Most of my memories from elementary school are foggy, but I vividly remember playing Word Munchers on an orange screen computer in kindergarten. It is surprising to me that 30 years later, my own children talk about how they have to wait two weeks to get computer time at school, but at home they can code and build web pages easily. I would have thought that by now, computers would be integrated into everything we do in schools and there wouldn’t be a rotation with a two-week wait time. Technology shouldn’t be on a rotation in my kids’ classrooms, and it shouldn’t be on the back burner of education.
In the opening splash quote to the 2013 video What Most Schools Don’t Teach, Steve Jobs highlights this notion perfectly:
There is nothing more important than teaching our students how to think. Our schools are the PERFECT place to teach future generations all the soft skills they will need in our rapidly changing world.
When I showed the video on our school news channel to promote our new coding club back in 2013 (see my Nov. 6, 2013 blog post here). He said: “We all depend on technology to communicate. And none of us know how to read and write code.” So true.
So what can we do about it? At my school, we started a Minecraft club, and then a coding club. On our first day of coding club back in 2013, over 80 students stayed after school to attend the meeting, where we had a developer present. That afternoon, and on many since, our students learned how to program the simplest forms of their favorite games.
Fast forward to this fall. Now that we are 1:1 with Chromebooks, the learning opportunities are endless and students’ minds are open to a whole new world. We are even offering our first technology education elective, a computer science class from Project Lead The Way. When I described this class to my students, the response was overwhelming. They ALL wanted to sign up.
We should offer classes like this in all of our schools. But more importantly, we should integrate foundational skills, like solving problems collaboratively and thinking outside the box, throughout our current framework for education.
Some of my math teachers have shifted their thinking just in this way. Last winter, they went to the national math conference and came back with many new ideas to focus more on the process of problem-solving, not just whether or not students can get the right answer.
When we encourage outside-the-box thinking, we help build foundational skills for the future. We need future technologists who can problem-solve, think critically, be creative, work collaboratively and have a growth mindset. We can teach these skills in schools.
We must build into our education system the soft skills that kids need to go on to program computers, code and work in one of the 2.8 million STEM jobs openings predicted for 2018. Focusing on career readiness means focusing on developing the skills that will allow our students to be college and career ready for their futures, not our past.
Naida Grussing-Neitzel is in her first year as an assistant principal at Maple Grove High School. Previously, she was an assistant principal at Valley View Middle School in Bloomington and taught Spanish at Patrick Henry and Robbinsdale Cooper High Schools. She lives with her family (including her former-teacher husband!) in Robbinsdale, and spends her time focusing on educational equity, excellence and achievement for all learners. Naida’s looking forward to sharing ideas on how schools can foster strong relationships—which she believes are the foundation to everything.
The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows' views and opinions are solely their own.