21st century students learn very differently than any other group in educational history. One of the most striking differences in learning styles stems from the fact that kids today use technology to participate in every aspect of their lives; to communicate with each other, to learn new things, to share experiences with other people, and to build relationships and skill sets that transcend the halls of high school.
Students today also wrestle with a lack of relevancy in the curriculum content and methodologies taught in today’s high schools. Often, students struggle to understand how traditional content will ultimately affect their lives since it is delivery methods are outdated and unsatisfying. Students surveyed at a Colorado Springs high school commented that they have an overwhelming amount of homework each night, which they consider it to be “busy work “and unproductive. And yet, despite having a copious amount homework assigned, many students still struggle with the challenges of college. According to the 2016 CSBR STEM panel, “30 % of students drop out in the first 2 years of college because they are not trained to handle the rigorous curriculum”.
Lastly, most students are not typically offered experiential work opportunities while attending high school. This Work to learn gap delays the development of many of students’ deeper learning skills as well as their life transition or soft skills. It has been noted that many employers, both locally and globally, are now looking to hire incoming talent with a solid balance of traditionally recognized hard skills and more emotional intelligence driven soft skills. We as educators need to provide students with solid externship/internships and mentoring opportunities with local academic and industry leaders in order to prepare them for a successful future.
Students that we interviewed were more than happy to express their thoughts about their experience in high school. Overall we see that students today are so much more abreast to what is going on in the world then their parents were at the same age. The era of readily available information in when they grew up in makes them more focused on looking for relevance in the overwhelming magnitude of content then just seeking for answers. The grounding of knowledge to what they can physically put their hands was the largest theme in their responses. In years past when our education systems was created it filled in the gaps needed in a mostly physical world. The needs in a physical world was to train students to move away from the literal-tangible and learn theory and conceptualization. The new era will need to reverse that focus, our students need to filter out and ground the relevant information.
To get a realistic idea of what high school kids think of their own learning experiences the Super Stem Academy team surveyed and interviewed students both on a local high school campus and at a robotics club event . Both groups of students were given questions that challenged them to think of their current experiences as well as what they hope their future will be and any impact that they believe they will be able to make on the world.
While many aspects of high school were mentioned , a few stood out as being more influential in helping students decide whether their overall experience is positive or negative. Subject and content relevancy , teacher content knowledge and support , peer relationships and social pressure, school culture , and learning styles and content delivery methodologies contribute to a student’s motivation to learn and grow.
All of these facets of the educational system can have long term effects on a student’s current learning experience as well as the development of their future aspirations.
As we have learned through this discovery process, high school students learn in a variety of ways and they desire a challenging and engaging environment that allows them to pursue their goals with the support of passionate and knowledgeable teachers.
Keeping kids motivated to learn is key and we can do that by providing a more holistic learning experience; by offering a project based curriculum that demonstrates content relevancy, by bridging multiple subjects together so there is cohesion in learning, and by diversifying teaching methodologies within a subject to reach all students.
Students love to learn new things and as educators we need to embrace their different learning styles. Not all students learn only one way and as they grow and develop, there learn styles can change as their interests develop into new directions. Allowing students to utilize an Individualized Learning program can help them develop at the speed and level of mastery that suits their needs, rather than the needs of a select few or the group as a whole.
Most importantly, teachers and adult mentors need to be cognizant of student’s natural abilities and interests. Without encouragement and guidance, students can lose interest, become disengaged or be steered down a path that limits their future potential. By sharing their passion in a subject and getting involved , educators can light the fire for learning that many students never even knew they had.