– Xolani Sithenjwa, Future Nation Schools’ Lead Teacher: Sciences

Xolani is a passionate teacher who holds a Bed and a BSc Honours in Education. He is currently completing a Masters in Science Education at Wits University with a research topic looking at the development of a science teacher’s Pedagogical Content Knowledge.

It is important to define who a 21st century student is and also what the expectations of an educator are for that student. There are a couple of things that we have to take as facts and others we can debate.

It is a fact that most students in urban areas at the moment use some sort of technological device or digital device either for communication, for acquiring knowledge, for entertainment and to meet new friends. We know that most companies are now use the same digital devices for marketing, recruiting, searching for talent, offering services and for doing business. It is important to realise that education (whether inside or outside of the classroom) needs to be a process that equips students with advanced knowledge, to be able to compete, to adapt and to use these technological devices. Schools should enable students to acquire relevant knowledge and skills needed in this ever-changing world. Schools need to offer students knowledge on how to use the information they find on the internet to be able to criticise the information or to be able to make their own informed conclusions about what they have read.

The point being made here is that it might be very difficult to separate these students from their devices or to convince them that there is an alternative when most of what they are exposed to are technological devices. It is wise to choose your battles very carefully, we do not have to separate them from technology. We simply need to adjust our pedagogical strategies such that we meet these students where they are and use the technology effectively, using alternative methods of teaching that will keep students interested in learning. This will allow students to drive their own learning through guided experiences by educators.

Future Nation Schools hosted a Winter Accelerated Program during the winter holidays of 2016. In the programme educators were exposing students to Project Based Learning (PBL) which is an alternative way of teaching and learning, new to South Africa. The students were expected to learn the prescribed content by doing a project that showed that they had learnt Mathematics, English and Natural Science. In Mathematics the students wrote a song based on the fractions content and they analysed the songs and drew graphs based on their analysis. This teacher chose what was very close to most teenagers, song writing and listening to music. He used this to teach graphs and data analysis. This unconventional way of teaching Mathematics had the students completing the prescribed content but in a way most students would have had preferred learning it.  

In the Natural Science class students were expected to learn about species, which is one of the topics prescribed in the content document. Educators gave students containers to take home and asked them to look for bugs at home, catch them and put them in the containers and then bring them to school. Students were asked to name their bugs and to use their phones in class to search for information pertaining to the bug. The format of doing the search was structured so that there were similar questions that students would do research. In English, they were taught how to research precise information and how to creatively present the information that they found using advertising techniques. At the end of the two weeks students were asked what they enjoyed about the process. Most students expressed that using their phones to learn and collect information that was valuable. Some students stated that it was amazing for them that they could learn graphs using song writing and rapping.

An unconventional way of teaching and learning was implemented by the Future Nation School’s educators to get to the same outcomes as prescribed by the content documents e.g. CAPS. What was different from other instructional methods is that educators there went to the place where students were and made education interesting. They did not separate students from the technology that they use every day and learning did take place. Something that will may not be immediately obvious is that there was a great deal of planning from the staff ahead of time and some adjustments made during the process to bring about this end. The educators had to tap into the same technology that students are using every day, and find innovative ways that can be implemented to make sure that learning does take place and that students experience learning instead of going through learning.

It is important that while teaching and learning are moving into the 21st century that we should think about and visualise teaching strategies that will ensure that students are engaged in their learning. 21st century learning should not just involve the use of laptops, tablets and smartboards only. Future Nation Schools will be implementing Project Based learning method of teaching and learning. This means that students will not only be using technology to learn, but they will be designing projects, taking real life roles during their projects and the roles will be roles that are contextualised for the projects.

We know that the world is changing and doing so very quickly. This means that our educators need to be prepared for the type of students who will be entering schools. It is important to be an educator who is ready for students who will be wanting to engage with their learning from a 21st century point of view.

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