Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Finding Purpose: Understanding Gen Z

By Rachel Vissing

This is part of an ongoing series in which I am working on developing my own mission statement of student and personal learning.  You can read the first post here.


Over the weekend, I heard it again.  I was getting my oil changed, and a man noticed my school apparel and said "Oh so you're a teacher?" to which I replied "Yes, I am!"  He then replied with a sarcastic "Oh good luck.  Kids these days don't know anything besides how to use their cell phones." 

Flash Forward to Sunday night.  I'm sitting watching the Bears/Packers game with my husband, and I heard it again.  "Rachel, get off your phone."  I hear this more times than I can count on a regular basis from him, along with "Get off your laptop or your iPad."  Now I always try to justify that I don't touch social media all day long or that I need to check my work e-mail or something of the sort.  In reality, I see that I many times I am just as bad as the "kids these days".  

In thinking about this more, I realized that so many people of the older generations (Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y) find all of the faults with the newer Generation Z, however, we don't find out what skills are their strengths.  I decided to do some research.



Differences in Generation Z

Pulled from two different sources (getsmarter.com and visioncritical.com), I have found these notable differences between Gen Z and the prior generations:

- Generation Z is the last generation with a white majority.  As this generation is still considered "ongoing", they are growing up in a more global community and thinking about the future in a larger and more inspirational sense than ever before.

- The population of Gen Z is the most tech-savvy and can pick up new technological developments quicker than other generations.  They are also able to multitask much better, with one source referencing using up to 5 devices at a time!

- Gen Z actually watches less TV but spends more time on YouTube and social media.  They are more focused on products, brands, and celebrities rather than experiences and emotional connections.

- The members of Gen Z are more realistic than idealistic.  They also want to be entrepreneurs and create their own businesses as opposed to creating a loyalty in working for others.



What Does This Mean in Education?

There are many ways to view and use this information.  The first thing that I think of is Apple (not that teachers get apples...the company Apple - I can be punny and see if you're still reading!).  There have been 14 versions of the iPhone to date.  There has been the iPod, iPod Touch, iPad, iPad Mini, iPad Pro, Apple TV, Apple Watch, etc.  These are all technology advances since January 2007.  In 11+ years, our world has changed dramatically in the world of connecting with others, multitasking, and access to information.

Now let's look at education, well at least from my perspective.  I have taught for 8.5 years, of which I have never used a textbook.  To many I encounter, this is crazy, yet this is all I know.  I have used an iPad for 7 of those years, 6 with 1-to-1 student devices.  I also have taught with white-board tables for 3 years now.  I have explored numerous instructional practices: discovery learning, flipped classroom, standard-based grading, various formative feedback methods, and many more.  I have rewritten curricula every single year that I have been here.  My question is...why?  Has this been of benefit to my students?

I always felt that I was adjusting curricula based on new technology and my students skill needs.  Was that practical?  Was it worthwhile?  Right now, after reading these articles, I found that maybe I was searching in the wrong place.  I was altering my practices to help build and strengthen the skills that they were struggling with instead of learning and understanding the skill strengths of their generation.  

So What...?  Connection to Developing My Personal Mission Statement

Last post, I articulated my need to focus on my students as individuals, not numbers.  This post, I dove into learning the skill strengths of my students and how they differ from those of my generation and those before.  In moving forward, I now have a better understanding of the "kids these days" and what they have to offer to the school, community, and society moving forward.  

I'll be honest, this post was a long way off from where it began.  I intended to look up some information and ended up falling down a rabbit hole and got a bit overwhelmed with the idea that I thought I knew the "kids these days" so well because I work with them daily, however, it is eye-opening that I have not looked into how their experiences and environments are drastically different from those of previous generations (ie: Powerpoint was still a new thing for teachers to use when I was in high school...).  Anyways, I'm saying this because this post may not make sense to all who read, but it has been very helpful for me to process this information of students' skill strengths thus start focusing on how to support their future needs.


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