In Part One of this two-part article, Jamillah Seifullah – a teacher at New York’s
Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) – shares her perspective on the importance of teaching her students to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners.
Part One: Teaching Lifelong Learning Skills
The role of educating young people is no longer the sole responsibility of the classroom teacher. As educators, we often try to teach 21st century children with 20th century methods. This often does not work. I have spent many weekends modifying and reworking how I differentiate content, infusing technology, inviting experts into my classroom, and setting up the physical space I teach in to discover what will work best for my students.
I have always included projects in lesson planning because that is my background. As a mathematician, I know that the application of theory lies in physics and engineering. Modeling is the most important aspect of students’ demonstrating understanding.
This year, I have been looking at how to teach through using projects rather than having projects be supplemental to a lesson. The current project in my Algebra 2/Trigonometry course at P-TECH is to build a Ferris Wheel. The students began the project on paper with sketches and equations, and are now constructing a model of a Ferris Wheel from cardboard, toothpicks, skewers and a simple motor. As I could not find a project to match my vision, the students started with the basic instructions and will have to design and figure out the best way to make this work with some input from myself and a fellow Ph.D. candidate from NYU Polytechnic, who comes in to help with Robotics.
In the past, teachers had a clear idea of where their students were heading. There was a small pool of professions from which they could choose. These days, our challenge is to prepare all students for a future we cannot begin to perceive, and for careers that have yet to be created. In essence, teachers are called upon to educate “Elroy” – the inquisitive boy character from the popular 1960s cartoon called The Jetsons. The Jetsons takes place in the year 2062. Despite the show’s depiction of a robot-controlled world as utopia, I wonder what life will really be like for our students 50 years from now.
Today’s 10th graders will be near retirement age in 2062. Will we have educated them to be successful in the world that lies ahead of them? The only way to accomplish that feat will be to teach young people more than simply how to test well. We need to teach our students to be lifelong learners who employ critical thinking in pursuit of their passions, interests and careers.
My background is very similar to the path of our students at P-TECH. When I went to a specialized STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) high school, my mother was unable to help me with my math homework after seventh grade. My mother
was my first teacher however, and an excellent one. She instilled in me a love of learning and creating. Many of our students, for various reasons, do not have someone like my mom in their lives. Therefore, we who take on the job of “educating Elroy” need to go beyond teaching content and recall that we teach people. What kinds of global citizens do we want to help shape?
Tomorrow in Part Two: Read about Jamillah’s journey from the South Bronx to software engineering and eventually to teaching at P-TECH.
Jamillah Seifullah is a former software engineer, landscape architect and mother who teaches at New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH).