FAIRFIELD — U.S. Sen. Angus King, speaking in an experimental videoconferencing format with students at Lawrence High School, said Maine needs a fundamentally different approach to education that recognizes the impact of new technologies.
The 40-minute back-and-forth between King and a student representative was done using Google Hangout, a computer application that helps people communicate through live audio and video feeds.
More than 500 students sat in the school’s auditorium and watched a live projection of King as he answered their questions from the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
“This is a kind of experiment,” King said. “If this works, we’ll be doing it more frequently.”
After the event, King’s representative, Ben Tucker, said the experiment was a success and that King plans to use the technology to speak with every high school in Maine over the course of his six-year term as senator. A schedule for the sessions has not been set, Tucker said.
Principal Pamela Swett said Lawrence High was “extremely honored to be the first school” King chose to participate in the program.
The students posed questions to King about his positions on a proposed east-west highway, gun control and the future of education.
King said successful education in the future will have a structure different from that of the traditional American classroom.
“If you think about it, your school and your classrooms look a lot like they did when Shakespeare went to school: a room with 20 desks and a teacher standing in front and students sitting in the desks and the teacher giving the students information,” he said.
In the information age, King said, the teacher is no longer the sole master of the subject matter.
“The biggest challenge facing education is shifting from the old days of teachers teaching content and students receiving it,” he said.
In the future, he said, educators should focus on “students being able to find the content themselves and use it, and use it intelligently to solve problems and to use it collaboratively to work together to solve problems.”
King said the current education system actually can stifle the most important student skills.
“The great 21st-century skills are information sharing, collaboration and partnership,” he said. “If you stop and think about it, any one of those at Lawrence High School today is called cheating. The skill we want is collaboration; but if you guys collaborate on an exam, you’re out of there.”
He said Maine needs to do better in order to make students competitive in the workforce of the future.
“Somehow we have to break through these old ways of thinking about education and be sure we’re giving you folks the schools you need to find jobs and to compete and succeed in a world that’s entirely different than the world I grew up in,” he told the students.
Emma Bradford-Brann, a ninth-grader, said she was excited about the opportunity to see the senator.
She said she enjoyed hearing “his thoughts on newer ways of education and ways we can learn in this day and age.”
King also said students should take a more active role in improving their own education, by being vocal about their experiences and by participating in local government.
Senior Matthew Saunders, who asked King the questions on behalf of the student body, said he was impressed by King’s “suggestion about how we could get involved with the school to make it better.”
Students submitted about 80 questions in writing to teachers, who narrowed the list to about 20. After answering a handful of questions in depth, King submitted to a series of “lightning round” questions, most of which centered on his personal life.
His favorite school subject was history, his favorite high school sport was football, his first paying job was building a fence for a farmer at the age of 15, and his favorite movie is “On the Waterfront,” he told the students.
While he drew laughs from the students several times, their biggest reaction came when he told them that his first vehicle was a 1955 Volkswagen Beetle that his father often referred to as “Hitler’s revenge.”
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287