Quick — pop quiz! More education funding plus smaller class sizes equals better test scores, right?
Wrong. Foreign students outperform Americans on numerous tests: literacy, math, technological knowledge, even everyday skills.
That’s despite the fact that the United States spends over$15,000 a year to educate each student from kindergarten through college — $6,000 more than the average for other economically advanced countries. U.S. schools also reduced average class sizes by over 13 percent between 2000 and 2010; classes are smaller here than in other similarly situated countries.
American schools don’t need more money. They need to ditch their 20th-century teaching methods. Research shows that games, technology, and practical applications speak to them. Schools need to respond by redesigning classrooms to allow teachers to put these methods to work.
Take videogames. They’re not just ways to avoid doing homework. They’re teaching tools.
A University of Southern California study found that fifth-graders who played an iPad math game about fractions for 20 minutes a day for five days boosted test scores by 15 percent. Computer scientists at the University of California San Diego recently used a videogame to teach 8-12 year olds how to code. In seven days, the students learned to write commands in the Java coding language.
Simply swapping out textbooks for tablets — which enable students to swipe through content as they would in a game — can boost academic performance. At one California middle school, 20 percent more students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in Algebra I comprehension when they read from iPads instead of conventional textbooks.
Teachers can also enhance students’ skills by simulating real-world events — known as “virtual learning.”
For instance, instead of watching a nurse administer medication or oxygen to a patient, nursing students at New York University practice their skills on Human Patient Simulators. These robots have pulses and respond realistically to stimuli. Students can practice responding to medical emergencies without putting real patients at risk.
Simulators dramatically improve students’ performance. Residents in a general surgery program saw their speed go up 97 percent and the efficiency of motion increase 59 percent after using simulators.
Project-based learning doesn’t just teach the” what.” It teaches the “how” — how to work together and solve problems. These skills are in high demand in the workplace.
Consider the case of a class of 10th-grade students studying World War II. One group was given a problem-based learning assignment to advise President Truman how to end the war, which forced them to actively research the issues to formulate recommendations. The other group received traditional lectures.
The problem-based learning students exhibited greater knowledge of the subject matter than those who studied it passively via lectures, according to a study from the non-profit Buck Institute for Education.
To deploy these newer teaching methods, schools must redesign classrooms so that teachers and students seamlessly transition from one task or learning tactic to the next.
Games and virtual learning make frequent use of technology, so students need quick access to computers and tablets. Instead of stationary computers on desks, teachers could stow tech devices in mobile storage units until students need them.
At Michigan State University’s Design Center, students already utilize such dual-purpose furniture. They tuck their urban design projects into storage units, which convert into workspaces when opened.
Teachers also need to be able to mold learning environments for each lesson. If they want to break students into small teams for project-based learning, they should be able to reconfigure lightweight, mobile tables.
Schools must adopt more effective teaching methods — and give teachers flexible classrooms that make such tactics feasible. Doing so will help ensure that American students can ace whatever pop quizzes come their way.
Dick Resch is CEO of Green Bay, Wisc.-based manufacturer KI (www.ki.com).