My district has adopted BYOD and students can bring their own learning device. And even 8th graders brought their phones, Ipods, Ipads. I actually thought they would be too cool for school. The problem is that they do not understand how to use their devices for learning – they take pictures, videos, selfies, and play games. I get it. They have no idea the power they are holding in their hands. Ok, I am one one of a few teachers in my building who is excited about this new development and understands what a game changer it is for my classroom. And I plan on creating digital citizens in an environment that brings digital literacy. I plan on connecting them with twitter and class blogs, not to mention classrooms around the world.
Ok, first day my students had tasks ( their choices) of finding out how internal forces of change affect geography and ultimately, our lives – earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, plate tectonics, and Mariana Trench. Wow! I was blown away by the amount of reading these kids did about these subjects. They read more in one day than in all the years previous. And they understood what they were reading. I heard science terms, I saw writing, and heard “look at this” as they researched. Yes, it’s a start, yes, I will teach them how to research more effectively, but today I savored the thought that these “devices” will change my classroom in ways I can only imagine and my students can’t imagine.
I plan on blogging about this- the good, the bad, and the ugly as it happens. Reflection was an integral piece of my graduate degree and it changed the way I look at education. (Initiatives in Educational Tranformation, George Mason University), so who knows where this will lead? I don’t know, but I am excited to find out.
Ok, I am feeling trapped in a 19th century system while trying to allow 21st century learning to happen. Is it because students don’t know how to “do” 21st century learning? Is it because they are so ingrained in a system that is outdated and they just go through the motions? I see glimpses of learning – like today when we were analyzing the European Union. Students had researched information about whether the candidate countries meet the criteria the EU has set and I had “researchers” ready for questions that would come up. Students were debating ideas like GDP, economic stability based on what they were reading, and as we needed more information the researcher would look up facts like literacy rate, etc. I really felt like students were informed, interested, and were able to enjoy the debate. Technology was not used just so students could use the internet but rather they were integrating the technology into their learning – as naturally as they text, IM, etc. It was a great day and I felt as if it was truly student learning taking place. I was the facilitator, they were learning from each other. It is not like this every day and I am continually asking why. And as the bell was ringing and students were grabbing their books and turning computers off, I wondered how to fit this type of learning into my 48 minute schedule? Why can’t the educational system focus on meeting student needs in the 21st century instead of focusing on standards of learning and testing? I know we need standards but do we need to teach to a test that a group of people who are not in classrooms have developed into a multiple choice test? When do we use multiple choice tests in life? I realize these are pretty random thoughts but I don’t think our system is working and as we look to work out the budget problems I hope we don’t lose focus on our progress. We must move forward – we cannot afford two steps back.
Walking into my classroom of 8th graders having them excitedly tell me about their holiday activities – Guitar Hero, playing videos, posting You Tube videos, and how many texts were flashed around the vacation world, I am struck that these kids now have to “power down” to get back to the traditional school day. Oh, I am one of the lucky ones who can provide laptops to my students and I provide a project driven class, but it within the context of 45 minute classes that are rotated around 8 periods a day. It is not the fault of the school – I am also fortunate to work at a supportive and collaborative building. But how do we get to the point where students are excited about education and don’t have to “power down” in order to get back to the traditional classroom? Listening to Daniel Pink, Alan November, Tony Wagner speak about the need for educational transformation and what our kids will need for future success, I am determined to join others in trying to be a force of change. But I also see 8th graders going through the motions of school. In my annual unit of Holocaust/Anne Frank/Europe students are usually excited about finding the right picture, quote, and music to portray their own unique digital story. They love the process including choice, voice, and being able to share their stories. This year I have not seen the same excitement. It is what Tara was experiencing and I think part of it is that this unit is not enough anymore. I need to reflect and ask critical questions about how I can get this unit even more student centered than it already is. I won’t give up. I am passionate about the need for all of us to “get it.” Our kids depend on us “getting it” – that we need to transform education into 21st Century learning. I will begin to be bold.
I started reading Gladwell‘s new book Outliers this week, and as usual he shares his thought-provoking research in what is almost a story-telling style. But I got to thinking about the first Gladwell book, the one that made me a fan: The Tipping Point. It’s a great book and a must-read. Without going into too much detail, the basic premise is that there is an event or a moment in time when a certain change is unstoppable, and all things up to that point contribute to the momentum. So as I think about our economy, the government bailout of The Big Three, and massive cuts to public eduction on our doorstep, I wonder: are we nearing a tipping point? Consider Friedman’s contention in The World is Flat, that any job that at its basic element is routine can be “off-shored” and done by workers in countries where their populace is being prepared for this work, and at a much lower cost. Consider also Wagner’s reminder that due to sheer numbers (population), there are more honor students in China than we have students. Are we nearing what my parents would refer to as the point of no return–or what Gladwell calls the tipping point? Holiday travel afforded me a lot of thinking time while trekking across the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Imagine what schools could do with the money being given to banks, financial insitutions, and the auto industry. We could get webcams so our kids could use Skype on individual laptops. We could abandon textbooks and subscribe to relevant websites that aren’t obsolete when the kids access them. Maybe we could even purchase a real statistics software package like SPSS that our kids could use to input real-time local data to record, analyze, and report and draw conclusions from the trends they see. But wait–we have the same problem the auto industry no doubt faces as it tries to “reinvent itself”: those on the front lines have to get it. Teachers have to know why a shift in this direction is absolutely crucial right now. Are we ready? Can we count on “Yankee Ingenuity” to save us once more? Or is Yankee ingenuity a 20th Century concept?
I spent a half a day today doing Learning Walks in one of our high schools. My Career and Technical Ed (CTE) Coordinator and I spent time in several CTE classes, talking to kids and questioning teachers. What I came away with is that we can learn a lot from CTE teachers.
The first teacher we visited is a tech ed teacher. He has his kids work in teams problem-solving designs. They huddle around a computer screen creating simulations, performing strength tests and determing the minimum thickness of metal or aluminum they can use on whatever they are working to create. They do this without ever actually building a real model or prototype–it’s all virtual. They can discuss the application to, say, the auto industry, who no doubt uses the same type of program when designing a vehicle, trying to minimize its weight and maximize its gas mileage. But the real story here is what happened at the end of class. Each student had to journal about what they learned and observed–not about the content, which is what I was expecting, but about the process of collaboration. So they are thinking metacognitively about the teamwork–everyday. The idea of having them reflect on the process of working together helps them hone their skills, process through whatever issues might arise, and become a more effective team. This was 21st Century learning, right before my eyes!
Collaborative problem-solving and creative thinking were just about the theme of the day as I progressed through the CTE courses. Sure, there were two classrooms that were less dynamic, but most were working together to determine why their small engine wasn’t working properly, to create funny pictures of teachers and classmates using Photoshop, or to design a logo for a mock website.
I have conducted observations of CTE classes before, but I have never done learning walks of this many all at once. As I was leaving the school, I realized that these guys do this stuff naturally. They get it. Dan Pink, Alan November, and Tony Wagner would be proud!