Introducing technology into the classroom does not mean giving each student a tablet and keeping on as if nothing else had changed.
The rapid changes in our society mean that purchasing the latest devices, while important, is only surface dressing: education must change at a deeper level to create effective workers and informed citizens.
In a world that is changing faster than we can keep up with, the key to education is to go beyond teaching the correct answers to tests and equip students with skills they can apply to real life.
This can be summed up in one word: problem-solving.
Making learning fun
Problem-solving is the ability to analyse the information at hand, come up with viable solutions, and ultimately choosing the most cost-effective one, all of which is done by applying your theoretical knowledge in practical, creative ways. In an educational context, problem-solving no longer applies only to solving math problems: any situation in which students are made to use what they have learnt to achieve a tangible goal other than answering questions is a problem-solving exercise.
Using games as a learning aid is one such example: while gamification consists of making traditional learning feel like a game by adding elements such as a scoring system for good behaviour, game-based learning (GBL) is the use of actual games as teaching tools and is a textbook case of problem-solving. In any game, there is a task to complete that rarely involves filling out a test sheet, and when students apply what they know to a new situation offered by the game, they are, in fact, problem-solving.
Getting immediate positive feedback for completing the aims of a game can make studying feel more useful for real life applications, which is an incentive many students need: winning a game tells students that they are not making sacrifices for nothing and teaches them how to take the facts they are learning and truly make them their own instead of regurgitating them onto an exam paper without thinking critically about them.
Traditional testing evaluates how well you retain information; problem-solving exercises give a measure of how well you can use it, which is a critical skill now that a lot of what our children are learning will be obsolete by the time they are adults. What matters on the job market these days is not so much what you know, but what you can do, and educational methods based on problem-solving, GBL among them, teaches students how to find new and concrete uses for their knowledge and adapt quickly and easily to a workplace in which some of it is no longer valid.
Problem-solving and robotics
Of the new school subjects on the rise, robotics is a field filled with opportunities to teach problem-solving: the task of building even a simple robot is, in fact, a problem to solve together that teaches some key abilities that will stay with the students for the rest of their lives.
- Persistence: just like your robot will not work the first time, or perhaps even the second or the third, not all problems can be solved on the first try. Building a robot teaches that perseverance is a virtue and can give great rewards.
- Teamwork: most robotics curricula will be heavily focused on working together, because students, especially beginners, will rarely be able to complete a complex project individually. Plenty of other problems today are solved by teams, and handling conflict and group dynamics within a team are invaluable skills in any workplace.
- Approaching a problem from several angles: two robots that apparently have very little in common can perform the same task with the same efficiency. In robotics, unlike in a multiple choices quiz, there is often more than one correct answer, which also holds true for most real life situations students will have to face.
Whether by playing games or by getting their hands dirty (figuratively or literally) in a robotics class, however, it is clear that the future generation must become a generation of problem solvers and critical thinkers who can do much more than answer a set of questions perfectly, and technology can be the ideal companion to their learning.