Gone are the days of typewriters and filmstrips. Today’s kids are learning in wired classrooms where new technology and teaching techniques let kids explore the world right at their fingertips. Here’s a look at how kids now have it much better than we did back in the ’80s. And it’s no wonder, Marty McFly already predicted all the great strides we’d be taking in Back to the Future II – of course, we’re still waiting on those self-tying sneakers.
No. 1: Figuring out bibliographies? Buh-bye.
Think back: It’s 1985, You just put the finishing touches on your five-page paper, pounded out meticulously on your new-modeled typewriter, which includes whiteout – no need to add it yourself. Then, you remember that you still need to do the bibliography. For us, pulling together the bibliography could take nearly as long as writing the research paper. You’d have to shuffle through papers to determine whether there was a comma after the book’s title or a period. And it would change – MLA in English class, APA in science class. The differences were maddening, especially when your teacher marked off each one with a red-inked pen. Our kids now use bibliography generators where they enter the information, click a box for the style, and within seconds they’re served up a perfect citation.
No. 2: No more library card catalogs.
Your kids probably have no idea what the little file cabinets in the library are for – that’s if they have them at all. Many libraries have tossed out the wooden file cabinets of yesteryear that held seemingly thousands of tiny yellow-tinged cards that listed books according to the Dewey Decimal System. There was no way to quickly look up a book without a visit to the files. And if the card had somehow disappeared you were out of luck.
To find books at the school library and our neighborhood one, there’s no need to take a class on deciphering the file system – simply do a keyword search, write down the number, and make your way to the stacks. More and more my kids don’t even need to take a trip to the library since the books are available in their entirety online.
No. 3: There’s an app for that.
World geography. Check. Foreign language translation. Check. Graphing calculator. Check. Scientific method. Check.
Whereas we would have had to lug around a heavy backpack full of textbooks to do our homework, our kids can flip from one app to another to look up handy information like the symbol for silicon on the Periodic Table of Elements.
No. 4: Need to chat with your teacher? Send a tweet.
Teachers are more accessible than ever to answers kids’ questions outside of class. Back in the ’80s, if we needed extra homework help, our choices were to corner one of our parents, who may or may not have background in geometry 101; call a friend, that’s if no one else was already using the telephone, and that friend happened to be home; or to wait until the next school day and ask the teacher in person.
My 17-year-old’s English literature teacher encourages her to tweet her questions any time. Her digital arts teachers give out his cell phone number and answers her queries via text – he told all the kids to message him any time.
No. 5: Schools are wired for learning.
Remember those filmstrips we suffered through in school? The ones with the blaring ‘beep’ sound to signal the teacher to move to the next image. The film projectors that followed were only incrementally better especially considering the actors’ lips didn’t match the audio half the time. These snooze fests represented cutting-edge technology in our day.
Today’s schools often have a laptop available for every student and HD screens are hung in many classrooms, so teachers can project interactive lesson plans, videos and reports from students.
No. 6: The world is their classroom.
Our noses were fully entrenched in our textbooks to learn everything from history to current events. And as far as following breaking news topics, we had to rely on whatever came out in the daily paper or the TV news, and that was only, of course, when the news was on at 5 or 10 p.m. Our understanding of the world existed in more of a bubble from the limited information available. No more.
My kids’ teachers encourage them to dig deep into topics, to gather details from a variety of online sources to form their own opinions. These kids understand the world better than we did – they’re more aware of world cultures, peoples and philosophies. And we’re all better for it.