We’re willing to pay thousands for computers, interactive whiteboards, the latest software, document cameras, and digital video cameras. Yet, how much are we willing to pay to connect classroom to classroom, school to school, district to district, state to state, or even country to country? What is the value of being able to interview content experts or authors, conduct discussions or debates, or collaborate in real-time?
We did it today. Once my friend and I each bought a $50 web cam and installed Skype, we connected from school to school with ease. I was thoroughly impressed by the clarity of the audio and video feed. All you need is free Skype software, Internet access, a microphone and speaker (the web cam is optional to send video along with the audio). I just used the speaker from the laptop and the microphone from the web cam.
Imagine the possibilities! Connecting and collaborating are key 21st century skills. It struck me as odd that this tool has not been marketed more often for education. And I wondered where I’ve been. How could I have missed this? I really haven’t heard much more about Skype since I returned from the VSTE Conference in February. Yet, as Alan November reminded us at the VASCD Conference, we need to teach students to connect with real people across the curriculum.
So is $50 worth connecting classrooms of kids from around the world? I’d say so! In the 21st century, we can’t afford not to…
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!