March 2019

Great Expectations: How Technology is Dramatically Changing Education in the Lowcountry and Beyond

Author: Tori Hayes

In today’s world of rapidly shifting technology, no one can be sure what the typical workplace will look like in 10 years, let alone 15 or 20. But Hilton Head Christian Academy is on the forefront of ensuring that technology and how and where it’s utilized prepares students for what’s to come.

It’s not breaking news that technology is changing how teachers teach and how students learn, but HHCA is going beyond the typical tech trends to ensure its new campus will provide a unique learning environment that fits today’s landscape and tomorrow’s needs.

“It’s really the merger of technology, environment and education in the best possibly way,” said Parker Collins, HHCA’s academic dean. “It will be truly unlike just about any school in South Carolina and one of the pre-eminent schools in the Southeast for twenty-first-century education.”

The traditional classroom, with neat rows of desks lined up to face forward where a teacher imparts wisdom as students jot notes is becoming a relic of a bygone era of education. Modern technology in the palm of our hands 24/7 makes it easy for teachers to disseminate the information students need to learn, so now they can shift their focus to teaching students how to use that information.

Research done by the World Economic Forum shows that the top 10 skills students will need to thrive in 2020 and beyond are rapidly changing. Topping the list of in-demand career skills is complex problem solving followed by critical thinking, creativity, and people management skills: traits taught secondarily at best in many of today’s classrooms or unfortunately, not taught at all, leaving many students left unprepared for the world and workforce ahead of them.

“Students aren’t asked to “do math” on their first job; they’re asked to solve problems and think critically,” said Prakash Nair, co-founder of Fielding Nair International (FNI), the country’s pre-eminent designer of twenty-first-century schools and the lead design firm for Hilton Head Christian Academy’s new Bluffton campus. They’ve partnered with FNI not only on the “bricks and mortar” aspect of the new school, but in three years of intense teacher training to meld technology, environment and modern learning together in the classroom.

“It’s not just the technological aspects of a twenty-first-century classroom; it’s reimagining how students gather and collaborate,” Collins said. “Instead of standing in front of the class, teachers are walking from table to table and group to group as students collaborate and work together on project-based learning.”

Collins noted that while the new school will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology, it’s also about creating a classroom setting that facilitates a new kind of learning and collaboration.

A number of K-12 classrooms have been renovated on the current campus to mimic the non-traditional learning areas that students and teachers will find when the new campus opens.

“Some of our teachers are finding it’s actually speeding up the learning process,” Collins said. “Many of our teachers have noted that they’re ahead of the learning pace at any given point in the semester. It’s working and working well.”

Students at HHCA are already immersed in all-important STEM learning, beginning at the elementary level, and the lower school is equipped with a “maker space” where students can apply what they’re learning. For example, after reading a book like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” students might participate in an art project related to the content, then apply their engineering skills to build a habitat for the caterpillar, adding layers of context to their learning.

This type of project-based learning extends through middle school and upper school where students continue to learn problem-solving and collaboration skills. Collins was quick to note that while students are utilizing technology for learning, they’re also required to converse, collaborate and work together. “We want HHCA to be a training ground for that kind of thinking,” he said.

Teachers are also asked to show creativity in how they test their students’ progress. Instead of submitting a written essay, students might be given a series of options to present their ideas, such as producing a podcast or video or developing a social media campaign.
Collins noted that students recently created an app that features their campus coffee shop as one of their projects, allowing students to learn real-world business skills and utilize their creativity and technology skills.

“We’re intensely focused on students finding their passion,” Collins said. “It’s not just about changing how we teach because now you can do your research on Google; that’s a given. This goes far beyond that.”

HHCA will break ground on their new campus this spring; current plans call for the first class in 2020.

Top 10 Skills You’ll Need to Thrive in 2020
1. Complex Problem Solving
2. Critical Thinking
3. Creativity
4. People Management
5. Coordinating with Others
6. Emotional Intelligence
7. Judgement and Decision Making
8. Service Orientation
9. Negotiation Skills
10. Cognitive Flexibility

Source: World Economic Forum

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