Teaching and Learning In 21st century schools

Former high school principal Greg takes camera duties into his own hands while taking the senior class picture. One of the most significant changes in 21st century schools is the access and use of technology at all levels of education. Whether it's cloud-shared lesson plans and schedule changes or Google Doc collaboration assignments and one-to-one laptop initiatives, technology has changed how we teach and learn in the 21st century.

"I started teaching English at Asheville High School in 1984, looking back, the cusp of a great transition in American education. We were not far removed from a world of desks in rows, students working quietly to answer questions in the back of the textbook, and the teacher as the Source of All Knowledge and the Final Authority in the classroom. At my first in-service as a new teacher, I learned how to use Bankstreet Writer, using a 5 ¼” floppy on an Apple II computer. In class, I was a stand-and-deliver teacher, but I slowly learned how to let go and let students participate more actively in the learning process. When I left the classroom for an administrative position in 2003, I had become a Web 1.0 teacher. Students routinely used word-processing programs to write papers, but still submitted them as printed copies. I used PowerPoint to present background information on literary movements and authors and had students collaborate to create presentations on literature the class had read. I actually saw the greatest change as a principal. Asheville City Schools became a leader in the implementation of effective, student-centered instructional technology. Through two IMPACT grants and a 1:1 initiative (and a ton of ongoing professional development over a 10-year period), we changed the classroom dynamic. Students collaborated (sometimes in the classroom, sometimes in different locations and at different times) to independently explore an issue or topic covered in class. What was most significant was the change in teachers’ perceptions of their roles. No longer the ringmaster or the “sage on the stage,” teachers worked with students in small groups to guide and coach them in their learning. Student-led class activities became the norm. One teacher successfully flipped his Calculus classroom, with students taking notes on his original videos as homework and working collaboratively on problem sets in class, with the teacher circulating to monitor and coach students in their learning. Now, as a retired public school teacher and principal, I have returned to the classroom at a highly-regarded, traditional all-boys boarding school. While the expectation is that students have laptops with them in class every day, the school hasn’t cultivated the culture to make this implementation effective. So I’ve started, slowly, in my classroom. I still use presentations to support introductory lectures and I have taught my students (slowly…) to make effective use of instructional technology, researching topics and resources and sharing their work. Students turn in papers through Turnitin.com, which enables me to use Common-Core-aligned rubrics to help improve their writing." -Greg, high school English teacher, retired Principal

A Nintendo 3DS with the sketching program pulled up

"Technology wasn't really a big part of my [core academic] classroom experience beyond Powerpoints, but I definitely got to take classes that would not have existed. I took this one class, called drafting, where I got to do digital design and t-shirt printing. I got to design the logo and merchandise for our prom one year. That was what made me want to be a graphic designer. I got to see my design all over the place and that was really cool. That entire class was really tech heavy, but it was all towards something, towards a final product. I made a lot of t-shirts in that class. Now, a lot of the technology I use is in different ways to produce digital art. Almost everything has some sort of sketchpad program now. Not all of them are good, but a lot of them are decent and portable. That means I can work on my art skills just about everywhere. Being able to practice a lot and consistently has really improved my style. I really like having a lot of technology in class, but only when it's all being used for something. Just having the technology there just gets distracting. I think once the technology that exists now is no longer new, teachers will stop shoehorning it into everything and it'll only get used for what's actually helpful. I like using technology sometimes, but honestly I tend to do a lot of academic things without electronics." -Anna-Kate, 20, App State student

Shannon with a group of students at lunch

"I started with hand drawn flashcards, a hand puppet, a chalk chuck and a “purple monster” mimeograph machine as my tools to teach elementary Spanish with. Today, I have a Smartboard, document camera, and Chromebooks that let me facilitate and enhance my lessons—from agendas with hyperlinks within the document to maps and videos from around the Spanish world. And for the students-- doing activities designed for them to work independently on a Chromebook to interacting with people living and/or traveling in the Spanish speaking world. Skyping, connecting students with another person in another country is a wonderful activity for a world language teacher. The students get to connect on a level that pictures, books and videos don’t provide---live interaction. The live interaction makes it all very real, and the students can absorb the scenery and practice their Spanish all at the same time. Regardless if the Skyping is with a class in Valladolid, México, our Sister City, a dad in Spain, or a present day student studying in Panama for a semester, the impact on my students was amazing. When I first started I had to carry my own handmade poster calendar with a few colored and laminated icons of a country to show. I had one filmstrip of Christmas celebration and eventually, a video tape of a National Geographic presentation on Spain. I used a chalk board, and carried my own chalk chuck with me as I went into each classroom. Pictures for flashcards were hand drawn or images copied from blackline master booklets. It was simple, but we made it work, but bringing the world to the students and having authentic resources available was not easily done. When the tech initiative in North Carolina started, our schools received their first Smart Boards and Promethean Boards installed with document cameras. I created the daily agenda for my classes with links to jump pages within the document with supporting materials—maps, pictures, poems, rhymes, songs, number generator, videos, and on the calendar-- links to videos of important calendar events, like El Grito in México. It was all stored on a Y Drive where it could be accessed from any computer in the school – a very important feature for the traveling teacher. Within the class room, notes written on the board could­­ be saved and printed off for a student who is absent. A worksheet could be quickly uploaded and written upon including the use of highlighting, magnifying, and illustrating for all to see. Games like one using a mondo Koosh ball elevated the interactivity of the game. And that’s was just a few examples of what I do with that type of technology to enhance my teaching. From the student’s perspective, today, there are so many ways to bring the world to the student. Academically, from programs, to videos that either present information to learn, or another teacher teaching a concept in another way… to using Google Docs and Google Classroom to create a classroom where students look at the Standards and Goals for the unit; take a pretest to see where they need work; then, have tailored mandatory and optional activities placed on their page with the necessary information to do the tasks. They also get specific small group and one on one conferences to check in with the teacher, as well as formative and summative evaluations to monitor their progress and success. I covered a 5th grade class one morning with this amazing set up, and all students were engaged. I was just a quietly observing adult. Recently, I commented to my husband that I always seem to want technology to do something that has not been developed adequately yet. I would like to run a classroom like the one I have described above, but the crowd sourcing of the curricula in Spanish for elementary students is not there yet. It will probably get there, but I find my wishes are usually fulfilled five years later. I do like the direction that education is going in, but with any new tools or program, you always need to find a balance. We cannot just plug students in and expect them to learn because they worked on a computer program. Likewise, testing is a valuable tool, but to know when and how to use it and how to use the resulting data is extremely important in being the guide for how to use it. The class I described above provides a good balance between computers, hands on activities, formative and summative assessments and direct instruction. This should be the direction of schools today." -Shannon, Elementary Spanish teacher

Brady's educational experience with 21st century skills landed him a job in his field

"My education, and my generation’s education, has revolved around the use of computers. We are really the first generation to use computers for everything, from taking notes in class to conducting research, taking tests, and even to take attendance. Great things have come from the use of computers and the internet—for example, I can access a virtually endless source of information and communicate with people all over the world. Also, I have certainly missed out on things simple and straightforward to past generations, like doing research in a library. Specifically, my use of Microsoft Excel in school has provided me with great opportunities. In high school, my knowledge of Excel landed me an internship writing formulas for the National Climatic Data Center, and Excel work is a necessity in my current job with The Nature Conservancy’s communications team. I am also currently using a re-formatted formula from my internship with the NCDC to study environmental hazard proximity to prisons in North Carolina." - Brady (22, UNC Student)

Colin displays some of his 21st century skills with 3D design

"The biggest way I think that technology has changed education is that it has changed the focus of education. Education is becoming less about gaining knowledge, but rather becoming more about learning how to access knowledge. I don't think this is inherently a bad thing like might be assumed, because especially in fields specifically dealing with technology such as computer science and information science, there is simply more information out there than we have the ability for retain. When I am writing code, it is not reasonable for me to know exactly how to write everything on my own. It is reasonable for me be responsible and able to find anything I need to be able to write a code. Early in college, I remember having many big names in computer science being skyped in from across the world to provide their experience and to give us a unique guest lecturing experience. I think technology in my education has especially shaped my future. We are and always will be realizing the potential of technology. I began my education focusing on the back end of technology (low level programming, etc) and has moved more to the front end of technology (new media, HTML web design, information distribution) because I realized that is where my extroverted personality and my love of technology merged. I had not previously known there was a field for me where those two things merged so well. I think it is naive to fight the direction education is going. I think that ease of access to information is the future. I think we are currently struggling to embrace that in some wings of education. With that being said, I think it will move in the right direction as long as we embrace it and don't fight it." - Colin (22, UNC student)

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