As an institution, we have spent much of this school year focused on the various new edtech initiatives. Our Blended Learning program in the younger grades has shown outstanding results, our teachers in grades 6-12 have been learning and growing with Haiku, our 6th grade and select high school pilots have been learning how to integrate ipads in the classroom and we have all started to utilize Google Apps. I thought it would be worthwhile to take a step back and try to outline the vision of why we are doing all of this.
When most of us went to school, education and learning was about Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Although those skills are just as important today, our students are growing up in a different world, one where being a successful professional requires more skills; 21st Century Skills. Current research suggests that in addition to the 3 R’s, the 4 C’s: Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Critical thinking are as or more important to the education of our children. It is about more student centered classrooms and work spaces, and giving students more independence to manage their own learning. It is about project based learning and students collaborating with other students. At a recent conference, I heard a Google executive make the following statement: If a Google employee were to come to his boss with a finished product that he worked on alone, it would be looked down upon for lack of collaboration. But historically, a collaborative, more heads are better than one approach is usually seen as cheating. This type of classroom is about unleashing student creativity, making projects that show their knowledge in multiple ways. It is about assessing students not just with pen and paper tests, but with video and image creation.
21st Century learning is not about any one tool. It is not about iPads, Haiku, Google or any other specific tool. It is a classroom where I as a teacher can no longer say I use the smart board every day so I must have a 21st century classroom. Although that is a tool, how is it being used? Who is writing on the board? Just the teacher, or are we involving the students. In fact, current thinking would suggest putting the smart board on the side of the classroom where it can be more student centered as opposed to the front of the room where the teacher tends to be the “sage on the stage.”
So what is the perfect formula needed to create a 21st century learning environment? After a lot reading and collaborating with educators throughout the country, I can tell you with confidence that there is no one perfect formula. It is about how you structure your lessons and the learning that takes place in your classroom to focus on 21st century skills! It is about your teacher “tool kit” or “tool box” as many refer to it. As a teacher, I have to learn ten tools so that I can choose which ones would be worth becoming an expert in and utilizing often, while knowing some other tools to integrate at other opportune moments. It is about teachers not being afraid to experiment and fail. It is about not worrying if your students are more tech savvy than you are.
We often teach our students to be determined and resilient through the challenges that life presents to them. I would argue that the world of education today is one such challenge for us as teachers. What would you tell your students? You can do it! Well, for those of you skeptics, I say to you, you can do it too!