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Overview- Over the last few decades, the extraordinary developments in technology have had a similar extraordinary influence on education, particularly that of the internet, online learning, and interactive computer based learning in the K-12 curriculum. In fact, as early as the mid-1990s educators were receiving reports from the Department of Education that "through the use of advanced computing and telecommunications technology, learning can also be qualitatively different. The process of learning in the classroom becomes significantly richer as students have access to new and different types of information, can manipulate it on the computer through graphic displays or controlsâ€¦. And can communicate their results and conclusions in a variety of mediaâ€¦" (Education, 2003). What literally hundreds of research studies do tell us, though, is that used properly, technology can enhance the achievement and interaction of students at all levels, improve teacher/student/parent communication, and even improve school administration and management.
Within the modern cultural experience, classroom curriculum takes on a greater role than ever. As society continues to evolve, so must the classroom in order to maintain the rubric necessary - to educate and prepare students for the challenges of the modern world. There remains a set of challenges, though, for educators, parents, and students alike. With so much new information available, how does the modern school add important new subjects into the curriculum while not crowding the basics and diminishing the ability to provide important tools that each student needs? Thus, the political, social, and cultural changes, most especially those that have occurred since 1970, are in direct conflict with skills in reading, math, and science - all of which show an uncomfortable stagnation in America's school systems (Garofalo, 2009).
Diversity and Constructivism- One of the key theoretical maxims of 21st century education in the United States is both the inclusion of diversity and constructivism within the modern classroom. In general, social constructivism views each student as having unique needs and backgrounds - and is quite complex and multidimensional. Social constructivism not only allows for this uniqueness, but actual encourages, utilizes, and even wards it as part of the learning process (Dougiamas, 1998). It encourages the student to arrive at their own version of the truth, of course influenced by their own worldview as well as the nature of instruction. The responsibility of the actual learning, then, resides with the student, and emphasizes the importance of the student remaining actively involved in the process. The motivation for learning is based, in many ways, on Vygotsky's "Zone of proximal development" - a theory that posits that learners are challenged in proximity to their current level of development, yet slightly above. By experiencing a successful completion of challenging activities, learners gain self-confidence and motivation, guiding them to even more complex challenges (Matthews, 1998).
The Modern Classroom- So, how can the modern classroom react to the issue of stagnant and declining scores in the basics, while still attaining the mission of preparing students for the modern world? Really, there is only one choice when one considers the tremendous amount of new information, the way that information is promulgated, and the reality of what basic skills are necessary for a High School graduate. First, curriculum development has slowly begun to take on a more personalized learning system for different children and their way of learning. Second, teachers are being given more authority on how to manage portions of the day. Third, interdisciplinary studies are being increasingly used to change the way subjects are taught (e.g. within a Social Studies module, for instance, music, art, poetry, history, etc. can be used to fill out the curriculum). Fourth, the concept of teaching students how to learn and how to uncover (research) facts, rather than teaching facts alone, prepares the individual for a continual life of exploration rather than rote repetition - and tests and entrance exams are following suit (MacLeod, 2007; Garlikov, 2000).
What then, are the social and political changes that have occurred since the 1970s, and most especially since 1990 that have influenced the curriculum and curriculum development so drastically? Those changes may be categorized into four broad categories: globalization and its implications; rapidity of sexual maturity and the consequences; a more diverse community (local, regional, national, and international) and all the subsequent individual differences therein; a change in the amount and quality of information necessary to become a good citizen (Slattery, 2007; Elliott, 1998).
Globalization has brought the world far closer. The Internet allows individuals to make friends, colleagues, and even work in a global environment. This change causes the classroom to require the focus on global culture, cultural and historical differences, and a greater understanding of the world as opposed to simply the neighborhood. While English remains the primary language of the internet, thinking about globalization requires thoughts about other languages, respects for other cultural ideas, a change in the way belief systems are approached, and indeed, a view that the actions of the individual are interconnected to others living far away (Martin, 2005; Kirkwood-Tucker, 2009).
Changes in the media and exposure of children at an ever-increasing younger age to adult themes in relationships and sexuality have changed the way a curriculum that protects the student is structured. Sex Education was briefly mentioned in grades 7-9, and then focused upon a bit more in 10-12 during the 1960s-1980s. However, with the rise in STDs, HIV, teen pregnancy, Internet pornography, and childhood vulnerability, the school curriculum has had to change and modify and at least present facts to children as young as elementary school ("Alternative Techniques, 1994; Dailard, 2001).
Political and social changes post the Americans With Disabilities and other political changes have allowed people with differences to be more apparent in society as well as taking a more interactive role in all phases of society. Students are likely to see individuals in wheelchairs or with prosthesis, interact with sight or hearing impaired children, and integrate with individuals with learning disabilities that may run mild to severe. The political and social structure - requiring that these individuals have full access to all of societies basic standards, also result in the curriculum change necessary to both understand and embrace those differences within the school system (Wallace, N.D.; Tanner, 2006). In addition, the manner in which both race, gender and ethnicity have moved from the background of society, through the turbulent 60s and 70s, and finally, into the decades in which it is common to see non-Caucasians, women, and people with disabilities in positions of notoriety, or simply throughout everyday life. Legislation has insured that there be no discrimination in the workplace and society, and these demographic and sociological changes are also reflected within the modern classroom (Hudak, 2001; Perry, 2000; Van Ausdale, 2002).
Finally, the past few decades have literally burst at the seams with the amount of knowledge available in the classroom, as well as the student's ability to access that information. While these cultural changes have certainly changed the way information is both available and delivered, there are some challenges to that information that require a change in curriculum as well. Namely, the vetting of said information, and a student's ability to appreciate the quality of sources, and understand that not every piece of information gleaned from the Internet is true, and that there are often needs for more detailed, primary information. The use of multimedia, as well as the ability for students to reach out to other cultures has improved their ability to become global citizens, while also requiring that they accept responsibility for the information they uncover. This also points towards the manner in which the curriculum must change from a rote, fact-based exercise to one in which critical and analytical thought are primary (Kelly, 2009).
Technology as part of curriculum change- What then is the role of politics, legislation and outside cultural influences within the classroom and curriculum development? First, as legislation changes society, so too must the curriculum change. For example, witness the way race and ethnicity was portrayed just 40 years ago versus the way individual differences are portrayed currently. This has been a direct result of legislative change. Technology, too, causes a needed change in curriculum, as does the demographic make-up of schools and the individual class itself. Thus, the key to appropriate curriculum development is to keep pace with the social and cultural climate, and reflect the necessary multidimensionality of society in order to allow the student to be far more prepared for the advances in society and culture that are assailing modern students even more rapidly (Marshall, 2005; Slattery, 2007).
A Solution - Technological Integration- However, theory and practice do not always meet when dealing with budgets, teacher and student abilities, and the lack of public and private support within inner-city schools. There is a solution, though - technology. The price of integrating technology into the classroom has dropped so significantly, and so many savings are realized, that it is possible even for the less wealthy schools to use it to an appropriate degree. Think, for instance, how many texts and library book purchases may be saved thought one Internet access port. If we take the average cost of just one text, say a science text ($40), add 3-4 public domain novels (e.g. Huckleberry Finn at $5 ea.), and then a set of encyclopedias per classroom ($750), we find that even one small classroom of 25 students can save almost $2,000; which is now enough to purchase 4-5 computer stations at educational discount rates.
Math and Science teachers are often at the cutting edge of technology integration into the classoom, largely due to their networking and personal interests. The skills required to function at all levels in 21st century society are different than even those needed in the 1990s (Bitner, 2002). Primarily, this is due to the efffects of technology, cultural advancement and particularly how information is accessed, organized, proceeded, and distributed. In the 21st century classroom there are now far more motivating tools used to teach, reinforce, and apply what might be learned in science lessons. Students, frankly, often have inklings of certain types of technology (social networks, photo manipulation, Internet communication, etc.) before teachers. However, the manner in which technology is changing - the half life of technology - requires that science teachers especially keep up with trends. There are, admitedly, serious complex issues that may be overwhelming at times (firewalls, monitoring searching so it can be robust but protected, synergizing, etc.) (Erwin, 2004) but teachers have come up with ways of mitigating this situation more appropriately (See sample technological inegration plan in Appendix A). (Tiala, 2006):
Phase in the use of computers in the classroom. Develop expectations and skills slowly, but systematically.
Select high-quality software and appropriate websites that offer accurate information while still allowing students to learn to vet their own sources.
Plan lessons with content and objectives in mind. Then decide whether the use of a technological activity meets the desired goals of that lesson.
Make certain students are clear about the goals of the lessons; what they should fain, understand, and do after said lesson.
Students who are less proficient with computers should be partnered with those who are more skilled.
Focus on the lesson, not the mechanics - boot software early, make sure all works prior to the lesson (McKee, 2005; Hamilton, 2007).
Using Technology to Improve Qualitative and Quantitative Methods - It is surprising to note that many teachers, even when tabulated at various stages of their careers, have strong opinions about certain qualitative and quantitative aspects of pedagogy, in both technical and humanity based subjects. Most believe that integration of other core subjects will improve all sides of the equation, including allowing themselves, and other instructors, more time to focus on important activities within their core responsibilities. Despite a wide range of views, however, most agree that when implementing a constructivist approach to core subject education great care must be taken regarding the student's environment and intuition, lest there be more negative interpretations at the end of the lesson (Aguirre, 1990). The more robust the educational experience is, the better. Teachers now understand, though, that qualitative learning has its place in the science/math curriculum, as long as the scientific method is the primary focus; introduction of quantitiative research (analysis, trends, etc.) in the humanities have robust conculsions, too. The trend in integration is to establish a broad constructivist approach, but tweak based on individual student scores, abilities, grade level, and administrative maxims. Qualitative reasoning, for instance may guide a student towards a better understanding of the topic, but quantitative reasoning provides the data set necessary to cohesively prove any notion. This is part of the inquiry method which has validity in all core subjects. Qualitative reasoning is an excellent tool and needed throughout the curriculum, but when dealing with subjects that have tangible issues (math, science, etc.) quantitative data must buttress any qualitative argument. (Gardner, 1990). The modern classroom, with the availability of technology, is the perfect venue to merge these two approaches for much greater efficacy and interest in any subject, but particularly mathematics and science.
Conclusions- The evidence is quite clear - the increased use of technology in the modern classroom is a vital component for student success. Technological innovations:
Improve leardning and achivement in all types of schools, but particularly in urban schools where there is a high student to teacher ratio.
Across the board, ages, grades, etc., increasing technology in the classroom keeps the curriculum vital and increases student performance.
Technology helps new teachers to become highly qualified in their areas.
Study after study shows that performance on standardized assessments in reading, writing, science, and mathematics dramatically improves when technology is part of the learning process. Students in schools that push technology have at least a 5-10 percent lead over others (Bickford, 2005; Ringstaff and Keeley, 2002).
Learning standards in the contemporary classroom are far more robust than those of several decades ago. There is simply too much information in some subjects to master without help. Technology is a powerful tool that gives students access to vast amounts of information in ways neverbefore immaginable - and allows students to take charge of their own learning and issues of curiosity. Students can visit almost any country in the world, see chemical reactions, travel through outer space, the the sun in new ways, view physiological functions, and even see historial materials, museums, fine art, opera, and so much more - all with the click of a button. Distance learning helps students who are ill or traveling keep up with their homework. Technology aids students who are having trouble with concepts, and allows gifted students a way to move beyond the assignment without teacher interaction. Teachers note that technological programs spawn "whole new units of inquiry" that excite students (Harouna and Keisch, 2004). Technological intervention also helps constructivisit and experiental activities. Students who participate in technologically based programs demonstrate superior conceptional understanding and the ability to think beyond rote memorization (Effectiveness, 2000).
Finally, technology does not just make better students, it helps improve professional development and increase the teacher's tool box, too. The NCLB Act requires public teachers to meet their state's definition of "highly qualified teacher" for each core academic subject taught. Technology assists with state certifications, additional degrees, and competencies in core subjects. Just as students can find more information quickly and inexpensively, so can teachers. Technology brings teachers together as a networked community, regardless of location. Integrating technology also improves best practice skills within the classroom by offering far greater enrichment programs that can infuse sustained cognitive development over time. It also allows teachers to partner with major corporations (Intel, Microsoft) and organizations (Nova, Discovery Channel, National Geographic) to provide a more robust learning experience within their class (Martin, et.al., 2004).
All in all, the interface between educational technology and core curriculum subjects is both symbiotic and integral for the 21st century. Literacy in such advanced areas as weather and stock reports, medicine, psychology, advanced mathematics, vetting resources, literary analysis, and research have been enhanced by technology. With the half life of technology it is likely that, within the next decade, computer prices will fall so low that almost every school in the nation will be able to afford a laptop for every student (or its miniature equivalent). Technology has permeated all areas of our lives - consider that a child entering school in 2010 will never have been without PDAs, powerful internet speeds, and the ability to multitaks using tools only dreamt about a decade ago. The more effective use of technology in the classroom, the more effective users will become part of society - clearly a goal for all teachers and schools (Valdez, 2005).