By JORDAN VETTER
As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, technology is consuming more aspects of our lives than ever. Schools everywhere want to give their students as much access to different devices, apps, and software that not only makes their lives easier and education more effective, but also helps train them in 21st century skills that they likely need as adults. Each year, the world continues to change at an increasingly rapid pace, and the needs of students continue to evolve with it.
To help meet those needs, schools and teachers are constantly looking for new ideas and approaches to innovate their classrooms and instruction. However, more technology doesn’t always equal more success. Sometimes, in fact, it only complicates matters, or introduces new problems. The challenge then becomes, how do we effectively use technology to the benefit of our students? It’s not as simple as buying them the newest, shiniest gadget and thinking it will immediately make everything better. I’ve taught in schools with varying levels of technology available, and I’ve been able to experience both the good and the bad of it.
Weighing the benefits of classroom technology
Having easy access to devices such as laptops or tablets can open many possibilities for a classroom teacher. There are many different services available online, but the most ubiquitous is Google Classroom. Getting students familiar with using Google Classroom (or any similar program) instills in them valuable digital literacy skills — the ability to access materials posted by their teacher, collaborate with each other on their writing or assignments, and submit their documents for review. Not only are these skills that will be necessary in college, but they are becoming increasingly vital in everyday life. With so much of life happening online, having the skills to navigate through content and communicate with others to achieve a desired outcome is something that students will benefit from greatly.
However, technology does not automatically improve a classroom. Like handing a screaming child a smartphone to quiet him down, devices in the classroom are similarly used sometimes as pacifiers. Instead of being a supplemental tool that aids instruction and adds an extra dynamic to learning that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, it’s easy to allow technology to take over the class entirely. While giving students an assignment and having them work independently for the period might be tempting for a teacher, it’s not creating the type of engagement and collaboration we want as educators. Technology should be used to make our lives as teachers easier and our pedagogy better, not as a regular stand-in for actual instruction.
It’s important to remember that the presence of technology doesn’t always benefit the classroom — its success depends on how it’s being used. Technology should not be seen as a quick-fix that once implemented, instantly makes everything better. Just like most aspects of teaching, it takes a lot of planning, experimenting, evaluating, and reflecting to make it work in the way we want. Technology and the internet connects us like never before, but it can also be incredibly isolating, and a distraction from engaging with those around us. As educators, we should strive for the former, and by doing so we can hope to raise the skills of our students so they are prepared to take on the tasks of a 21st century world.
By DR. ROBERTA LENGER KANG
When I was in high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Horn, required her students to write a research paper. This process included daily trips to the school library, where I used a card catalog to look up the name of a book that may, or may not, have the information I was looking for. Once I found a book in the card catalog, I had to hunt for it using the Dewey decimal system, locate the book, and then begin searching for the basic facts about my topic. Mrs. Horn was a stickler for notecards. Our research papers needed to have 75 accompanying index cards so that we could organize our information one fact at a time, before typing it out on the word processor or typewriter.
How times have changed. Most school libraries today have more space dedicated to technology than books, and the long process of searching through dusty publications or old-timey microfiche has become a thing of the past. But here’s the thing: the importance of research papers hasn’t changed. And the importance of research hasn’t changed. What has changed is our access to information.
Shifting educational landscape
The radical advancement of technology and the internet has fundamentally changed our relationship with information. A 20th century education taught us how to find information — but finding information is no longer a problem. If anything, in the 21st century, we have access to too much! With hundreds of thousands of hits through internet searches and recommendations for related information, the question is no longer how to find the facts, but what to do with the information that’s literally a click away. How do we interpret this information? This is the question that teachers and school leaders struggle with as they attempt to make key concepts relevant to children in a rapidly changing world.
These advances in technology have not only changed our relationship to information, they’ve changed our relationship to other people. Instant connection, instant messaging, and instant information-sharing have changed the landscape of interactions.
Educating students for tomorrow, today
We can no longer sustain a 20th century mindset in a 21st century world. The Global Learning Alliance (GLA), with its commitment to cross-cultural research collaborations and a desire to define a pedagogy that takes into account the dynamic needs of a shifting educational landscape, knows that the task before us is to educate students today for the world they’re poised to lead tomorrow.
The GLA is the outgrowth of CPET’s ground-breaking research on the features and practices surrounding 21st century teaching and learning. It has evolved from the seeds of a research project and is now a consortium of schools and universities around the world dedicated to understanding, defining, applying, and sharing the principles and practices of a world-class education within a wide range of educational contexts. As a result of ongoing research, we have been customizing the Global Mindset Framework, a tool that helps educators consider new skills for a new world.
The Global Mindset Framework builds on the importance of the critical thinking skills of the 20th century by fostering skills in collaboration, creativity, caring, and global consciousness.
If we want to ensure that our students are developing the skills needed for the next hundred years, we must begin considering a new pedagogy for a new era. We must consider the implications on our curriculum, assessments, and instruction, if we are going to add these essential skills in our schools.
By G. FAITH LITTLE
Being aware of 21st century skills as a common phrase and focus in our schools is a first step many of us have taken toward planning and teaching for our students. We are integrating the language. We may have even tried a project as an assessment for one of our units. Yet, making the shift into full integration of real-world projects that set the stage for our students to practice these skills regularly eludes us.
Uchenna Ogu and Suzie Reynard Schmidt, in their article The Natural Playscape Project: A Real-World Study With Kindergarteners beautifully articulate a design that can be applied across grade levels and content areas. Students are the authors of their own playscape, with teachers as their guide and support. In this case, playscape refers to the natural playscape created by kindergarteners — a “playground with as few human-made components as possible”. The process brings together research, exploration, and the hard work of thinking and taking action, both individually and collaboratively, where the playscape is not a final project for the purpose of assessing learning. The playscape is the unit.
Lesson: The playscape is “designed to bring children back to nature and offer a wide range of open-ended play possibilities that allow children to be creative and use their imaginations.”
Application prompt: What is the playscape for your classroom? Consider the landscape students could create and navigate in math, social studies, foreign language, physical education, literature, or science. What world could they build that would engage their senses and invite them to learn in order to create?
Lesson: “To begin the project, teachers shared their own knowledge from studies about play and sustainable schoolyards with the children.” Teachers went on to share a text the children read together and articulated some boundaries for their building: "You may build houses small and hidden for the fairies, but please do not use living or artificial materials."
“With inspiration and wonder, we set off to imagine, play, and invent small worlds for fairies and other fantastical and real woodland creatures at a nearby park and on an empty back lot on the school campus that eventually became our natural playscape.”
Application prompt: What knowledge from your own field of study do students need in order to begin to plan or build their playscape? What texts will open new possibilities for them or serve as foundations for their invention? Consider what knowledge students truly need to begin and what knowledge it makes sense for them to discover on their own. Invite them to discover for themselves, serving as a mentor or guide rather than an expert giving out all the answers.
Lesson: Plan and prepare for meaningful collaboration: “…teachers offered each pair of children a tray of sand. Teachers provided glass beads, twigs, seashells, and other natural materials, as well as time to play, experience, create, imagine, and explore. Children used these materials to create small worlds, miniature playgrounds, or fairy houses. Teachers then asked the children to draw on all of their previous experiences, both indoors and out, to generate a comprehensive list of materials that they might want or need when designing their miniature playscapes. Pebbles, seeds, dirt, grass, leaves, and flowers all made their way onto the list and eventually into their work…Next, teachers invited the children to collaborate in small groups to create miniature playgrounds for the fairies and small woodland creatures.”
In the third year, the second-graders, who were the originators of the project while in kindergarten, rejoined the process as collaborators and consultants.
Application prompt: What mini-scape could students create as a model for their larger playscape? Instead of listing the materials they may need, support students in generating their own lists of materials. As a mentor, you may do the advanced work of obtaining possible materials, but have them waiting in the wings. Let students take ownership by asking for what they need. When grouping students to collaborate, give each student a specific role that requires an outcome, so that each person’s contribution can be seen.
Lesson: Committees were formed to investigate a specific aspect of the playscape in depth. After learning more deeply about their subject, children shared what they learned. “For example, since it was important to the current kindergartners to invite birds to the playscape, those involved with the Birdhouse Committee researched native Missouri birds and built birdhouses.” The committee members expressed their love for birds through letter writing, addressing their notes to the birds themselves and including important details from their learning, “We are bird experts. We can tell you apart. You are really cute. We hope you like to splash in the birdbaths. We made them look like flowers, because we thought you might like that.”
Application prompt: What are some buckets of information or concepts all of your students will need to understand in order to create a useful playscape? Consider grouping them and naming the groups as it makes most sense in your field. Are they architects? Technical writers? Applied mathematicians? Statisticians? Commentators? In what genres do people in these roles write?
Lesson: “Being on the committees engaged the children by allowing them to research and pursue one aspect of the playscape with depth.” At one stage in the process, kindergarteners were matched with second graders to explore their design process further. “The two age groups facilitated and scaffolded each other's learning as they talked about, represented, reflected on, and began to evaluate aspects of their own and their partners' design ideas.”
Application prompt: Whether it’s pairing students in different grade levels or perhaps pairing students with complementary skills, how can you support students to listen to their partner, communicate clearly, and come to an agreement on next steps? What skills do you need to teach? What practices should students engage in to get the most out of their collaboration in order to sharpen their own critical thinking skills?
Lesson: Ongoing reflection is key. During: “Throughout the natural playscape project, teachers encouraged children to frequently reflect on their experiences.” After: “At the end of the study, as a way to help children reflect on their growth and learning, teachers asked them questions about their experiences.”
Application prompt: What structure will you support, or put in place, so that students reflect after each step of their process? This reflection will allow them to quickly make use of their learning, going back to foundations or taking a risk, based on their findings. What will the final reflection look like? How can you support student to design their own reflection?
Consider responding to each application prompt as you plan for next year. Whatever grade level you teach, incorporating space and time for creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and reflection for your students will boost their 21st Century skill set!
TAGS: 21st CENTURY SKILLS, ELEMENTARY, G. FAITH LITTLE