Scott Kinney has nearly 25 years of experience in the fields of professional learning and educational technology, and currently serves as Discovery Education Senior Vice President of Educational Partnerships.
One of my many high school memories is learning the Pythagorean Theorem. I very clearly remember my teacher standing at the front of the classroom, math book in hand, reading, “The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides of the triangle,” then scribbling the formula across the blackboard. Following that introduction, we were instructed to open our textbooks and tackle two pages of practice problems quietly at our desks.
As a student who enjoyed math, I was initially curious to learn about the Pythagorean Theorem, but I completely lost interest within the first few minutes of that lesson. I could not in any way imagine how this content could be applicable to me at any stage of my life. Who spends their time measuring triangles?
Needless to say, my less than enthusiastic response to the Pythagorean Theorem was most distressing to my mother, who was, by the way, also my math teacher.
Today, we know much more about designing effective instruction, and teachers and students have more instructional resource options than ever before. However, too many students are still in the same situation I was years ago — disengaged from learning. To change this, three things need to happen.
1. Students must have access to digital content that engages them in problems worth solving
Educational technologies and digital content have tremendous potential to intellectually engage students and support the academic achievement of all types of learners in ways previously unavailable to educators. Imagine a classroom where students are collaboratively using digital tools to measure the height of a mountain in order to coordinate a rescue operation aimed at saving a fictional group of climbers trapped at the summit.
The latest generation of digital textbooks, like Discovery Education’s own Math Techbook, combine different types of digital content with authentic problems worth solving, creating new opportunities to engage all learners. Publishers need to continue to provide school systems with high-quality, rigorously-evaluated and properly vetted digital services that are factually correct, current, appropriate for students, and properly aligned to state and national standards.
2. Provide ongoing professional learning experiences for educators directly related to their evolving classroom practice
Research tells us educators need sustained, job-embedded professional development to continue evolving their classroom practice. If education stakeholders want to fully realize the return on the technology investments being made in school systems nationwide, teachers must have more professional development to successfully integrate new technologies into instruction and develop innovative lessons that leverage technology to support the success of all learners.
3. Ensure the sustainability of digital learning initiatives
As publishers continue their work to improve the instructional materials being used in classrooms, elected officials and policymakers at every level nationwide must increase their efforts to get high-quality digital content and educational technologies into the hands of teachers and students. In the last few years, public policy across the country has decisively moved to enable the creation of modern learning environments. However, additional work remains to ensure that sustainable strategies and funding sources are in place to aid future digital learning initiatives.
From immersive virtual field trips to digital formative assessments, and from blended in-person and virtual communities of practice to new, video-based teacher coaching tools, technology is shaping and reshaping education in profound ways. However, without the continued efforts of content publishers, education leaders, and policymakers, real-world and relevant learning experiences will remain the exception rather than the rule. Today, we have the means to make the Pythagorean Theorem as exciting to today’s students as it was to the Babylonian and Greek mathematicians who first applied its proofs to mathematics. Let’s take the steps to do so!