Art Abelmann: A new era in education |

Art Abelmann: A new era in education

Art Abelmann
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

How many of us knew 14 years ago, when this year’s graduating class was just starting their own kindergarten experience, where we would be today or what the education issues facing us would be?

In the 1996-97 school year, did anyone imagine that most every student would be online at home and/or in school? Did anyone think that students would come to school with hand-held tools that would allow them to call and text each other as well as classmates around the globe?

How about the smaller-than-credit-card-sized devices that hold 500 songs, fit in your pocket and have ear pieces that could double as jewelry? Did any educator think about that? Of course we can add in Skype and the power to see each other and communicate face to face from miles away; or even more simply those students could present themselves on Facebook in amazingly creative and sometimes inappropriate ways. In addition, where was online learning when today’s seniors were learning everything they needed to know while in kindergarten?

How fortunate to be working in the field of education during these most unique and exciting times. Never before in the history of our educational system have we been faced with so many challenges and yet so many opportunities at once. The challenges are presented in numerous forms, perhaps the most obvious being funding. Let’s not allow ourselves to focus our energies solely on this burdensome issue. Better we share the unique challenges and opportunities facing the students who will graduate in 2011, as well as those who began kindergarten last week and will graduate in 2024.

So, here we are in 2010. Our schools, for the most part, are similar in design to the look they had many years ago. The school calendar and daily schedule are pretty much intact since the days of the Model T; and yet at the fingertips of students, teachers, parents and counselors are so many amazing pieces of technology that only 14 years ago we were just at the tip of the iceberg in our understanding of their applications.

What this says is that for the first time the classroom teacher has the opportunity to change the manner in which information can be presented to students. How information is presented to students is changing the significance of the relationship that each educator shares with his or her student.

Many of the subject matters are the same. We still teach French and physics as well as algebra and English. Yet, the methodology in which they are taught – and certainly some of the curriculum itself – is vastly different than what was being printed in textbooks just 14 years ago.

If you teach biology and don’t have a grasp of the DNA breakthroughs that are popping up every day, you might as well be riding in that Model T mentioned earlier. French, a beautiful and historically valuable language, is being threatened by the online choices available for our students to learn Mandarin or Arabic and many other languages, thanks to brand new and vastly growing online educational programs. One can even attend and graduate from high school without going to school. You can take more classes electronically than any one high school could offer in its own building. Was this part of the plan for kindergarten students 14 years ago?

Today’s choices create both challenges and opportunities for our students and educators alike. Students are used to instantaneous access to each other, to information, to entertainment and more. With the single stroke of a keypad we are changing subjects, who we are speaking with, what we are listening to and even what we are watching.

Waiting patiently to finish a show, song, conversation or lesson is not part of a teen’s world. Don’t like it, bored, not willing to wait for the ending, simply push a button and you are now where you want to be, which is different than where you wanted to be just 30 seconds before.

Imagine the impact this has within the classroom setting. Should material be presented similarly in form to the classroom setting of yesteryear? Oh, yes, we have smart boards and present subjects with the bells and whistles of the Internet, and students use laptops and go online, which is all an energizing way to increase student engagement, but what will we be working with in 2024 when those 5-year-olds are seniors?

As important as the technology is to learning, of equal value is investigating the relevance of the relationship between the teacher and the student and how such role modeling will help overcome the challenges and maximize student opportunities for the future. As this monthly contribution to the Times continues, so will the commentary on the issues mentioned and others yet to be explored. Stay tuned to sharing these challenges and opportunities together.

Art Abelmann is the new principal of Aspen High School. With more than 20 years of classroom and administrative experience in both public and private high schools, he will be writing a monthly commentary in The Aspen Times on his observations and experiences in his role as principal at Aspen High.

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