In this age of technology and innovation, the K-12 classroom is continually evolving in order to adapt to the times. It's important that teachers keep up-to-date with the latest helpful technology for their students and that parents understand the ramifications of that technology, too.
Here are six major classroom trends that are impacting the K-12 learning process:
1. BYOD: This movement which embraces mobile technology through the devices that students already own has already gained momentum in many districts across the country, and it is rapidly moving towards mass adoption. Places like Chesapeake Public Schools are already allowed to use privately owned electronic devices to access the wireless network on the school system's filtered Internet. In Chesapeake, as in the other public and private schools where BYOD policies exist, students must sign a responsibility form that says they will only use the mobile device for academic enrichment while on school property. Students who bring their own devices into the classroom eliminate the initial costs and are also already comfortable with the technology. The downside of course is that not all students can readily afford such technology, but look for schools to develop technology financial assistance programs for families to help offset the full cost and maintenance of school-owned devices.
2. Customized learning experiences: Self-initiated and self-directed learning experiences are based upon individual needs, preferences and abilities of students who are then the masters of their own success. The traditional way to look at learning is through teachers creating and assigning all work for students in a one-size-fits-all approach.
On the flip side, customized learning has the ability to incorporate a variety of resources, such as virtual learning, to aid in the learning process while making it a way for teachers to moderate one-on-one learning experiences in practical ways. I think that the idea of handing control to students is hypothetically frightening to some educators and administrators but once they've actually tried it on a small scale, personalized learning actually looks more attractive from an adult's perspective.
3. Online learning: Virtual learning is certainly not new to the K-12 scene, but its increasing popularity can't be ignored. It used to be that online learning was associated only with distance learning, or students who went through the academic process off of school grounds. Today, online learning is more segmented and often just one part of a more traditional learning experience. Virtual learning is no longer all or nothing; it has become mainstream and will continue to transform in-classroom learning.
4. Early education emphasis: Optional preschool is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Research shows that students who start the formal education experience, even one year earlier than Kindergarten, fare better long term in their academic careers. Thirty eight states offer free, voluntary preschool learning programs and nearly 1.6 million low-income families receive assistance from the federal Child Care Development Fund to pursue early childhood education. That fund is just one portion of President Obama's $75 billion plan to expand early childhood learning in order to give American students a stronger foundation going into Kindergarten. I expect that in the next decade, our terminology will change from K-12 to PK-12 when we talk about student benchmarks.
5. Outdoor/environmental learning: In short, more schools are looking for ways to get students and teachers outside. We are in an era of experiential learning, so environmental education fits the bill for many students. Lessons in this field teach children an appreciation of the earth and of its resources that the human population is quickly depleting. A better, hands-on understanding of nature also helps with science comprehension and gives students practical learning experiences.
Research has also found that teaching outside, even for short stints, improves student attitudes, attendance and overall health. In many schools teachers have always had the freedom to take students outside if they deemed it lesson-appropriate.
6. Strengthening STEM education: A greater focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning has been a "trend" for at least the better part of a decade. Specifically, teachers are looking for innovative ways to deliver STEM material (mobile technology is just one way, virtual science labs are another) and more stringent benchmarks are being created at the local, state and federal level.
It is no longer enough for American students to just get by in comparison to each other in STEM subjects; global competition is proving that students in the U.S. need more focus in these subjects to lead the worldwide marketplace as adults.
As you can see, K-12 classrooms are not at all static, but will continue to incorporate cutting-edge technology and socially relevant practices into the curriculum. Understanding and supporting this technology is vital to advancing K-12 students to the next level of their educational success.