Redefining Learning

As a user and proponent of technology, it was intriguing to see the story of a technology-free school, the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Silicon Valley. As the Waldorf School proves, 21st century skills (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, etc.) can be taught without technology. Hands-on learning is great! But is it worth teaching knitting skills instead of something like digital citizenship? (After all, 78% of teens have a cell phone and 93% have access to a computer at home.)

I believe we should use technology alongside traditional methods of teaching — in whatever combination is necessary to benefit the students the most. Technology is an enhancer, not a replacer. Sure, my Careers students could learn about jobs through a textbook or research them with an encyclopedia, but it’s far more engaging to teach them with an interactive website that exposes them to information and videos about dozens of careers. It’s far more efficient to have them access the websites for the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook or O*NET OnLine to research an occupation that has piqued their interest. It’s far more practical to have them find a job application online (where many employers put their job openings) than to give them classified ads.

Technology can be an instrument through which students learn the skills they need to become innovators and contributors to the world at large (which is dominated by technology), and learn workplace skills as well. The world is better off with people who have these skills, not worse off. Technology has another benefit: a student or group of students can create a permanent record of what they learned — available for review at any time and to share with anyone — by filming videos, creating online comics, developing wikis, uploading photos of projects, creating podcasts, and so on. Technology has increased the opportunities for students to make personal and creative investments in their own education and share this with others.

Click here to how technology has redefined learning in my classroom.

Digital Toolbox Showcase

SAMR model

SAMR? Never heard of it.

The readings and videos in our module helped me understand that SAMR stands for Substitution-Augmentation-Modification-Redefinition. It made me realize that most of the technology I already use in my classroom falls under substitution and augmentation. I generally use technology to display presentations (augmented lectures) and show videos. I’ll be using the Jeopardy-style FlipQuiz this year to do some reviews — that’s substitution. I’ll be recommending Quizlet as a study aid — that’s augmentation.

I don’t have much in my class in terms of modification and redefinition. My Careers students do some coding and game design with Hour of Code and Gamestar Mechanic during the S.T.E.M. unit (that’s redefinition); they’re great activities but they’re isolated to a couple weeks. I have yet to find a technological resource that is transformatively useful in my Leadership Development class, Careers class, or Current Events class. There are numerous apps and websites for the core subjects but a dearth of resources for electives like mine.

I’ve set the following criteria for the digital tools I plan on using:

  • COST: I prefer free. As I experiment with new apps, I don’t want them spending money on something I may end up disliking.
  • BLOOM’S TAXONOMY: Does the resource fall under knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation?
  • SAMR: Does the tech resource substitute, augment, modify, or redefine?
  • 21ST CENTURY SKILLS: Does it teach creativity and innovation? Does it teach critical thinking and problem solving? Does it teach communication and collaboration?
  • DEVICE: Does it require a computer with Internet access, an iOS device, an Android device, or can it be used on all of them?
  • USE: What is the purpose or potential use in my classes?

I didn’t categorize all the tools I selected into Bloom’s Taxonomy and 21st Century Skills because I’d prefer to wait until I’ve put them to use and seen them in action. All of them are free and accessible to students on computers and/or devices.

Take a look at my Digital Toolbox.

Digital Citizenship

Teaching digital citizenship is relatively new to me. I never taught it at all in my first four years at my job because I hadn’t discovered Common Sense Media’s curriculum yet. I taught it for the first time in May 2013 and was happy to see students’ positive reaction to it. They related to it. The worksheets were simple and informative. Our discussions were lively. I witnessed the same reaction when I taught it again at the end of this past school year.

With B.Y.O.D. a reality at my school this fall, I plan on keeping digital citizenship at the forefront of my students’ minds by teaching it throughout the year, rather than at the end as I’ve done in the past. Our Module 3 readings further enforced my decision to do this. If students are to be successful in the 21st century, they need to be able to navigate the digital realm properly and responsibly and they need to learn how sooner rather than later. Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship materials are perfect for this. So far I’ve used it to teach about etiquette, communicating safely online, passwords, scams and spam, phishing, privacy, digital life, digital footprints, online communities, web fame, cyberbullying, self-expression, online identities, respecting creative work, and online research. (This covers six of the nine elements of digital citizenship.)

I can’t do this alone. Parents are just as instrumental in teaching digital citizenship as teachers, perhaps more so. The discussions I have with my students need to continue at home. Parents need to lead by example — don’t text during dinner, don’t text and drive, and so on — and be aware of their children’s digital habits, like vamping. It shouldn’t take the suicide of a 12-year-old girl to open our eyes about the significance and urgency of digital citizenship, either.

School districts can also do something. I’ve put together a three-page action plan and PowerPoint presentation for how and why districts should teach digital citizenship. For optimal viewing, click on the full-screen icon on the bottom right of the Scribd box.

The Tech Detectives

This is such a great idea — a “Tech Detectives” club in which students, not the technology department, complete certain tech requests. If teachers need troubleshooting with some sort of technology issue in their classroom, a tech detective can be sent to their room. According to the article, “On a regular basis, students create tutorials, assist teachers, learn about technology trends, collaboratively problem solve issues, and gain exposure to career readiness.” Sounds awesome! I’m going to suggest this at my school and sponsor it if I can.

Digital Divide

Years ago, when my school district began planning a transition to “Bring Your Own Device” for the schools, there was a question that invariably came up: what about students without devices? Will they get left behind or be put at a disadvantage? It would be wonderful if every student had the exact same kind of device and Internet access — a level technological playing field — to complete certain assignments, but they don’t.  Some have the latest model from Apple or Samsung, some have a basic cell phone. Some have brand new ones, some have broken screens. Some have high-speed Internet at home, some have no Internet at all. This is where the term “digital divide” comes in. Digital divide initially referred to the divide, or gap, between students that have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not. Cell phones and smart phones have become ubiquitous since the turn of the century and according to the Pew Internet Project, 95% of teens can access the Internet. Digital divide now refers to the divide in how the Internet access is being used. This is something I’ve never considered before.

Another study done by the Pew Research Internet Project looked at how households of varying income brackets used the Internet. In general, students who live in households earning less than $30,000 are less likely to frequently use the Internet, get online news, research a product, check political news or government websites, seek information about a medical issue, or check online classifieds. They’re also less likely to own a desktop or laptop (see chart). As Mary Beth Hertz points out in “A New Understanding of the Digital Divide,” “you can’t fill out a job application through a cell phone or update your résumé on a game console.” Going forward, I will need to be mindful of this whenever I assign something that requires desktop/laptop access. My lesson plans need to be adaptable enough to be used on any device.

My Computers in Education class has put together a VoiceThread discussion about the digital divide. Listen to it here.

New Literacies for 21st Century Learners

21st century learning is significant in that it’s not 20th century learning. 20th century learning is how I learned — rote memorization, tedious homework, lectures in nearly every class, reading from textbooks, and little connection to the outside world. My elementary and secondary teachers were doing the best they could, but it’s only with 21st century hindsight that I realize this way of teaching just won’t suffice anymore. I can’t and shouldn’t teach my students in the way I was taught growing up.

At first I assumed 21st century learning was just incorporating more technology into instruction. That’s only part of it. 21st century learning is about teaching students a set of skills and technological literacies alongside a mastery of various subjects. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, students should ultimately be learning critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity skills. Knowing this, I find myself at a turning point in my teaching career: I could go on teaching as I always have, or actively seek out lesson plans and activities that teach the skills my students need to thrive in the 21st century. I’m lucky to have a great platform to try out these new types of lessons — my Current Events class. For example, if there’s a natural disaster — say, a tornado that wipes out a nearby community — I could have students brainstorm ways to help (creativity), organize a fundraiser to raise money (entrepreneurial skills), sign students up to volunteer to help clean up (civic literacy), analyze the effects of the storm (environmental), develop ways to make structures safer (problem solving), and produce a news broadcast that describes the effects of the tornado and how communities come together (information, communication, and media literacy). That sounds way more engaging than doing a fill-in-the-blank worksheet about tornadoes.

I’ve created a short cartoon that features a generic 21st century learner and summarizes the characteristics of 21st century learning. Check it out:

Teens and Technology

Let’s compare the teens from the 90s (like me) to the teens of today.

Internet for me was those screeching, annoying modem sounds to log on to AOL. Might take up to a minute to connect and for the webpages to load. Internet for them is the touch of an icon on their smartphone or a double-click on a computer desktop — and it loads in seconds.

A handheld device for me could play cartridges of Tetris, Super Mario Land, Metroid II, Kirby’s Pinball Land, and so on. I’d have to go to Electronics Boutique to get those. They can read books, listen to music, watch videos, take photos, connect to friends, check e-mail, shop for things, and surf the web with their device. They can download new games in a matter of seconds. No need to visit a store.

Music for me was putting a CD into my Sony Discman or boombox. I was a big fan of the Barenaked Ladies, Matchbox Twenty, Third Eye Blind, Dave Matthews Band, Live, and Jamiroquai in the 90s. If I wanted to listen to a different band, I had to take the CD out and put in another. Music for them is putting thousands of digital songs onto their device, listening to a playlist, or streaming music. They even have devices capable of listening to them. Say “play Sam Smith” and their device goes right to the artist’s music.

If I took pictures with my camera, I (or my parents) had to take the roll of film to get developed (usually only took a day or two). Teens today can share their photos to Instagram or Snapchat instantaneously.

I had Time Life books. They have Wikipedia.

In 1997, only 36.6% of households had a computer and only 18% used the Internet. In 2011, those numbers jumped to 75.6% and 71.7%, respectively. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 95% of teens use the Internet, 78% have a cell phone (37% have a smartphone), 75% of them text, and 20% have never used a land-line.

If only they knew what life was like before technology…