Of The Future

The summer holidays give me an excellent chance to read. The biggest reason why is that I do not have my computer, upon which are the games I have wiled my life away playing.

After finishing ‘The Boy who Harnessed the Wind’ (William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer), I bought ‘Physics of the Future’ by Michio Kaku. This takes a look at what the next 80 or so years could look like in terms of technological advancement. It was written in 2011, and looking through I notice there is already something I disagree with. In 2100 we will wrap wires around our head to telepathically run our home. Wrap wires around our head? Insanity. Facebook is already working on a way to telepathically update our status, the idea that in 83 years time this isn’t miniaturised into something less than the size of a earphone (or at least something we have always on our heads), or integrated into our head is to me laughable. Technology moves fast.

In the 90s this was called a fantastic prize. Now we call it a smartphone.

In the 90s this was called a fantastic prize. Now we call it a smartphone.

As an example, in 2005 the biggest storage drive available was 500 GB, by Hitachi. It was a 3.5” drive and used in desktop computers. Fast forward to now, and the biggest SD card is double that size and way smaller (2 grams vs 650 grams in weight).

So when I read this weeks suggested reading, ‘Edutopia – Shaping Tech for the Classroom’ I was interested in the publication date, 2005. Being old doesn’t mean the theory is, but it does mean the point of views of current practices might be.

One of the parts of the article that is sadly still very true is that of Wikipedia use. Many of my colleagues, past and present, continue to be reluctant to allow students to use Wikipedia. They deem it a poor source as just anybody can change it. There are obviously poor ways to use Wikipedia but to outright not allow students to use it seems to me to be a missed opportunity. For a start it is mostly referenced well, and they do not just allow any sources. This provides students with an opportunity to decide for themselves what counts are reliable or not. Secondly it provides links to most technical words, or background knowledge so you can enlarge the scope of your understanding easily. The Wiki Game is a fun way to see how you can use Wikipedia to see links between different things.

Where the article is best however is its definition of technology use in schools. Its broken down into four categories:

  • Dabbling
  • Doing old things in old ways (Substitution).
  • Doing old things in new ways (Augmentation/Modification).
  • Doing new things in new ways (Redefinition).

This is really the forerunner of the SAMR model (in bold above – introduced in 2006).

SAMR Model

The SAMR model gives an indication of the different levels of technology use in the classroom.

Back in 2005 Edutopia suggests that what most teachers are doing is dabbling. This is where I feel like, at least from my experiences, the article is out of date. I would suggest that most schools now are at least in the Substitution area, doing old things in new ways. Students still take notes, but they do it on a word processor. Students still get worksheets, but they do it electronically. Much of the time there is no difference in what the students do, its just making use of a computer.

Doing old things in new ways is what many teachers I have met are looking for when faced with technology. “How can I do what I am doing, but use a computer to make it better?”. An example in my own classroom is the use of simulations. I use these in order to demonstrate various scientific principles that are either hard to show experimentally or are not good pedagogically from a powerpoint or board drawn description. Another video I saw this week (This will Revolutionise Education) touches on the potential differences in teaching between media types.

The last part is the key to technology use in schools. Computers have opened up for teaching a whole set of tools to help students learn new things in brand new ways. Take for example a series of lessons I developed last year to teach the electricity unit.

The focus here was on student choice. Electricity as a topic can be difficult for some students and often can feel disconnected from their lives, and so I want students to learn things they feel are relevant to them. This also allowed them to take ownership of their own learning.

These are the units students could choose in the Electricity topic. They would pick any 5 units, with the 'Circuits' unit mandatory, and the two on the far right having pre-requisites also.

These are the units students could choose in the Electricity topic. They would pick any 5 units, with the ‘Circuits’ unit mandatory, and the two on the far right having pre-requisites.

The unit comprised of 8 lessons of 80 minutes all of which have roughly the same structure:

  • 5 minutes settler to look at their reflections from how they worked last lessons. They set their own aims for the lessons at this point.
  • 10 minutes starter to face teach any crucial information (this might be how to use the equipment safely, how to use the course website etc). This doesn’t always happen, only when needed.
  • 60 minutes to do whatever they need to do to complete their tasks. They can watch or make videos, podcasts, use social media, use textbooks, ask me, ask friends, experiment, build circuits etc. Whatever they need to do to learn.
  • 10 minutes reflection whereby they use a google form to vlog their work for the day, how well they worked towards their goals and how they think they need to work differently to be more productive next lesson.

Students have to complete a certain number of tasks, each of which has several objectives. How they demonstrate their work varied between making videos on Youtube! to oral descriptions. When they had successfully demonstrated their understanding of the work I would scan a barcode and they would earn some points on ‘Lets Physics That’, our in-house Physics enrichment platform. This leads to earn physical badges that the students can wear.

A screenshot of a student area in Lets Physics That. Students click on the objective to reveal the learning task.

A screenshot of a student area in Lets Physics That. Students click on the objective to reveal the learning task.

This unit is not special in too many ways. The students still learn within in the realm of the Next Gen Science Standards but the use of computers allows them to demonstrate their understanding in ways they couldn’t before. The scope of the course is also such that if it were to be done on paper it would run into hundreds of sheets and become very confusing. Computers help me with the organisation and the speed of administration (over 700 micro assessments in three weeks, with verbal or written feedback is possible because I can do it anywhere I have my laptop), and helps students because instead of being assessed on a written test, they are assessed in many ways. Further, if they are slower learners it makes much less difference than a ‘conventional’ unit– students learn at their own speed.

Edutopia does not make any suggestions really as to what education will look like in 2100, and neither does Michio Kaku. But in an age when DNA is being used to store information, data is being teleported, virtual reality is helping us explore the world and our own minds, brainwaves are being used to restore motion to people with paraplegia, and students are embracing technology more than ever before, I think its safe to say the teachers of the future will be working from a much broader skill set, and with a very different set of tools.


History of hard disk drives. (2017, July 1). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=History_of_hard_disk_drives&oldid=788404487

5 thoughts on “Of The Future

  1. You’ve shared some fascinating information thru the links in your post Alex. I totally agree about Wikipedia. It drives me crazy to hear teachers say they don’t allow kids to use it at all. If nothing else it is a great starting point. I think its a possible barometer of how teachers view and maybe even use tech in the classroom. One time it was not super reliable, but it has changed and improved over time, yet many are still hesitant or stuck in their ways. It is so true that technology changes fast and I don’t necessarily believe that schools have to keep up with every change, but it somewhat worries me that an article from 2005 can still have so much relevance.

    • Yeah, but I don’t think its school and teachers not wanting to change. There is a severe lack of funding for teaching in many countries and tech integration for a school isn’t cheap (even the cheap options). We were just on a tour with some spanish teachers and were shocked to hear how little they get paid in spain. I know how little UK teachers get paid and thats more than many american teachers (Src: people we work with!).

      If the government doesn’t value educators enough to pay them properly, the funds to transform our schools are going to be a long way off 🙁

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  3. Hi Alex,

    Interesting how you structured your post. You started the topic talking about the article from 2005 and used it as a base to show us examples of how you use tech in your class. The way you wrote the post really helped me realize how a good post should be presented to the audience. I’m saying that because I think I’m still struggling with that. It was structured in a nice and linear way.

    Loved the way you scaffolded your lesson in a way your students had the choice and opportunity to explore different topics of their own interest. In addition, your remarks about how you helped yourself to assess the kids it’s also very important. As an elementary school tech integrator, I feel that many times, teachers think I’m going to add more work to their busy schedule. As you said, it’s totally the contrary.


    • Hi Dudley,

      Thanks for the positive comments about the post structure 🙂

      i have found that giving students choice really improves their enthusiasm engaging with the topic. Electronics was a perfect choice for the test because of how widely students tend to engage with the subject. As you can imagine, not all students were too keen – they had to think a bit more about what they wanted to do, and in SEA some students just want to be passive. But even these students got to present in a way they wanted to and so engaged slightly more than they might have done with a linear syllabus.

      It didn’t help the lazy though, and thats a big improvement for this year 😛


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