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From one-room schoolhouse to global village: Meeting the new challenges of teaching young people

November 22, 2011 No Comment

by Michael Schiemann

Our world is changing at an incredible pace. Everywhere you look, things are not as they once were. Cities are growing, countries are changing. Even people do not seem to think and act the same way as in the past.

One of the greatest changes is in the area of technology—a change that will affect how people think and act in the future. Although it is important to recognize that these changes affect how we share the Gospel, the message will never change.

Although it is important to recognize that these changes affect how we share the Gospel, the message will never change.

Education is not exempt from these changing tides. The common phrase, “Back when I went to school…” tells of a time when people focused on the three ‘Rs’ and walked to school in -40 degree weather, up hill both ways, of course. People learned what they needed for those times and it produced many successful professionals, trade workers, and other employees important for our society. The classroom ‘back in the day’ is now referred to as a ‘traditional classroom,’ but you find the principles it taught and upheld in today’s classrooms.

However, 21st century schools look and feel much different than those of 10, 15, or 20 years ago. Educational changes have impacted greatly how teachers handle subjects in a classroom and how material is applied.

Whereas in the past information was given to students, today’s students are encouraged to use tools provided for them to find or even construct information. Generally, teachers serve more as guides rather than the ultimate source of knowledge. It is more important today for teachers to learn where and how to access information than it is for them to have memorized and simply recite information to students, then see if the students can memorize and recite it back.


Pushing the envelope

One of the major reasons for this educational change is advances in technology. Many parents today ask what technology a school uses, the answer partly determining where their children will attend. They come to a school looking for things such as SMART Boards, student response systems, access to computers, and teachers who know how to use them. Parents don’t want to send their children to school simply to absorb. They want them to learn how to learn, preparing them for an ever-changing society when they graduate. For schools, it is critical to recognize this and assist parents in raising their children.

The biggest challenge is determining where students could end up by the time they finish their formal education. We have to teach students how to be active members of the 21st century society. Rather than just teaching them about specific computer programs or hardware, we must teach them how to integrate these tools into their daily lives so that when they enter their professions they realize that technology is there to help them—a tool to aid them in solving daily challenges.

Even more important than preparing students to use technology is the importance of teaching students about their loving Saviour. They need to know Jesus and how to defend their faith in a world becoming ever more hostile to young Christians.

This hostility comes in the private challenges students face. When they enter their Facebook account and feel they can type or say anything they want, what do they say? In those moments, students feel as though no one is watching and they take critical steps in showing their faith, character, and responsibility. Yet, in those same moments, do they, like Peter, deny Christ, or do they stand up for the God who loves and redeems them? The true challenge of today is planting the seeds of faith and equipping students with tools to stand the trials that will come.

The true challenge of today is planting the seeds of faith and equipping students with tools to stand the trials that will come.


Working together

For a truly successful, faith-nurturing environment for children three things must align: home, school, and church—each sharing a consistent message students can understand. When a student comes to a Lutheran school, it is quickly evident whether he or she has a church background and if parents support the faith walk of their child in the home through regular prayer, devotion, and encouragement.

Together, we must pray for each child as they grow in their knowledge and love of the Lord. The school’s involvement in this process is extensive, but so is the involvement of the church. 

To make the church’s learning environment as effective as it can be, it is important for congregational leaders, Sunday school teachers and youth leaders to understand the fundamental technological shift, and work with home and school for the sake of the child. What worked in the past will not be as powerful a learning tool today as it may once have been. Are children and youth allowed to bring their iPods, tablets or mp3 players to the programs? What about cell phones and cameras? If they do, will this cause them to go into their own corners and not to socialize and interact with one another? What if they get lost or stolen? The questions are endless. However, rather than looking at the negative aspects, what if we stop and look at the benefits.

Teaching facts about the Bible is essential, but how they are taught is just as important.  Think about how to bring your Sunday school or youth group into a technological environment.

Teaching facts about the Bible is essential, but how they are taught is just as important.

First, encourage children and youth to connect with one another on line. There are many tools that allow teachers, parents, or youth workers to post information and messages online and let children add comments. Since kids are online anyways, why not give them a safe place to go—a place where they can share their thoughts on a variety of topics.

One way to do this is to establish a Facebook page for your group. Facebook groups allow for someone to post a topic, and for people to comment on it. This could easily set the stage for what you’d be discussing the next time you meet, and it allows students to process it long after the conversation is over.

Second, bring in outsiders. I’ve found as a teacher that many times having students hear something from someone else reinforces the point I’m making and gives them the feeling there’s a bigger world out there. Many online tools make this easy to do. One of the easiest ones to use is Skype. Have kids use this tool as well. They could Skype in a friend, a relative or someone who may have different opinions. It opens up meaningful conversation.


Using online resources

There are also many graphics programs online that allow children to “draw out” what is in their mind. They could use tools like www.kerpoof.com, which allows them to create online pictures, comics, or stories about what they know. This engages kids and can be a great way to communicate with your congregation about what is happening in Sunday school or youth group.

What about a program that brings a picture alive? Blabberize.com allows children to take a picture and create their own sound track. They can then make the mouth move to say what they’ve recorded. This can be a fun way of allowing children to think about what it must have felt like for Peter to walk on water or for Samson when he had his hair cut or even how Jonah must have felt in the belly of the fish. Tools like this provide outlets for students to connect with these Biblical characters and the extension and application into their own lives can be quite meaningful.

There are a multitude of resources available, and it is not necessary to re-invent the wheel. I recently Googled “Jeopardy template” and found resources I could download for PowerPoint. After downloading it and playing with the categories, I had a Jeopardy game ready to go. Children also like to create these online games and it’s a great way to assess what they’re learning and a way for them to build confidence as they lead the games and their peers in a fun way.

Children today also have access to pictures and video. One of the most fun tools is something you probably already have on your laptop—Windows Movie Maker. In a quick and easy way, children can put together a simple slide show or video along with an audio file which will give them another outlet to express what it is that they know.

One of the myths of technology is that it must cost a lot of money to get a quality technology program that will do what we need it to do. While there are many resources you pay for, there are an equal number of free resources.  Using technology may involve some creativity on the part of the planner or teacher, but the bottom line is that resources are there.

A key part of today’s technology is the ability to collaborate and share. If you’ve done something successful in your program, share what has worked so others may see that same benefit. It’s important to contribute to this conversation so the idea stream continues flowing.

While technology and the world changes around us, we can be thankful for the Word of God which never changes. We can be thankful that God gives gifts to His church through His Word and through His people so that all may be built up, and that children may come to hear and know the God who loves them, who gave His Son for their redemption. Thanks be to God for His wonderful gifts.

Deacon Michael Schiemann is principal at Hope Lutheran Christian School in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

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