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Leveraging Emerging Trends to Produce Future-Ready Students

A Q&A with FETC presenter Sylvia Martinez

FETC presenter Sylvia Martinez is co-author of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering the Classroom, an advocate for student-centered project-based learning with an emphasis on STEAM for all, and principal advisor to the Columbia University FabLearn Fellows, a group of global educators researching and developing hands-on, minds-on projects and curriculum. At FETC, she’ll be presenting on a number of key topics, including makerspaces, design thinking, bio-making and bio-hacking, and preparing students for the 4th industrial revolution.  

To preview some of the innovative ideas she’ll be sharing at the conference, Martinez will present an Edchat Interactive webinar, Education Practices for the 4th Industrial Revolution, on Tuesday, October 22, at 8 pm ET. She’ll share some of the emerging trends in K-12 education, what they look like in the real world, and how they will impact students.

In this brief Q&A, Martinez shared insights on the key emerging trends in schools, thoughts on technologies like AR and AI, and classroom practices that are working best to leverage this tech. Read on for an introduction to some of the ideas you can expect to explore in her webinar and FETC session.

If you could only choose one emerging trend in K-12 education that every educator should know about, what would it be and why?

The recent advances in the area of physical computing make it something that can be introduced into classrooms in every grade level and subject area. Physical computing is the intersection of the digital world and the physical world. It incorporates things like robotics, but goes much further to include all kinds of things like wearable technology, understanding sensors, collecting and interpreting real world data, and more. Students who are interested in any subject, not just STEM subjects, can investigate physical computing projects that support their interests. New microcontrollers like the BBC micro:bit, combined with new easier to use software make building computer-enhanced inventions easier and more affordable than ever.

Allowing students to invent and be creative with technology does not mean that we favor technology above all other means of expression. We are simply adding tools to the creativity toolbox. If we believe, for example, that puppet shows are good (and they are), why shouldn’t the puppets have eyes that light up, or sensors that trigger sound effects, or have an AI module embedded in them? These opportunities invite all kinds of students to express themselves and make meaning in the world.

For technologies like AR, AI, adaptive computing, robotics,and other emerging tech, what is the key to making them relevant in education? In other words, how do we make sure they are enhancing learning instead of distracting from it?

New technology innovations will be adopted in one of two very different ways by schools. In some schools these innovations will be used to deliver old lessons with new bells and whistles. However, if new technologies possess educational “nutritional value,” it is incumbent upon us to find ways to use the new gizmos to expand what students can do. Using AI in a Scratch program you write, or building your own AR or VR simulation is enhancing learning. Using AI or VR to deliver a lesson, grade a quiz, or make a virtual frog pop out of a textbook is not.

The challenge is for schools to keep offering students real and relevant experiences and not fall back into ingrained habits. The focus needs to be on what students do, not what we do to students. Educators who have embraced technology can say “yes, and” to new things that are entrancing schools while keeping the focus on student-centered constructive creativity. 

What is one classroom practice you’ve observed that is working especially well to leverage emerging trends for the benefit of students?

Using students as tech leaders and mentors has enormous benefits in classrooms. One of the issues that educators face when introducing emerging technology into the classroom is the simple fact that there is a lot to learn, and it seems that technology changes so fast that there is never enough time! This may lead to procrastination hoping that someday it will all settle down and there will be time to figure it all out before introducing it to students. Unfortunately that day may never come.

Teaching students to become mentors for peers or near-peers offers tremendous benefits to all involved. Mentoring is a tried and true practice that helps both the mentors and the mentees. Students who are mentors learn confidence and become leaders in their schools. Teachers benefit from not having to be experts in everything, handing off responsibility to students. This also walks the talk of student empowerment and encourages the idea that invention and creativity come from everywhere and everyone in the school community.

Register here for the Edchat Interactive webinar, Education Practices for the 4th Industrial Revolution

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This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit
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