THE BLOG
09/27/2012 03:49 pm ET | Updated Nov 27, 2012
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A Teacher's Challenge: Empowering Today's Digital Natives for Tomorrow

When a student is excited about learning, amazing things happen.

Their eyes light up.
Their expression changes.
They become empowered to do great things.

I've had the joy of witnessing this firsthand with students of all ages -- seeing what happens when we, as adults and educators, give a student a nudge in a new direction.

Today's technology provides teachers with abundant opportunities to enhance the learning process -- making the world smaller and the classroom bigger. Television technology enabled me to share science with the world. Because the shows became videos, those lessons are alive for future generations.

Several weeks ago, people from around the globe had the ability to witness the Curiosity Rover land on Mars. Individuals young and old saw science in action. We continue to marvel at the new information and images that are coming back to earth thanks to the advancements in science and technology.

We need to harness that power -- the ability to share knowledge -- and make it available to students anytime and anywhere. We also need to meet them where they are in this digital age, so they can be excited about learning each and every day.

Meeting students where they are
Today's students are digital natives, spending up to seven hours each day online. We can debate whether that's good or bad, but it's where they spend their time. We need to make good use of this time, meet them where they are, and educate them while they're hanging out online.

Kids doing homework today seldom seek the dusty encyclopedia, because they have many of the answers they need right at their fingertips -- just a Google search away. Nevertheless, finding credible, bite-sized bits of information that can really help them with their homework can be tough. As teachers and parents, we need to guide the process so they become smart consumers of the Internet. Their success and our future depends on it.

Turning the classroom upside down
Teachers around the country are doing this already -- reaching students in cool, new ways. Have you heard about the flipped classroom? No, it's not a gymnastics class. Rather, it's a new technique that allows teachers to transform the way they teach. Out with the old idea of going to class for a lecture, and coming home to do homework where students work alone on new material. Instead, teachers create digital versions of their lectures and lessons that students watch at home, on their own schedules, at their own pace, and, perhaps most importantly: when they are ready, willing and able to receive the information. They also can rewind and repeat if they want to go back over an important message.

This way, students come to class with a base of knowledge that can be added to, stirred, enhanced, and invigorated as they apply those new ideas to problems, experiments, even interactive discussions.

Teachers love it because they have more time to interact with students.

Students love it because it lets them learn at their own pace, review material they don't quite understand, and absorb information as they build understanding.

And perhaps most important are the facts: Student performance has risen because of it. Eighty-five percent of teachers surveyed who have used the flipped classroom model saw an improvement in student grades, according to a study by SOPHIA.org. SOPHIA is a free social education platform that is taking the lead in educating teachers about the flipped classroom. With free webinars and other resources, SOPHIA helps teachers connect with each other, so they can share tips and tricks for using the method in their classrooms. SOPHIA also offers a free professional development opportunity for teachers -- the Flipped Classroom Certificate, which was created with faculty from the School of Education at Capella University, a partner to SOPHIA that makes it possible for resources on the site to be offered at no cost. Together, Capella University and SOPHIA provide innovative teaching and learning resources for teachers to be more effective and students to be more successful -- very cool indeed.

The bottom line
So here's the scoop -- and I know you already know this -- no two students are exactly alike. What makes sense to one may be gibberish to another. Offering different ways to learn resonates with kids of all ages, and certainly with their parents, too. Not only do we need to find ways to meet students where they are in the digital realm, but we also need to speak their language and offer material that is presented in cool new ways, by many different people, because everyone learns differently.

Which is what makes this great world of ours go 'round, people!

It is truly an exciting time to be a student of any age, my friends -- and it's equally exciting to be a teacher. We have the tools at our disposal to educate, inform, and excite the next generation of learners.

Together, we can teach, learn, and change the world!

*Capella University and SOPHIA Learning are both subsidiaries of Capella Education Company.