Delaware News

Conversation replaces memorization in classroom

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

In the Delaware City School District, leaders are working to make sure 21st-century skills isn't just a catchphrase, but a new way of designing the classroom environment.

Ric Stranges, principal at Delaware Hayes High School, said teachers are moving away from the lecture-style classroom to a more "student-driven" learning environment.

When Stranges goes into a classroom, he's looking to see students actively taking part in the learning process by participation and collaborating with the teacher and their fellow students, he said.

"Passive learning is a thing of the past," Stranges said. "Students need to be active participants in their education. Teachers have become more coaches and facilitators than just lecturers."

Stranges said when district leaders first heard the phrase 21st-century skills, they began to define what that means.

"It's not just technology ... it's an entirely new way of thinking," he said. "We are training our children to be able to do jobs that haven't even been created yet. The world is a much different place today than it was years ago."

Stranges said teachers are trying to help students think in new ways, focusing on critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, communication and collaboration.

"Our students will not be competing for jobs within their own community," he said. "They're competing with individuals from India and China."

When Stranges taught American history to students years ago, he said, he instructed students using only books and whatever knowledge he had in his head.

Now that information and facts are readily available online, learning is about interpreting those facts and using critical thinking to analyze them, he said.

Stranges said when students have the information, they need instruction on what to do with it.

"Previously, we would teach the students about yellow journalism during World War II and the fact that it happened," he said. "Now, students are creating their own slanted journalism about the war in Afghanistan as a way to learn how the media can influence mindsets."

The way teachers assign homework has changed as well. Instead of having students complete worksheets at home, teachers now have them listen to a lecture or demonstration online.

Then when they come in the next day, the class will have an open discussion about what they watched, Stranges said.

"We are coming up with new ways to prepare our students for college and their careers," he said. "It's an exciting time to be an educator. Our students need to be creative problem-solvers if they're going to compete with students internationally."

Of course, students still need to learn the basics, he said, as many countries are bypassing the United States in their math and science skills.

"Students are still learning the basics in the classrooms," Stranges said, "but all the classrooms, not just our technology classes, are embedding the instruction of these very important skills."

Stranges said many businesses and even families are counting on the schools to help develop these 21st-century skills in their students.

"Knowing the basics used to be enough. You would learn anything else you needed to learn once you're out in the world," he said. "Not any more. We're giving students the tools they need to work and live in the world. We're teaching them new ways to think and new ways to work."