper learning means that you have to understand key concepts and principles behind issues or subjects, if you’re in school. And that you have to be able to apply what you know about these key concepts and these principles to real life problems.”
- Students are active in learning: “Some people might even think some of these schools look like organized chaos. You know, one of my first visits to one school, I was like, ‘What is going on at this school?’ Because I saw students in the hallway and it looked like they were playing putt-putt. And then I walked into a classroom and I couldn’t figure out where the teacher was. And in reality, the students were out in the hallways to apply geometric principles on angles by using miniature golf as their experience. And the teacher was actually in the corner of the classroom, teaching a small group of students who didn’t understand some concepts. So she was revisiting that with them and making sure they understood it. And then you saw other students sitting around a laptop, doing research or working on their paper. So you see variety, you see activity and you see multiple things happening, instead of a very single-dimensional, sit-and-get, passive direct-instruction approach.”
- Who runs the school can vary: “So, one school is a teacher-run school. There is no principal. And people go, ‘What! No principal? Who’s running that school?’ The teachers are running the school. And then some schools like Rochester (Indiana), it’s a single-choice high school, so the teachers who worked there had no choice but to work at a school that was transforming to focus on 21st century learning, or deeper learning.”
- Biggest barrier? Lack of vision: “There are some very significant and real barriers in education that make change really difficult, around regulations, policies and testing. But, I think at the end of the day, what makes it hard is that we’re not willing to sit down and say, ‘What do we value for learning? And what do we want all of our students to know and all of our students to do to be successful in this century, in the kind of innovation economy we have and the kind of culture that we’re living in?’ So, I think it starts with vision and it starts with our values. And I think that’s actually our biggest impediment to change.”