Rabbi David Etengoff
Educational reform has been the hue and cry of generations of educational stakeholders. Each group has suggested ways to improve the system so that students will be able to effectively acquire the knowledge and information deemed necessary to navigate the world in which we live. Until recently, however, almost no one has rethought, reimagined, and reconceived of a new kind of educational experience wherein “the students are empowered to be active agents in their own learning.” (Dr. Richard Elmore, Harvard School of Education)
Sir Kenneth Robinson has noted in numerous articles, books, and lectures that attempting to educate today’s young people in the same manner as the past leads to bored, alienated and disenfranchised students. Case in point: I once saw a video at an ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference wherein a high school junior poignantly declared: “School is a great place to rest, when I walk in the door, I leave my mind, digital tools, and creativity behind. I am not allowed to create, and I am only expected to absorb.” Clearly, its time to “think different,” so we may craft, and implement, fundamentally new educational modalities to enable our students to take their rightful place in the ever-changing economic and intellectual climates of the 21st century. At the same time, as Jewish educators, we need to instruct our children in a manner that will foster a life-long commitment to, and passion for, Torah, Halacha, and Medinat Yisrael.
Michelle Shearer, the 2011 National Teacher of the Year, identifies the “Five C’s” as representing the basis for students obtaining a zest for learning and the essentials of learning to learn: content, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creative problem solving. I believe that digital literacy is a key component in the acquisition of this knowledge and skill set. In addition, and as noted by Salman Khan, the creator of Khan Academy, the planful deployment of intelligently conceived educational technology tools has the potential to “humanize the classroom by a factor of five or ten,” and facilitates the possibility of “valuable human teacher time.” In order to achieve these goals, we must be ready to construct and nurture blended learning environments, flipped classrooms, and project-based learning.
The challenges are many, yet the potential reward is truly great: the possibility of fostering the growth and development of a new generation of passionately engaged, creative, and divergent-thinking life-long Torah and General Studies learners who will become true leaders in the new world of the 21st century.