Engaging the 21st Century Student

Marc Prensky at NJECC 9/19/08
Marc Prensky at NJECC 9/19/08

I had the pleasure of listening to Marc Prensky present at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of NJECC yesterday.

If you remember, Mr. Prensky was not feeling well when he arrived at NJECC’s Annual Conference last March and had to be taken to the hospital. After he was feeling better, he graciously offered to come back and keynote the organizations anniversary celebration which was held in Montclair State University’s 7th floor Ballroom. We had a gorgeous view of the University campus.

Marc challenged the audience with four questions asking volunteers to take a turn at the microphone to make one-minute statements about each of the following questions.
1. Are today’s students different?
2. What should our students know?
3. How should we teach them?
4. Is technology in class a help or a curse?

After listening to the audience volunteers, Mr. Prensky told us that In order to answer the first question we must first ask ourselves: Are people shaped by their environment? The 21st Century environment is all about change. Since technology is moving so quickly, we have to learn to deal with change on a regular bases. We need to learn to deal with the speed and magnitude of change. We used to have a good handle on what was developmentally appropriate for students. As students have access to more technology, they are exposed to more information. Students come to school with a larger knowledge base than they used to, yet they are still emotionally only capable of handling so much. So change means that the nature of education is changing. Prensky showed the audience the “A Vision of Students Today” video from Kansas State University.

With regard to the second question, Mr. Prensky spoke of teaching students skills and not tools. He referred back to the speed of change we discussed in the first question. Our students will be better prepared for their future if they have skills since the tools become outdated so quickly. He listed the following skills as being important and that “curriculum deletion” might be an option at this point.

  1. Teach students how to follow their passions
  2. Teach students about knowing the right thing to do
  3. Teach them about getting it done
  4. Teach students about getting things done with others
  5. Teach them about doing it creatively
  6. And finally, teach students about constantly doing things better

He recommended reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R Covey and spent a minute talking about why the book was on the NY Times best Seller list and then really urged the audience to read it.

The third question was responded to with another question. Is the time of the lecture over? Marc spoke about “A New Paradigm for Learning” where kids are teaching themselves with the teacher’s guidance. Children are already doing this outside of the school day. He quoted Albert Einstein who said “I never try to teach my students anything. I only try to create an atmosphere in which they can learn.”

Finally, as Marc began his conclusion, he asked us about the fourth question. He said that technology does not support the current way we teach. (I’m sure he was referring to a certain part of the teaching population and not those of use who are student-centered visionaries teaching our students skills and not tools.)

The answer to the fourth question was to let our students fly with it. Let them do the work and our job is to evaluate it. They are the researchers when it comes to the technology, so there is no need for us to create anything, but give them the time to figure it out themselves. This is the model of teaching that we should be striving for from now on.

Lisa Thumann, Marc Prensky and Ned Davis
From Left to right: Lisa Thumann, Marc Prensky and Ned Davis

Many of us Twittered throughout the day. Sharing our thoughts, ideas and comments on Mr. Prensky’s remarks and I was very interested in my PLN’s @replies. I was reminded of the remarks that were made after Prensky’s sessions at BLC08 this past July.

I enjoyed listening to Marc Prensky yesterday. He gave me a lot of food for thought. Though I was Twittering, and taking notes in a Google Doc, and taking the occasional picture, I was playing close attention to what he had to say and to the response of the audience. Take a look at the Doc if you’d like. It also includes my notes from the afternoon session (I apologize for not neatening things up, but it’s Saturday and I have a pretty lengthy to-do list [see previous post].) I’d be happy to discuss any of the four questions with you in more detail here, on Twitter or face-to-face. Just remember, like most people, I have a case of selective listening. I heard what I wanted to hear, most likely.  I probably focused on writing  the parts I agreed with the most.

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4 thoughts on “Engaging the 21st Century Student

  1. teachthemasses says:

    It’s getting harder to inspire students with simple ”love of learning” these days, but I think a lot still has to do with their cultural background.

  2. Mr. Le-Grand says:

    Very concise,precise,and eclectic portrayal of the ideal for the 21st century.Thank you Mr Marc Prensky

  3. Jared Wolff and Nicholas Dragone says:

    I think students today are a lot different than the students of the past. Textbooks are not what the student what do learn from, the students want to be interactive. Ipads, Chrome Books, and other things can make their learning interactive.

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