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How Do We Build an Elementary School for a Digital Era?

By LeaderTalk Contributor — May 09, 2010 1 min read

I recently accepted a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky. What excited me about the position is that the University of Kentucky is in the middle of some big changes. It recently invested $1.5 million over three years on the P20 Innovation Lab. The goal?

Figure out ways to incorporate new technology in teaching; help bridge gaps between what students know when they graduate from high school and what universities and employers expect them to know; and shake up conventional teaching and classroom formats (read more here).

The P20 Innovation Lab is led by Dean Mary John O’Hair who headed up a similar initiative in Oklahoma. This one however seems to be much bigger and much more focused on disrupting the status quo. In a weekly web show called Lab Gab, in episode 7 Justin Bathon posed the question “How do we build an elementary school for a digital era?” Here are some of my thoughts for starters:

- Revise the goal of elementary schools. Is this the 6 years kids learn to memorize, socialize to school norms, and in essence experience status quo or are these the building blocks to innovative thinking, learning to learn, and learning to navigate digital technologies in a way that fosters innovative thinking?

-Reframe the role of the teacher. Folks worry when you talk of technology because they fear it will replace the teacher. Teachers will not be replaced with technology....BUT the role of the teacher will change. Teachers need to be comfortable with ambiguity and essentially navigating learning experiences that are foreign to them.

-Schools need to honor and thank teachers who fail when being innovative. Our current system rewards maintaining status quo (i.e., doing well on standardized tests which, by the way, I maintain does have value). How do we reward those teachers who shake things up?

-Give students access to 21st Century digital technologies. One-to-one laptop initiatives are a great start, but the expectation that laptops should increase achievement is too narrow of an expectation. Laptops give many more benefits that simply are not currently measured.

So the question remains....How do we build an elementary school for a digital era?

Jayson W. Richardson

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.