Personalizing education is probably the easiest way to motivate kids. Today, we force kids to learn according to the pace set by a collection of standards. Kids who fall behind tend to give up because they feel like they can never catch up... and they are often correct. Kids who are ahead get frustrated because they are waiting for the world to catch up. The ones in the middle burn out because the pace is rigorous and doesn't allow for deeper exploration. The standards themselves are not bad, they just have the unrealistic expectation that every kid is ready to learn concepts at the same age. Essentially, keep the order set by the standards, but be flexible about when students have to accomplish them.
So, what could Angry Birds, You Tube, and Club Penguin possibly have to do with this? I am not suggesting a 100% online school, but I am suggesting that we allow students to learn at their own pace using digital lessons, tools, and hardware like tablets. Read on to see how I think we can reduce the drop out rates in America and keep kids motivated.
Education standards typically address basic skills that tend to follows rules and/or require memorization and practice. Grammar, spelling, and math algorithms are perfect examples. We'll save the lessons for critical thinking and creativity for a real live teacher in a real world classroom. Gather the top educators in the country and have them design standards based lessons for their area of expertise. Then, convert the lesson to a digital format (interactive game, video, manipulatives, etc.). Compile these lessons into a sequential order. We could even create multiple versions of each lesson allowing students to choose their favorite instructor, learning modality, or maturity level.
The Angry Birds Connection
Finally, create an app that guides students through the lessons like Angry Birds guides players through its levels. As students learn the lessons, they complete short assessments that will earn them stars. Overachievers can redo work to get their 3 stars while those with less interest can get by with a single star. Students who "fail" the test retry automatically. Hints and tips can be scaffolded in for support. If the scaffolds don't help, a teacher gets an instant update allowing him/her to target the specific need for the student. Kids who learn fast can keep going to the next lesson and maybe even finish the basic concepts well before their 18th birthday. (Standardized testing would have to be adjusted to allow students to take tests according to levels completed rather than age.) Gifted students can be offered extensions that allow deeper exploration of the subject.
The You Tube Connection
Create a Youtube University site. It can contain a stockpile of digital video and audio media for students to access as a learning and research resource. Through today's tagging method, students can explore concepts out of the order prescribed by the standards. (Learning isn't always sequential.) Filters can allow us to keep some age appropriate concepts only available to prescribed age groups.
The Club Penguin Connection
Learning is social, so keep it that way. Create a virtual school world and allow students to interact as they go to math "class." This can create the opportunity for students to collaborate on projects, even if they are miles away. Of course, all student interaction in the digital world would have to be monitored.
So, what about the rest of the day?
With the majority of kids getting their basic skills instruction from quality sources, the real life teacher is freed up to focus efforts on helping the kids who truly need it. This should also free up a teacher's mind from all the clutter that comes with teaching an entire class of multiple levels. Now, teachers can focus on teaching learning strategies, problem solving, and other skills/concepts that do not go over well via a digital presentation. A large portion of the day may even be freed up for project based learning.
Bottom line = students independently learn at their pace using a quality sequential system that can be updated easily, while continuing to receive instruction from a real live teacher.