“Why won’t you help me? You’re the teacher.”
“This project is going to take FOR…EVER. Ugh.”
“You mean I actually have to think on this assignment?!?”
Ever heard one these grumblings from one of your students? Believe it or not, it’s a good thing. It means your learning environment is transitioning. Our students are programmed to succeed in the traditional educational system. They want to continue to use BASIC while the world now requires them to know Objective C.
FACT: The recent shift to 21st century learning – promotion of skills like creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, curation, and innovation – is just as difficult for students to embrace as it is for teachers. Shocked?
Our kids are accustomed to the age-old game of content acquisition (passive learning) and testing (regurgitation). And many have gotten downright amazing at it. You know them. They’re typically your honor students. The ones who breeze through the homework and ace all your tests. They average a 98% or better in your class. And they’ve found a nice, warm, cozy niche in your educational environment. The problem is that information, once scarce, is now abundant and instantly available in today’s world.
So now, you’re challenging them to move. You’re asking them to take knowledge and do something with it (other than just spew it back to you). You’re asking them to design. Create. Innovate. Share. Debate. Present. Choose. Imply. Ask questions. Manipulate the content – and do so in a team with others.
It’s not going to be an easy adjustment for some of them. And, as teachers, we must understand the challenge involved in figuring out the rules of this new game – 21CL. So, what can we do to help our students then?
Have you encountered student resistance to 21CL activities in your classroom? How have you handled it? Found anything that works? Share your experiences with the E21 blog community. Comment on this post.
We have to “deprogram” our students by increasing the 21CL opportunities. We have to talk with them about the fact that the game is changing. Discuss the new “rules” when you implement a PBL unit. Explain that it may seem at times like you’re not teaching them, but that’s because you want them to learn. The active process is now theirs, not yours. It’s because you want them to take ownership of their own learning. Assure them that you are not abandoning them – and they can call on you for help and guidance as they explore. Expect mistakes along the way…and encourage your students to learn from failure. You are their 21st Century Tour Guide.
Failure is okay. Some of the world’s most successful people failed miserably while learning to succeed. Remind your students that they fail time and time again playing video games.
And yet, in the end, they always save the world.
And reveal the new learning environment of the 21st Century. Is it time for an Extreme Makeover: School Edition? I think so. And so does Bob Pearlman, nationally renowned educational reform consultant.
An example of “connected learning” (see my previous post), this topic is relevant on several levels for me right now. You see, Pearlman is going to speak at Heritage Hall in April regarding project-based learning (I absolutely can’t wait!). I am currently in the midst of dreaming and blueprinting a redesign of our Upper School computer lab. To top it all off, our E21 Team is thrilled about our upcoming road trip to see one of the premier examples of 21st century learning environment (21CLE) in our region – New Tech High at Coppell, Texas.
We all know that students learn best when they are engaged and allowed to do most of the learning on their own. Research has proven such about this generation of students. So what is the best way to accomplish this phenomenon? The successful formula seems to be: PBL based pedagogy + 21CL environment + performance assessment = meaningful, connected learning.
Pearlman cites a Buck Institute of Education definition of PBL:
PBL is a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.
Sounds intense, doesn’t it? It is. According to Pearlman, PBL activities at New Tech schools usually last 1-3 weeks long. Examples include presenting a plan to Congress solving the oil crisis and inventing a sport that astronauts can play on the moon so they can get exercise. Students usually receive a rubric up front, so they know what amount of work will be required to achieve basic, proficient, or advanced scores.
Here’s an idea I absolutely love…when students finish a PBL unit of study, they present to an external audience. That could mean community experts, parents, Board members, other teachers, peers outside of their own class, or more. And students self-evaluate throughout the project and write a summative reflection on what they learned and how the project can be improved. And, in the spirit of 21CL, why not share with a global audience…online?!? This could be done with a partner classroom, or simply through a blog or Wiki open to the world.
So what about changes to the physical environment? 21CLE’s are large open spaces with mobile furniture. Every student has access to a computer. Tables or desks can be easily moved together for collaboration or “break-out” sessions structured around student “need to knows.” Many 21CLE’s use glass walls or windows to make learning transparent to all students and visiting adults.
The best 21st century schools provide every student with a computer, which increasingly means a laptop in a wireless environment. [Bob Pearlman]
But it’s not just about the technology. It’s the pedagogy behind technology that makes for successful learning in a 21CLE. Students use the laptop to conduct Internet research, Skype with experts, work collaboratively outside of school to construct products of learning (i.e. videos, podcasts, websites), and utilize technology to present their findings. In other words, according to Pearlman, “Students utilize all these [digital] tools to be investigators and producers of knowledge.”
At New Tech High in Coppell the school has adopted new language to refer to students and teachers. They have become “learners” and “facilitators,” respectively. Pearlman goes on to describe the physical landscape of NTH@C, both in the classroom and in hallways & common areas. Because our E21 team will be visiting NTH@C in early April, I will save discussion on these revelations for a future blog post. For now, check out these links to five schools ID’d by Pearlman as “the best of the new learning environments:”
Columbus Signature Academy (Columbus, Indiana)
New Tech High @ Coppell (Coppell, Texas)
The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (Providence, Rhode Island)
High Tech High (San Diego, California)
New Line Learning Academy (Kent, England)
The bottom line: These findings, yet again, suggest that our E21 mission is true. We are on the eve of implementing at a 1:1 laptop program – not based on simply dropping in technology, but based on years of our own research about 1:1 and 21CL. Our program is founded on technology rooted in tried and true pedagogy. By moving forward, we further enable our students to go beyond passive consumption of information and actively CREATE their own knowledge and experience true lifelong learning.
And that is what it’s all about, friends.
Are you sick of all the talk about 21st century skills? I mean, we are almost 12 years into the new millennium. Some educational pundits go so far as to demand we stop using the term, but Chris Dede attempts to rationalize the “21st Century Skills” movement:
Inventing new problem-solving heuristics when standard protocols have failed is an important skill; when all diagnostics are normal, but the patient is still feeling unwell, for instance, a skilled physician can think outside the box and become an expert decision maker.
Our kids NEED to learn how to think outside the box. This isn’t always an easy skill for them to pick up. You see, they’ve grown accustomed to the 20th century educational method whereby the teacher provides the answers and the student regurgitates them on paper homework, quizzes, or tests to prove they’ve acquired knowledge. They have already mastered this educational “game” and they like winning it. Our students want to be able to finish tasks quickly and easily, with great success. But what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. How will they answer those difficult questions that may not have a clear or easily-accessible answer?
Dede goes on:
…the nature of collaboration is shifting to a more sophisticated skillset. In addition to collaborating face-to-face with colleagues across a conference table, 21st century workers increasingly accomplish tasks through mediated interactions with peers halfway across the world whom they may never meet face-to-face.
Our students NEED to be able to collaborate; this goes beyond mere communication skills. They need to be able to work in groups to achieve project success. They need to know how to use modern-day tools like Skype or Apple FaceTime to connect and work with colleagues on the other side of the world. The only way they are going to begin life after Heritage Hall with that skillset is if we, their teachers, allow them time and setting to develop the essential skill of collaboration.
I love the comparison Dede makes next:
Conventional, 20th century K-12 instruction emphasizes manipulating predigested information to build fluency in routine problem solving, rather than filtering data derived from experiences in complex settings to develop skills in sophisticated problem finding.
Ask yourself, “Do I provide ‘complex settings’ for my students to work in? Do I allow them to find problems instead of memorize information? Do my students create their own data?” Hopefully, the answers to these questions are affirmative. Our students live in an information age – in fact, some have called it the “Age of InfoWhelm.” As Dede suggests:
The ability to separate signal from noise in a potentially overwhelming flood of incoming data is a suite of 21st century skills.
The 21st Century Charger needs to be prepared and able to filter the meaningful information out of the endless deluge of data. He needs to be able to ask questions about the data and explore resolution to such problems in a journey mapped out by himself. It is critical that the teacher becomes the “guide on the side” in this process for meaning can only be 100% relevant when it originates from oneself (the student).
In the book I read, Dede refers to Henry Jenkins’ interesting list of digital literacies. They are: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transformed navigation, networking, and negotiation.
To me, those are clearly skills that would make a person successful in the world of the near-future. The question that lies ahead of us is…
How can we prepare our students for life and the workplace of their future?
I took my Spanish class to the computer lab to use an awesome resource called Yabla.
Yabla is “online immersion television,” where kids can watch lessons or listen to authentic music, which has been organized by musical style, country of origin, and ease of understanding on a scale of 1-5. As they watch the videos, a translator box appears at the bottom of the screen which shows them the spoken content in both Spanish and English text. Cool!
I have a few boys in my class who are great, but I do need to pay a little extra attention to make sure they are on-task. About 10 minutes into the period, I heard two of them share a laugh.
“Uh-oh,” I thought, “surely they’re fooling around.”
I could see from a distance that they both had a Google doc open and the green and pink cursors told me they were sharing a conversation on each other’s screens.
“Well, that’s an ingenious way to pass notes,” I thought and crept up behind them for a closer view of exactly what they were sharing. Gossip? Intrigue? Bad language?
Shock of all shocks, they were actually on-task! They were using the shared document so they could compare notes on the video they both were watching.
I had not instructed them to do this, so I approached them to ask what they were up to. They pulled off their headphones and told me about the scene in the video and how it was just like something that had happened to them this morning.
I confessed I had doubted their intentions and that I was actually quite pleased to see how they were using a shared document to… well… share!
In fact, it gave me new ideas for collaborative assignments while they are using Yabla, like “compare and contrast pop music from Spain with pop music from Ecuador” and have them type it up while they are watching.
Many of my students are new to Google docs this year, and it is exciting to see them put it to use for their own purposes.
If media fluency involves using the right digital tool for the task, I would say these kids are doing just that: adapting the technology with which they are familiar to meet their needs.
I, for one, am excited to find more tools to add to their toolbox.
My students had divided a book we were reading into chapters, and each group was responsible for creating a video of that chapter’s main events.
It was a good way to review in a dynamic and memorable way. The history teacher across the hall had been teaching his students to make Common Craft videos, and I offered this as an alternative to filming a live scene.
In an act of media fluency one student said “I think the app my sister is using in Kindergarten would be perfect for this!” He described how it worked and it seemed interesting, so we quickly downloaded the free app and started testing it out.
Puppet Pals brings out the creative inner child in anyone who picks it up. You can choose pre-set characters, or upload your own images and set them in pre-set or uploaded scenes of your choosing.
When the scene is set, you can hit record and narrate or give voices to the characters as you move them around the scene. It’s essentially a puppet show that an individual can perform and film at the same time.
If you’ve seen a young child at play, moving toys around and giving them voices, this is the digital recording of that very same phenomenon.
The videos are fun to watch and the students have to summarize, problem-solve, collaborate, plan and execute the project… without even realizing they are using so many important 21st Century skills.
I love Puppet Pals, it’s going to become a standard fim-making option in my classroom.
Reddit is something I recently discovered and am pretty excited about. Reddit is a social news/discussion/question site with many very specific communities.
In AP physics this year we have been programming to create computer simulations that ideally mimic reality. Programming is powerful because you don’t just discover/measure physics, in you’re little computer created reality, you create it. Even though we are using a very intuitive programming language (Python), it can still be technical/frustrating at times.
Reddit was mentioned to me as a place students could post their programming questions and let more experienced programmers chime in. I wanted to see how it worked so I asked a programming question. Within 24 hours I had two quality responses. I hope the answers will help my students program with less frustration.
Although I’m planning on using Reddit for programming questions, it has all kinds of specific communities from current Israeli news to types of cooking to cognitive science and even an entire section on trees. If your students have specific questions, Reddit seems like the place to go.
I just came across this video that really makes me feel good about where we’re going with things on our campus. I just had to share.
On Sunday I stumbled upon an article in the opinion pages of the NYT titled The Rise of the New Groupthink. I had been working on a blog post about Solution Fluency which went into an exploration of different personalities as they operate in problem-solving situations. I had concluded that if people can recognize and put to use the best strength for the given situation, a group may produce a better result than an individual, toiling alone, might do.
Not so according to the article… or would author Susan Cain actually agree with the Myers Briggs concept that people operating out of different values and preferences might produce a good result when working together, if those differences are understood and are operating at their best? Certainly a group of people operating at their worst will produce a negative result in any situation.
Susan Cain argues that introverts like Steve Wozniak need to work independently, and if Woz were forced to collaborate in constant brainstorming groups, he would never have had the opportunity to make the magic of the personal computer happen. She does grant that without the “supernatural magnetism” of Steve Jobs, he might have given his invention away for free, or that he might never have gotten started on the project if not for a bunch of like-minded buddies getting together and outlining the parameters.
Though Cain, author of the forthcoming book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” seems to be speaking out against collaboration, she is operating out of a limited idea as to what collaboration is or can be. She cites the example of a 4th grade classroom she visited in New York City where: “students engaged in group work were forbidden to ask a question unless every member of the group had the very same question.”
What? Either this example was taken out of context, or the teacher she observed could probably use a bit more guidance on different learning styles. This technique might force the extroverts to think and consult their peers before they ask a question their group-mates can answer, but at its worst it would certainly produce what commenter ljn of New Jersey described on Jan. 15th at 12:49pm:
“…I was recalling that in elementary school in the 1970s, my teacher would ask who wanted to work in groups and who wanted to work by themselves. Usually I was the lone hand raised that preferred to work “solo”. But since most kids wanted to work in groups, that is what we did; often with mediocre results. Decades later, I know that my best work as a scientist has arisen from my own ideas and observations. Unfortunately, those of us who prefer to pursue our own approach are often labled as ‘not a team player’.”
Certainly young ljn would have had valuable contributions to make, but the self-professed introvert was, for some reason, not comfortable with the face-to-face, dialogue-oriented interaction her teacher prescribed. This commenter’s chosen career in science makes me think he or she might be an S (sensing) type of problem solver: fact-oriented, considerate of the components that have produced the situation, interested in researching the cause-and-effect aspect.
ljn might also be an F (feeling) type: attuned to the feelings of his or her peers, which might have caused internal conflict at a young age when he or she might have felt different from the other members of the group because of his or her unique vantage point. Sensitive to all of this, and more comfortable processing information in his or her own mind rather than out loud, it is understandable that this person did not like the structure of group work in school.
But does ljn‘s experience mean, as author Cain’s article suggests, that collaboration will turn us into a mediocre society?
In a word: no. I have seen collaboration in action in an all-boys private school in the Northeast, where 5th graders build presentations on shared Google docs about topics such as ancient Egypt. They are abuzz with excitement, sprawled out in the hall, editing the presentation, adding cool pictures and details while their teacher Tweets homework assignments with interesting bonus facts and images of Egyptian relics, fact-of-the-day style.
Some of the boys take responsibility for editing the text of the presentation, some are better at formatting the slides, some are writing Google queries with great imagination, which bring results that send the boys into fits of giggles, awed silence, and even quiet contemplation as they ramble around the internet in search of appropriate details.
They feel like they’re playing, but they are producing impressive results. When less-than-impressive, the teacher critiques the work according to a well-defined rubric and shows them exactly how to improve.
They all know how to do each step, sometimes they work together, sometimes alone… and yet still together, as they each have access to the most immediate version of the project through their assigned laptop.
Are they dumbing each other down? Hardly! They are in competition for the coolest fact, the best formatting, the least number of spelling errors on the text, the most interesting picture… Why? Because who doesn’t want to be the best at something? And if the ability to find your own niche and be the best in the way that makes the most sense to you is in your hands, you’re going to find it, even if you are 10 years old and working on a project for school, even if you don’t care about grades or school or Egypt, you’ll still want to know that you are the best at something.
Even better, you get to be competitive from the privacy of your own little hideaway under a table, down the hall, in the corner of the room, or wherever your best little working nook might be.
I wonder if ljn might have been happier with a collaborative project in a classroom like that ?
If all of this “type” classification intrigues you, visit the Myers Briggs website or pick up a copy of Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type, by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron. The career book takes each of the 16 different personality types and forecasts, based on decades of research, careers that are typically satisfying to particular types. According to this book, ljn would likely be an ISFP (Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving), who would enjoy — you guessed it — a career in science.
What are you? What am I? And why does all of this matter?
As we prepare our school to go boldly where many are tending to go… and discovering incredible opportunities and also pitfalls along the way… we must consider how we will instruct our various learners to help them to achieve 21st Century skills like the ability to collaborate.