Musings of a 21st Century Middle School Social Studies Teacher
Not long ago, I was a teacher who didn't quite understand the potential of digital integration in the classroom. Until this past year, parts of my instruction included moving traditional paper guided notes which accompanied a PowerPoint to the Google Docs platform and calling this use of digital technology. No. No. NO!!! I wish I could step back in time one year or THREE YEARS and give myself a lesson. You cannot just take a paper worksheet or assignment, digitize it, and call it tech integration or use of tech in the classroom. Digital integration of technology in any classroom has all the potential in the world to take any traditional classroom to the next level!
3 C's of Learning in 21st Century Classroom
Communication. Collaboration. Creativity. (Now, I realize that some sources use "different C's" but these are the C's I'm sticking with here!)
To an extent, I would skim the surface of these "C's" in my classroom but pale in comparison to where could be in terms of unleashing the potential of my students. In a 21st century classroom, a teacher MUST move past the cookie-cutter-students classroom model and begin adopting innovative practices using the new technologies that are afforded to us unlike ever before.
Today, information is a click away. Are we teaching students information that they can "Google?" Or, are we challenging students to communicate, collaborate, and be creative in the world around them using the vast number of digital tools and resources at their disposal?
Many digital platforms allow us to provide voice to all students in our classrooms. Before, students who were more shy or hesitant to engage in classroom discussion maybe did not share great ideas because they were shy or less inclined to share with the pressure of their peers around them. Now, with technology, students have the ability to communicate with one another via a back channel that can be provided via digital platforms such as Padlet or Google Classroom.
Digital tools also provide a brand new platform for students to communicate their thinking and ideas in a more authentic manner with the world around them through different sharing abilities. (To be discussed shortly!)
Students now have the ability to collaborate asynchronously or synchronously on any assignment. With tools like the Google Apps which allow sharing and other tools which promote sharing across platforms and users, students are able to work together in pairs or groups on an assignment unlike ever before.
This collaboration extends beyond completing a poster together or even working together on a Google Slides Presentation to share objective information about a given topic. I'm still discovering what exactly this means but... I know that the end goal of my tech integration should be in building students who learn to collaborate well with one another while diving deeper in their journey of life-long learning all while creating then sharing their work with the world!
Last, but certainly not least - Creativity! According to this article from Business Weekly, by 2020, creativity will be the third most desired quality by employers in those whom they hire in the workplace. Employers are not looking for people who will regurgitate what they learned in history class - my class... Unfortunately! Employers are and will be looking for people who are creative, out of the box, and innovative thinkers! How else will businesses succeed and reach those to whom they are marketing except through the efforts of creative marking, innovation, and vision!?
How does this pertain to the classroom? We must provide an avenue and outlet for our students to be creative by allowing them to - yes - have more freedom and choice. Students are often motivated when they have a stake in choice how an assignment is completed. But wait! How will the entire curriculum be taught if much of the time is student-centered? How will I ensure that my 6th graders can identify the difference between a butte and a mesa? How will I make sure my 7th and 8th graders know and can apply the present-day ramifications of each constitutional amendment? Hold up! Does this really matter if the totality of our students only ever have one way to show their learning and thinking? (A chapter test!) We should certainly be covering the curriculum as we are expected, but as 21st century educators, we are called to engage and enhance our students' learning experiences unlike teachers have even been able to do before. These chapter tests will mean nothing in future work places... Except that the students will be able to say that at one point they were able to memorize and regurgitate information on an exam! (Disclaimer: Yes - there is a place for this and I hope to reflect on it another time. Tests should never be the sole assessment tools a teacher uses, even in high school!) We need to prepare our students to be creative and make decisions by working through the creative process. After all, in the real world, employees will be expected to create and solve often without 100 guidelines as provided in a teacher-created rubric. Let go. Let them create.
Nevertheless, how can we foster creativity? Introduce different multimedia resources. Allow student choice of pace, path, and medium! Allow the students to show their learning in a way that they feel most comfortable. Unleash the potential!
In conclusion: Break the mold. Break from tradition. Use these new tech tools in new innovative ways. Be creative yourself as a facilitator of learning! Let go and let your kids!