Rethinking the Curriculum

By 11/21/2014 Think Tank

Wise integration of our evolving and powerful technology demands that we rethink our curriculum. What are the capabilities that make the human mind unique—such as empathy and passion—for which people should always be employed? What do machines do far better than humans—such as calculations and simulations—for which technology should be employed as much as possible? Now that kids are routinely exposed to increasingly sophisticated information online, what’s an “age-appropriate” curriculum? What subject matter from the past is still relevant, and for whom?

In these digital times, is it still worthwhile to teach students how to write by hand, calculate in their heads, read, and define words and concepts—that is, most of the elementary school curriculum? Or is that like teaching kids how to hunt for their food? That was useful—once. We say we want kids to think, act, and relate effectively in their future. But many of the “new” Common Core State Standards serve only the needs of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Suppose we were to rethink our curriculum from zero, without any preconceived notions of what was important, caring only about students’ future needs. In a world where you can point a scanner at any text and hear it read to you at any speed in any language, in an age when more and more ideas are distributed only on screens, do we still need to teach reading the way we do now? Or should we teach it using machines that can also read the words aloud and instantly link to related topics? In a world where machines can do calculations faster than any person ever could, do we still need the kind of math we currently teach? Or should we teach with tools like calculators and spreadsheets, which require students to focus on setting up the problem correctly, with the computation part done by the machine?

In a world where humans are becoming overwhelmed by volume, do students still need to practice composing long essays—or should they learn to powerfully condense their thoughts into pithy paragraphs and tweets? Far too many people still wrongly associate length with depth. One of my favorite challenges is to have students summarize in one sentence the essence of whatever book they’re reading. Most can’t do this—or can’t do it well—because we don’t emphasize conciseness. Although it certainly doesn’t cover everything in the work, the tweet “Romeo and Juliet is an ironic, poetic, and emotional look at how misunderstandings and societal problems can turn innocent love into tragedy” reveals a depth of understanding. So can an excellent aphorism or haiku.

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Marc Prensky

Founder & Executive Director at The Global Future Education Foundation and Institute
Marc Prensky is an American writer and speaker on learning and education. He is best known as the inventor and popularizer of the terms "Digital Native" and "Digital Immigrant" which he described in a 2001 article in "On the Horizon". He is the author of Digital Game-Based Learning (McGraw-Hill 2001), Don't Bother Me Mom – I'm Learning (Paragon House 2006), Teaching Digital Natives (Corwin Press 2010), From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning (2012), BRAIN GAIN: Technology and the Quest for Digital Wisdom (2012), and over 60 essays on learning and education. Marc Prensky is also a designer of learning games, and a well-known expert in the use of games in education.