On So-Called 21st Century Learning

Recently my mother shared a story with the family about her favorite gift she received growing up. “It was a set of Encyclopedias. I loved looking things up and learning,” she said, to which my 17-year-old niece responded, “Wow, everything I need is on my phone.” Hearing this, I could only think that the short exchange between my mother and niece exemplified how much has changed as a result of what many call The Digital Revolution. Society is becoming increasingly networked and information is more readily available.

Education, although changing, lags behind the rate at which society is changing. While there may be many reasons for this gap between society and schools, one of the main reasons may be that educators need to recognize, accept, and adapt to the needs of a new generation of students; a generation that is connected, sophisticated, and, I think, inherently hungry to demonstrate their ability to innovate and influence.

I am currently working to adapt by transforming my instruction to meet the needs of my students. Part of this transformation involves networking and collaborating with my colleagues and fellow educators across the country using social networks like Twitter, Google+, and Edmodo. Twitter is especially helpful because it acts as an ongoing educational conversation amongst interested parties. Often an idea posted on Twitter will spark my colleagues and I to reflect on our current pedagogical approaches. Reflecting with my colleagues has improved so many of my lessons, labs, and activities and has resulted in the creation of many deeper problem-based learning opportunities for my students.

A problem-based curriculum encourages students to work together as they investigate open-ended type questions that cover content and introduce them to important skills along the way. They learn to utilize their resources to access information while I circulate and help guide them through their work.

Available district technology, like Google Apps and Moodle, have allowed me to blend my instruction. Blended instruction takes advantage of online resources and connectivity so students can learn and practice at different paces. Compared to a traditional Flipped model, which relies on videos of direct instruction, a blended approach offers more flexibility. I can ask students to explore a website, read an article or blog, or watch a short video. Their responses can be organized via an embedded form or threaded conversations. All of this can be used to add depth to our work, which ultimately increases student engagement and motivation through relevant material.

Additionally, my students and I use collaborative technologies like Google docs, Evernote, and blogs so we can create and review each other’s work, which has proven particularly powerful and highly effective as a teaching/learning tool.

Incorporating technology has transformed my role in the class from “sage on the stage” direct instruction to a facilitating “guide on the side.” The net effect of this is a more creative and collaborative approach to solving deeper inquiry-based questions that effectively personalizes learning.

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