Category Archives: 21st century skills

More Distracted or Just Different?

I read Sunday’s New York Times article “Grown Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” by Matt Richtel and I had a reaction similar to other EdTech folks around my PLN.  As I read it, I thought of all the parents reading it and getting over-excited about their children’s technology use.  In the article (read it, if you haven’t already), the author tells the story of a high school senior that cannot finish his summer reading because he would rather spend time on his computer making and editing his own films and conversing with his friends.  The author goes on to present a dilemma: are we raising a generation that is unable to concentrate because of these distractions (cell phones, video games, computers)?  Are the brains of these students different?  Should schools embrace technology or become a haven without technology?

I do believe there are kids who spend too much time in front of a screen, but I don’t blame the technology, I blame parents and educators.  Students are growing up in a vastly different world than we did.  Notice I used the word “different” not better or worse, just different. Today kids are drawn into these devices for several reasons – they are social tools and our brains crave social learning; they provide instant feedback which is so satisfying; and there is always something new out there (continually changing screens, software updates, etc).  Our brains, especially young growing brains, crave all of these things.  And our brains also crave exercise, art, and social interactions.  We all need to balance all of these activities in our daily life.  Adults need to model and teach students when and where to use or not use technology; help them determine how long is too long on the computer or cell phone; and how to put the distractions away and get to work.  Adults are just as guilty: some parents answer cell phones or text at the dinner table or in the car.  I don’t blame it on the cell phone, I blame it on the adult.

The answer, of course, is not to turn off all of the technology in schools.  We need to create schools that use technology as the powerful learning tool that it is when used correctly.  We need to model appropriate use.  We need schools that use technology to prepare our kids for the future.  I like Cathy Davidson’s response to the article, “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention anymore“, in which she says:

Our attention is shaped by all we do, and reshaped by all we do.  That is what learning is. The best we can do as educators is find ways to improve our institutions of learning to help our kids be prepared for their future–not for our past.

and

The problem is not in the students. It is in the mismatch between the way they are being taught and what they need to learn.

I like a lot of what Cathy Davidson says in her post probably because I have been reading her recent contributions in The Future of Thinking (a MacArthur Foundation report) that does a nice job framing a lot of what technology people have been talking about for years about the power of technology in the classroom.

Both of these posts (as well as other response posts) will be good framework to engage parents in a discussion about technology use at home and at school.  I think it is beyond time that school communities talk about the responsibility that comes with giving students these tools and it should be shared by both the school, the teachers, and the parents.

Photo: school zone by sevenbirches

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Evolution of English

I stumbled across this video through a post by a Columbia professor (former Bowdoin professor). The video was created by the chair of the Rutgers University English Department, Richard Miller. He makes a compelling argument about how the study of English has to evolve with the read/write world. In it he says of the study of English in the networked world:

(the study of English) excels in human expression and in the study of human culture related to human expression – we should be the place that’s at the very cutting edge of education for students in these areas.

I am glad to see more and more conversation happening in the higher ed world.  It would be nice to engage in a k-16 conversation rather than separate k-12 and 13-16 conversations. Watch it and see what you think.

Have you tried Voicethread?

I’m working on an agenda of workshops for the rest of the school year. One tool that I’d like to get teachers excited about is Voicethread. I’ve now seen it used in a number of ways with a variety of grade levels and it seems that it can be a tool that can be added just about anywhere. I’ve been reading about many teachers using Voicethread successfully (and enthusiastically) with their students:

Jeff Utecht talks about Voicethread in Art classes.

Wes Fryer post about a Voicethread project in an elementary school in NY

This post using Voicethread’s commenting feature to gather ideas on how to use Voicethread

I think the classroom opportunities are endless:

  • In Lower School, classes can use Voicethread with their own class pictures to create a audio/visual newsletter. Especially in the younger grades where students cannot write yet, this would be a great tool for the kids to use in order to better express themselves.
  • In Science classes, students could use Voicethread to document an experiment – a kind of visual lab report.
  • In Math, students could use Voicethread to narrate their way through solving a math problem in order to demonstrate their understanding.
  • In English class, they can put original poems or short stories to pictures.
  • In Art class, Voicethread can be use a tool to reflect on their work.
  • In Foreign Language, kids can create stories or tours using Flickr images and narrate them in their language.
  • In History, they could use use flickr images in a digital narration of a historical event.

I am looking forward to teaching some teachers about this wonderful tool and getting some kids excited about using it.  What are some ways you are using it?

21 C Learning Goes Mainstream

Recess in the SnowA recent article in Time Magazine has brought the idea of 21st century learning to the mainstream media. The article raises the idea that the traditional school learning – in rows, listening, note-taking – is a very antiquated one, preparing individuals for an industrial world. The article goes on to say that schools need to adjust their expectations in order to produce global learners. This article is not news to many educators (especially those of you who read blogs), but it is a refreshing piece to see in a mainstream magazine – it caught the attention of some of my administrators.

But that article got me thinking: when I try to bring these ideas into my school, there are several obstacles to overcome (just to name a few):

1. Acceptance. Teachers must understand (and accept) that this is a real issue. They have to let go of the fact that the way they were taught is not necessarily the best or the only way to teach. I am constantly amazed by this attitude – I have found it in teachers of all generations.

2. Who should change first? As a college prep institution, we feel we have the responsibility to teach kids skills, habits, and techniques that will help graduates go on to college. This is a good theory but many college and university are teaching kids through lecture style and not incorporating any global learning/21st century skills. If we blink before colleges, will our students have trouble succeeding in college?

3. Transition. Once teachers accept that 21st century learning is important, how do we help teachers change their curriculum and pedagogy? Do we give them some sort of map that will help them begin to move their classes to the 21st century. Do we let them discover this? Whatever the answer, it will take time and that’s something we don’t have enough of in school.

4. Leadership. I fully believe that in order to make some of these changes, I need buy in from our administration (and I am not there yet). I don’t need a cheering squad – administrators that tell me I’m doing a good job and say they understand the developing 21st century skills – I need administrators who use this stuff, actually experience the importance of them first-hand.

The last obstacle is one that I am focusing on this year. I have requested some time with our administrators to do some trainings (or at least one) on tools that will help them with their jobs – RSS, GoogleDocs, Skype. I’d like to give them some tools to try and use and see the value in their own jobs so they can then see how they can contribute to student learning. I have yet to get that training time but I’m still working on it. Until then I will keep working with individuals on the faculty as they request it.

photo: “Recess in the Snow” (CaptPiper on Flickr )

Blogging in the classroom

I’ve read two posts today in support of blogging in the classroom. Yes, there have been many posts written about The first article, by Bradley Hammer a writing professor at Duke, on nj.com (via Patrick). Hammer writes:

As part of this change, technology has radically extended the spaces for academic debate. In real ways, blogging and other forms of virtual debate foster the very types of intellectual exchange, analysis and argumentative writing that universities value.

…But in my courses, students write blogs and few traditional papers. This isn’t just a gimmick to act young in an old game. They write blogs because we now live in a world where debate and publication happen predominantly in virtual spaces.

In addition to blogs, they maintain Web sites where they learn to interact with other writers beyond the isolating confines of the classroom. They defend their analyses and argue with real purpose be cause they are forced to be conscious of an audience beyond the limited scope of the instructor. Consequently, they are learning to think and write critically in ways that promote inquiry and genuine interest in writing and thinking.

Hammer goes on to talk about how this type of writing differs from the “traditional” writing currently taught in most high schools and colleges. I encourage you to read the whole article for yourself.

The second post came from Barbara Ganley from Middlebury College on her own blog.  I enjoyed reading her transcript/notes of her presentation to the faculty of Exeter Academy on the Harkness method and the 21st Century.  She did a compelling job of explaining how she made the journey in her own career from teaching as she had been taught (at Exeter) to her current use of blogs, social networks, and other online resources in her courses without losing sight of the strengths of the Harkness method.  You need to read her whole post because she does such a beautiful job but here’s a powerful quote:

The results of classroom blogging, as I will show you now, have been nothing short of astounding in my experience these past six years—this is now how my classes look and feel according to my students, who have become actively engaged with deep learning, developed their skills of critical and creative thinking and expression, their ability to connect and collaborate, and their confidence and skill using the digital technologies. It has been nothing short of electrifying. Staying the course for Harkness in the 21st century means evolving it to suit the needs and realities of our times, and to avail ourselves of the opportunities afforded by new ways of teaching and learning–online.

I really enjoy reading Barbara’s posts, in general.  But this one resonated with me because it captures the type of “good teaching” and learning that our school embraces.

Horse before the cart?

I haven’t had much time to write these days. I’ve been knee-deep in preparing for the return of faculty (and students). Lots of technical work – hanging projectors, reimaging computers, turning over databases. Not really the most stimulating work but I have had a lot of time to think. I’ve been focusing on our upcoming retreat for Upper School faculty. The form of the day has changed slightly but the approach is the same — get faculty talking about what makes good teaching and how can web 2.0 tools help promote it. The day will be mostly conversational using three different modes – live f2f conversation, online chat, and blog/reflection. We will use these conversations to kick-off a “good teaching” blog which we hope faculty will contribute to throughout the year. We will also use a wiki to archive our chats, notes, and other resources from our retreat.

I am looking forward to the day (Monday). I think it’s a good way to start the year. The book we read (Ken Bain’s, What the Best College Teachers Do) was interesting and affirming. I think it will really help drive the tone and content of the conversation. I do wonder whether there will be enough of us with knowledge about these communication/web 2.0 tools to talk about them and get others interested in using them to promote “good teaching”.

Introducing technology to teachers in this way is unique.  We have tried to do  skill workshops with departments and small groups of faculty, but only the interested attend.  If we require everyone to attend, there are many that just don’t get it – too abstract.  In this model, we are trying to get to faculty through the idea of best practice. Will they go for it?  Not sure, time will tell.  But my guess is that we may intrigue some members that were not interested by the skills based workshops.

I  am interested in everyone’s posts about their professional development experiences at the beginning of the school year – Jeff U., Karl F.Stephanie S., just to name a few.  We all are working on something a little different but our message seems to be the same – “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning”.  I hope this is a good start to the year for everyone and I hope little by little we get our message out.

College prep, required skills, and other results

“We have to prepare our students for college work.”, “These students are not learning how to take notes.” “These tools undermine our study skills.”, “Are students achieving more as a result of learning with these tools?”

These are just some of the comments and questions I have run into again and again as I promote more use of technology in the curriculum. That’s why I was intrigued by Will’s post last week on web 2.0 making it’s way into colleges. I often wonder how much current high school students will use these new technologies in their classrooms at college. My impression is that certain college professors are embracing these technologies but, like the k-12 arena, it’s hit or miss.

For now, we still have to prepare our students for exams and term papers but I think we can mix that in with new pedagogies which embrace the use of a technology integrated curriculum. Over time I hope to see this divide narrow and there be a more consistent set of skills between high school and college and life, for that matter.

I really like the new NETS (National Educational Technology Standards) for Students developed by ISTE (in collaboration with many, many people). I hope these 21st Century skills can be embraced by educators of all grade levels as a good road map for looking forward in education. David Warlick framed it nicely when talking about a recent presentation he made:

In it, I suggested three converging elements of what we do, and how, through the shared electrons of those elements (if I might carry the metaphor a little further), we might generate the energy that we need to drive learning in flat classrooms, turning them into learning engines.

Those elements are:

  • We are preparing children for a future we can not describe
  • We are preparing children, who as a generation, are enjoying a rich information experience outside-the-classroom.
  • We are preparing children within a new and dynamic information environment with new qualities that seem ready made for teaching and learning.

Well put, David. As educators, we need to understand and experience these tools that our students are growing up with. We have to be willing to learn about them and to use them. After that, we can choose not to use them but that choice has to be made after learning/using them.