The public has spoken, and 88 percent of voters believe schools need to incorporate 21st-century skills into their curricula. Reporting on the poll, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills1 (P21) cited another study that found employers believe today’s graduates are “woefully ill-prepared” in both basic and applied skills, such as strategic thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and professionalism. Joining the chorus are educators, researchers, and thought leaders who say the United States must revamp its approach to education or face a serious threat to its global competitiveness.
A leading advocacy group, P21 reveals2 that in recent decades the U.S. economy has made a dramatic shift from an industrial, manufacturing base to a service economy powered by information and knowledge. In fact, in the 30 years from 1967 to 1997, information services grew from 36 percent to 56 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Along with this economic transition has come a major change in the job market. From 1995 to 2005, the U.S. economy lost 3 million manufacturing jobs and created 17 million service-sector jobs—many of which are high-paying jobs that require highly skilled employees. What’s more, in recent years companies have changed how they organize, pushing more responsibility to workers and asking them to contribute to increased productivity and innovation.
So, what does all this mean for education?
The new paradigm
We need to teach our students—tomorrow’s workers and leaders—a new set of skills. Adaptability, complex problem solving, effective oral and written communications, creative thinking, computer and technology skills, and self-direction are but a few of the 21st-century skills that are critical to future success. But this doesn’t mean we can neglect basic skills such as reading, writing, math, and science. On the contrary, students can—and must—master both in concert … and new technologies can help.
Understanding the learning process
Before determining how best to prepare our students, we must first look at the ideal learning process. If we can accelerate the cycle of learning, and provide teachers with instant feedback on student comprehension, then we can improve educational outcomes. So, what are the typical steps to learning in a 21st-century classroom? According to SMART Technologies, there are four: creating lessons, teaching students, learning new material, and assessing student understanding.
We know we can’t keep managing the classroom the same way we always have. Students learn best by doing, and by taking an active role in their own education—not by serving as passive vessels for the transfer of information.
In the ideal 21st-century learning scenario, teachers would collaborate with students—regardless of their individual achievement levels—to guide their understanding of basic skills such as reading, writing, math, and science, while also fostering 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, oral and written communications, and collaboration. The traditional teacher-centric model, with the instructor standing at the front of the room and students sitting passively at desks, must give way to a fully engaged classroom operating at a pace and creating a buzz not normally found in traditional classrooms—complete with a hands-on, project-based approach to instruction.
Technology at the head of the class
How can educators transition to this kind of 21st-century teaching and learning system, in which students are preparing to live, work, compete, and succeed in the new global economy? Technology is a key facilitator.
As a leader in providing tools that help people collaborate and learn, SMART Technologies is taking a bold new step toward accelerating the learning cycle. Best known for its innovative, easy-to-use interactive whiteboard technology, SMART has introduced a breakthrough family of products—called the SMART Classroom Suite—designed to optimize teacher-student exchanges and boost learning outcomes.
“As a leading educational technology product developer, SMART has over 20 years of [experience] developing and selling products that enhance teaching and learning. We have listened closely to educators around the world and have developed a suite of software products to meet their needs,” says Nancy Knowlton, SMART’s Chief Executive Officer. “The processes of lesson delivery, student content authoring, formative and summative assessment, and classroom management have become core activities in today’s computer-enabled classrooms. We recognized that teachers required a solution to help link disparate pieces of technology in the classroom. The SMART Classroom Suite harnesses the power of four SMART software products to offer educators an integrated teaching and learning system.”
A ‘suite’ solution
The SMART Classroom Suite furnishes the software tools that teachers need to increase their productivity and students need to successfully navigate the learning cycle. In a traditional classroom setting, educators typically struggle to keep their students interested and involved. As educators work to meet individual students’ needs, other students in the class often wait idly until whole-class instruction resumes.
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Now, there’s an alternative. Designed specifically for use in computer-enabled classrooms on either wired or wireless networks, the SMART Classroom Suite offers seven key advantages:
- Enhances teacher productivity;
- Fosters student engagement and collaboration;
- Offers pedagogical flexibility for whole-class, small-group, or individualized instruction;
- Features assessment mechanisms to improve student outcomes
- Installs with ease in one step for teachers and for students
- Includes professional development and ongoing support for teachers and students; and
- Leverages existing IT investments for improved technology ROI.