I came across an interesting blog post about things that will (hopefully?) become obsolete in education in the next decade. Here are my thoughts on a few.

1. Desks
One of the few frustrating parts of teaching chemistry is the layout of the room. As much as I try to incorporate group and whole-class collaboration and inquiry-driven pedagogy, there is the physical barrier that separates the board (“teacher-zone”) and the rest of the classroom (“student-zone”): the demo bench.  What would a 21st century chemistry classroom look like? I like the Harkness table, but would it be as compatible with science and math as it is with humanities? I would be interested in seeing  how it works at prep schools like Exeter.

A biology classroom at Phillips Exeter Academy
A biology classroom at Phillips Exeter Academy

2. Language Labs

As someone who is re-learning spanish using iPod apps, I definitely agree that the way we learn languages will change forever. As much as I loved Destinos, I’ve never been able to speak conversational Spanish well until now.

3. Computers and 8. Paperbacks (How about all print books?)

As disappointed underwhelmed as I was with the iPad announcement, its potential to change the way we communicate and obtain information is undeniable. Beyond textbook PDFs, I’m imaging a fully-customized digital text, with web-links, integrated wikis for class notes, and videos. The textbook industry will either adapt or be driven out by individualized, teacher- prepared course content.

4. Homework

Homework is certainly a controversial topic among educators. The biggest question we need to ask ourselves is what the purpose of homework is supposed to be. Generally in chemistry, its main purpose is to provide an opportunity to practice solving problems related to class work. If, however, it is truly meant as practice, how can we justify assigning a grade to it?  If we don’t assign a grade to it, what motivation is there for students to do it?

5. The Role of Standardized Tests in College Admissions

I will be first in line to wave goodbye to the AP sciences. I think a better way to truly prepare students for college is to give them an opportunity to explore advanced topics in depth, through study and through long-term experimental work. Can you imagine how many more of our kids would be interested in pursuing careers in the sciences if they realized that science was so much more than memorizing facts and standardized tests?

7. Fear of Wikipedia

Students have learned that Wikipedia is a very useful place to find information. Its teachers who are afraid. As a science teacher, I am most intrigued by Wolfram|Alpha, which is a new, very powerful computational search engine. It is extremely useful for comparing and contrasting mountains of information between different elements and compounds, (as a lab prep person) calculating values for solution preparation.  At the same time, I am hesitant to fully embrace it in the classroom, as it also solves algebra and calculus  (and more advanced) math problems with step-by-step solutions. I am somewhat afraid to cause issues with our very traditional math department. My question for the next few years is what role should these very valuable tools play in our teaching/student’s learning?

12. Centralized Institutions

The growth and increasing legitimacy of online-learning certainly brings the necessity of physical schools into question, but I don’t imagine this will change much in 10 years.

16. Current Curricular Norms

As long as school is treated as a means to an end (college), rather than a place to nurture a genuine love of learning, the curricular norms will be driven by what colleges expect. I think if administrators and the department of education has any say, changes in K-12 curriculum will lag a change in college expectations by at least a decade. Many teachers, however, are willing to embrace that sort of change right now.

17. Parent-Teacher Conference Night

My school does not have parent-teacher conferences. Generally, we only see parents once a year, usually in a “Back-to-School” night type of event.  It doesn’t seem as relevant at the high school level.

18. Typical Cafeteria Food

Our school has very good food. I hope this doesn’t change! But the cafeteria food from my childhood is a different story. Cardboard pizza and soggy french fries were the highlight of my week once.

20. High School Algebra I

I hope so.

21. Paper

I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to the traditional science lab notebook, but more than ready to get rid of worksheets, handouts, and textbooks.

3 thoughts on “Things that will become obsolete by 2020 (@teachpaperless)”

  1. Hi

    Really awesome to read this. I am currently working with a Shuttleworth Foundation seeded project called Siyavula. We have produced high school science and maths texts for the South African curriculum that have proved useful to many teachers, even outside of South Africa. What we are currently doing now with the books is to integrate rich media (videos, presentations and simulations) into them, to help guide teachers through the use of technology. This blog post was really awesome to read, as we at Siyavula are passionate about changing the way education is done and looking to integrate more technology into the classroom as well as increase learner-teacher interaction.

  2. I really like your vision. I’m currently working on something that is hopefully a step in the right direction. For example, say you want to do some organic chemistry practice problems. Instead of checking the back of the book to see if you got the correct answer, you click the problem and are taken to a video of someone solving the problem.

    LOL @ high school algebra I 🙂

    1. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t understand the anathema towards high school algebra 1. Is it that you believe that Algebra 1 should be mastered by the end of middle school? Or that Algebra could be taught only once, at the algebra 2 level? Or that algebra is useless in a WolframAlpha world? Or something else?

      As a tutor, I am glad of high school algebra, not only because it keeps me in business, but because it is a great excuse to practice some intensely useful skills that are necessary for science (which is my background). Skills such as the ability to abstract information and then find concrete examples to demonstrate that abstraction can be practiced when graphing lines, interpreting word problems, and writing word problems. (This skill is also necessary to designing good experiments) The skill of making reasonable assumptions can be practiced by interpreting real situations and turning them into equations or algorithms.(This skill is necessary for making reasonable hypotheses, and if more economists were good at it, the housing crash may never have happened.). Okay, maybe these awesome skills aren’t emphasized in a typical algebra class, but they could be (check out Dan Meyers’ awesome blog.

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