Traditional classrooms are no more as the digital age brings in a new wave of students growing up with everything from smartphones to tablets. Textbooks are becoming digitized, MOOCs are gaining momentum in popularity, and the amount of online information at the student’s fingertips is staggering to say the least. These are only a few examples of how the classroom and learning as a whole is changing. How do we see the math classroom changing?
Shift from memorization to process
Let’s face it, the majority of students will not use the quadratic formula or have to compute the derivative of a multivariable polynomial outside of class. They simply aren’t skills necessary in common jobs. But that isn’t the reason why we learn mathematics. We learn mathematics to practice logical reasoning. The computations we do today are automated by computers, but the understanding behind those computations is important. Teachers are aware of this, focusing on student thinking and understanding of concepts in order to achieve success. Gone are the days of scribbling the times tables over and over again.
When the idea of a classroom is conjured in your mind, the usual imagery is a quiet classroom full of front-facing students listening to the teacher lecture for hours. Reality is completely different. The teacher’s role is changing - they are not the know-it-all in class who you must listen to in order to understand things. Instead, they are moving towards a more coaching-type role. Students are encouraged to be more proactive in their own education and seek out the best practices for their own individual learning style. The integration of new tech supports this new movement, allowing for students to be constantly connected to one another and build a collaborative learning environment.
Chris Dede, a Harvard Professor and a keynote speaker at LearnLaunch 2014, describes the flipped classroom of today, where students view content videos as homework while classroom time is spent on small group discussions rather than lectures. The paradigm shift of learning by doing and collaborating with other students, rather than learning by listening to lectures, is one being explored by many institutions and could become a core part of the student-centered learning process.
As needs and expectations for student achievement continue to change, does the traditional way of teaching makes sense for the modern student? It's not a matter of yes or no, but rather a realization of what's happening in education: inevitable change. New tech and new teaching methods being introduced are helping to build upon the old ways of teaching. Today, the need to rethink education (not just math!) is more important than ever.