Classrooms of the Future to be Technologically Thinner

Respected School District CTO Traci Bonde contends that tomorrow's classroom will feature less hardware and more personal interaction between teachers and students.

This is part 2 of a 2-part series. Read part 1 here.

Traci Bonde, CTO for the Dublin Unified School District in the San Francisco area, has speculated that the classroom of the future might actually cost less to equip, run and maintain compared with current day classrooms. But in addition to a likely drop in overhead, the classroom of the future could also reduce lost instructional time. “Teachers, custodians, parents and principals spend too much time fussing with the technology in their classrooms, trying to make it work, and that ends up, bottom line, becoming a loss of instructional time,” she says.

Technical difficulties in today's classroom are all-too-common realities that often derail a lesson plan and compel improvisation that sucks valuable time and adversely impacts effectiveness. “This is what I’m pushing in my school district,” says Bondi.

She would like to see schools spend all or a majority of their funds on Wi-Fi, “because that's the next hot commodity.” Bondi believes Wi-Fi will creates opportunities for students to bring their own hardware, such as a watch connected to a smartphone in their pockets that allows them to watch videos or for texting. “I think, it's a better use of time and energy on the part of our school districts,” she says.

It’s a bold vision that Bondi is embracing, one that will involve fundamental changes to the way educators approach their work. “As you’re aware with Common Core — and it was like this with prior standards; it’s been like this for a very long time — the day is broken down into minutes. I think the classroom of tomorrow will be much more fluid, and, hopefully, if all of us in education gain a basic, fundamental understanding of how projects work, project-based Learning could be quite the pathway for teachers to take,” she says.

As an alternative to the traditional secondary “period schedule,” divided subject by subject, she suggests that students be assigned multi-subject projects. This would allow for possible teacher lecturing, but time would be built in to work collaboratively with students. “You could maybe have crowd sourcing opportunities with students from other buildings,” suggests Bondi, “because we have that great, inexpensive potential now also. It just opens up the classroom far beyond the subject matter expert (approach) that we have seen historically with the classroom teacher.” 

These changes would clearly represent a major difference in the structure of secondary teachers' day, and though it isn’t always instantly and gladly embraced, Bondi believes this kind of shift could transform education in a very positive manner. “Once teachers let go — and that’s a big piece of what we’re struggling with now as an industry, letting go of prior expectations and prior experiences — there will be so much opportunity for teachers to partner and collaborate across departments and to create capsules where students can explore topics and pursue areas of interest and still get through the Algebra II curriculum,” she says. “Maybe it’s not two and a half hours of students sitting and writing out their math problems, a common process in today’s math classrooms. Maybe it’s working on a project related to Algebra II that is more real world. It could be coding, too.”

Bondi concedes that assignments don’t necessarily have to consist of projects. “I don’t want people to think Project-Based Learning is the only answer,” she maintains. 

“Maybe the pathway is for the students to build a project with Bootstrap or something as simple as, incorporating the Algebra II content that the students need to learn. So they go in and get their brief lecture, or they watch a video on the concept, and, as soon as they get it, they apply it. When we are able to do that, as adults, it deepens the learning experience. So I always encourage teachers to do that in the classrooms.”

Teaching in this real-world context would certainly allow teachers who are regularly subjected to the refrain, “When will we ever need to use this in real life?!” from their students, to demonstrate exactly how, every day. “It could be that maybe it’s a blend,” she suggests. “Maybe we’re not quite ready as an industry to go pure project-based, real-world-relevant, learning. You hear it over and over again when students ask, ‘Why do I need to know this?’ Nine times out of ten — no, ten times out of ten, they will tell that student exactly how the given lesson is applied in the real world. The missed opportunity for that teacher, and for the student, to be honest, is that you don’t get to do something with it in the moment.

“I can articulate to my kids the concept and when and why they might need it, and it probably represents one small sliver in the scope of their lives. But if I can do something with it, there’s the value of the opportunity. Maybe it’s something as simple as a video creation demonstrating what I learned with stop motion, all the way up to something that becomes a six-month-long project. I think that’s where teachers get stuck a lot. They think, ‘Well I want to do this real-world project stuff. It sounds really great, but I don’t even know what that looks like.’ So my thought would be to take the first step and give it a try. Because it’s not the about the answer. You know, we’re trying to teach teachers that getting the answer — and this is a new math concept with Common Core (the state standards initiative currently adopted by most of the states in the US) — it’s not about the answer. It’s about the process. It’s not about what the stop-motion looks like at the end of the day. It’s about the student going through the activity using technology. It could be low-tech as an option. But how was the process for them? What did they discover? How did they problem solve? How did they deal with failure? Those are the only points of doing Project-Based Learning, not to get to the end of the project and say, ‘Look at this bicycle I built!’ It’s not about the bicycle. It’s about everything you did along the way to get there. That's the meaningful stuff.”