The start of a new year brings the perfect opportunity to consider the time ahead and make some predictions for what might be the next big thing. With change as inevitable as taxes a new year is likely to see new ideas bubble to the fore and some old ways of doing things shift into the background. The danger with making predictions is the unpredictable nature of change in education coupled to the pace of technological evolution that continues to bring new opportunities.
On the technology front much of what has been important to our implementation of ICT should be disappearing from view. Creating Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, webpages and even video will remain a part of the educational landscape but the maturity and simplicity of modern computing platforms and particularly tablet computing should mean these skills require little direct attention in the classroom. What was once a cutting edge use of technology can now be taken for granted. With this can come a focus on how these and other technologies for presenting ideas can empower learning. What should become more prevalent is an emphasis on collaboration beyond the walls of the classroom. A spin off the increase in ‘connected educators’ will be the opportunities for global collaborations between classes. For this to happen schools will need to look to the potential for sharing of ideas across cultural boundaries and with flexible approaches to time and place of learning.
With the increased popularity of ‘MakerSpaces’ and an understanding of the learning power that making unlocks this is a trend that is set to go mainstream. With close connections to creativity and innovation making allows students to realise their ideas in three-dimensional realities and engage with a whole new set of problem solving opportunities. Making supports integrated problem based learning scenarios where students combine STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art & mathematics) with their imagined solutions to real world needs. The ‘MakerSpace’ is core to this approach as it is the place that unlocks the imagination and encourages exploration and play.
The modern ‘MakerSpace’ will be nothing like the old wood-shops many of us remember. Making today is a blend of hands-on tooling with digital production methods enabled by 3D Printing and CNC devices. 3D printing has been a growth area for a number of years now but until recently cost was inhibitive and the machines required a dedicated user to keep things on track. With costs stabilising at an affordable level and sophistication increasing to a point where machines can be described as reliable 3D printing is another trend that should be mainstream by the end of 2016. What we need now is an affordable option for laser cutting to emerge in a form suitable for use in schools. Current costs for this sort of machinery puts it out of reach of all but large secondary schools, lower costs could put this on the budgets of primary schools and increase the size of the market and thus bring further cost reductions.
Growth Mindsets has emerged in the past two years as a significant trend and one that continues to grow favour. The danger is that it is a seemingly simple concept that hides degrees of complexity. It is not enough to say a school is going to develop a culture that promotes growth mindsets and then do little other than put up the posters. Understanding the power of the subtle messages we send through our feedback, reporting measures, assessments and praise takes time and careful consideration but are essential elements of a culture that genuinely supports a growth mindset. We need to raise awareness of how our thinking about our success and failure impacts our future learning. We are also seeing increased discussion of ‘Mindfulness’ as a strategy for reflection and self-awareness. Mindfulness and Growth Mindsets could become a merged field during 2016 as individuals seek to better understand how their mental states can be influenced and shaped by the way we think about our thinking.
Thinking about our thinking or metacognition is by no means new and yet despite years of good research into the benefits of learning to think the evidence is that we continue to have deficient models for thinking. Perhaps a personal hope is that in 2016 thinking gains more of a focus in schools and we begin to aim at producing students who are intelligent as described by Jean Piaget because they 'know what to do when they don’t know what to do’. This will require attention to teaching students more than just content but the skills and dispositions required to do something useful with what they know. Maybe 2016 will be the year when we realise that filling the minds of young people’s heads with information they can readily locate using the devices they carry with them everywhere is not an efficient use of our time or theirs and we begin to focus on what can be done with the knowledge we have ready access to. Why teach thinking?
2016 is likely to be the year where ‘Innovation’ becomes the new buzz word. Schools have been innovative for years now but in the past that innovation was about what the teachers and faculty did. Innovative schools were the ones that tried new ideas and emerging technologies to achieve largely the same goals traditional schools were achieving. Now ‘Innovation’ moves from being about how we teach to becoming what we teach. Thanks to Sir Ken Robinson creativity has been on the agenda for some time now but it was an idea that often needed some clarification as to what it meant. Combine creativity (the development of ideas in our imagination) with innovation (the implementation of ideas into real solutions) and students have a process for problem finding and solving that can be implemented beyond their school years. All this creative innovation is going to need a process to help students track their progress and ‘Design Thinking’ is likely to emerge as the preferred structure for this sort of thinking.
As we continue to develop our understanding of how we learn. Informed by brain science we are moving towards a point in time where we are able to base our teaching on a clear and accurate picture of how the brain functions for learning. With an awareness of neural diversity and cognitive architecture brain science offers an opportunity to bring a new level of scientific efficiency to our teaching that should allow all students to reach their potential. 2016 is not likely to be the year where we gain and implement perfect knowledge of how we learn but a growth in teacher and student awareness of the factors behind our learning should help.
by Nigel Coutts