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21 Things Every 21st Century Educator Should Try This Year (2018 Version)

In 2014 I wrote what would be my most popular blog post ever. Little did I know what impact (both positive and negative) this post would have in the educational world. Part of the popularity of the post was due to the Sean Junkins created infographic that accompanied the post. For the most part, people tended to look at the infographic and pass judgement on whether or not these were things that teachers “should” do in the classroom without reading the blog at all. All that to say – Congratulations! If you are reading this post it means that you have taken the time to click on a link before just looking at the infographic.

Seeing that the world and education has changed (especially in the areas of technology, privacy, etc), I thought it might be a good time to rewrite the post before the start of the 2018 school year. Before I do that, a few disclaimers:

  1. I know that this is an ambitious list. We need ambition to move the needle in public education.
  2. While I love my friends in other countries, I’m not as familiar with their laws, so for the purpose of this post, put on your U.S. hat.
  3. Yes, technology costs money. Money that we are sorely lacking in public education. That said, I’ve tried to differentiate some items on this list require little to no money, just a growth mindset.
  4. The purpose of this list is not to shame teachers into trying EVERYTHING on the list. My hope is that it will generate one or two ideas for a teacher to try this year.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to my 2018 version of “21 Things That Every Educator Should Try in the 21st Century”. A handful of these are carry overs from the 2014, but the majority are not. Many of the updates come from trends I’ve seen not only in education but also in the workplace like these Top 10 Skills Needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (from the World Economic Forum). Oh, and of course, check out the accompanying infographic as well…just be sure to read the full post before passing judgement. 🙂

1. Post a question of the week on your class blog

One of the best ways to engage student (and family) interaction with your classroom is to have a class blog.  While these are becoming more common, I like the trend of having a weekly student “guest author” write up the ideas and learning objectives discussed in class.  This is also a good place to discuss appropriate commenting behavior on blogs and websites.

2. Have a class twitter or Instagram account to post about the day’s learning

Just like a blog only smaller.  One of my Ed Techs (Ashley Pampe) actually created a “Social Media” team on her elementary campus. She vets and reviews all their images and blog entries before posting, but it’s an effective way for students to learn appropriate posting behaviors before they dive into the middle school world of social media. Ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.

3. Create an infographic to help review and understand information

Infographics have become a part of everyday society. People are looking for information quickly and visually. Creating an infographic to review content is a powerful way to help those students that are visual learners. Taking this one step further – have students create an infographic as a way to convey their information on a subject. There are many free online tools out there to help with this but my favorite is Keynote (now with built in icons – it’s what I used to make the infographic for this post)

4. Debate a topic virtually and face to face

Lately the internet and social media have become a stomping ground for people to share their opinions, often in ways that they wouldn’t in a face to face conversation. We need to have students understand this medium as well as how to have an educated argument in person. Creating an environment where cordial discourse is encouraged and modeled, will help our youth as they enter what appears to be an increasingly tumultuous online future.

5. Go paperless for a week

Let me define paperless here as “no worksheets”.  I do thinking taking notes in a journal or Sketch-noting are valuable for learning, but for this I’m thinking more of the daily minutia. The idea behind this challenge is see if you can figure out ways to make things more digital.  Maybe instead of a newsletter you print and send home, you write a blog or send a MailChimp?  Or instead of asking kids to write and peer-edit each other’s papers, you ask them to share a Google doc?   If your students don’t have devices, then challenge yourself to try this personally for a month…it’s much harder than you think.

6. Have a “No Tech Day” to reflect on our use of technology

Technology and devices have become engrained in much of what we do on a daily basis. The notifications, alerts, constant connection can do some harm if not properly balanced. For this challenge, have a day without technology. Then, have your students reflect on the experience the following day. What areas did they find a struggle? What did they notice about their daily routine?

7. Bring Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the Classroom

Many teachers already do this with the use of Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. These “digital assistants” are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to A.I. and are becoming more prevalent in the homes around our country. Some questions to ask your students might include – What impact will these devices have when it comes to future learning? How might hey help us in the future?

8. Fly a Drone (and discuss it’s impact on society)

Not all of us have access to drones, so flying one in your classroom or outside on the school grounds may not be feasible (or legal in some cases). However, there are several examples out there now showing us how drones can help us and how they can hurt us. One thing is for certain, these are not going away anytime soon. With that said, a question for students is, what impact do drones have on our privacy rights and what legislation exists out there today around drones?

9. Facetime with an expert

With so many resources and experts available, it only makes sense to bring in someone from “the real world”. This not only creates interest in the topic, it adds an air of authenticity.  Use Google Hangouts, Facetime, Zoom or Skype to reach out to a content expert to share their thoughts around a particular subject or topic. If you can, record it and post it to your class site or embed it on your blog to generate discussion at home.

10. Produce a class Audio podcast

Have students create a podcast highlighting classroom activities, projects or students.  To get it to the web quickly, post it to Soundcloud or use a tool like SoundTrap.  For the more advanced user, use a podcasting site like Podbean.com and actually get the podcast posted to iTunes.  That way mom and dad can listen to the weekly recap while going on their evening walk or driving to work.

11.  Take a Virtual Field Trip

Want to check out Machu Picchu? Maybe visit Mars? Why not take your class on a virtual field trip? The increase in ways to see virtual worlds via tools like Google cardboard and Nearpod VR, have helped bring this access to schools without the high-end cost usually associated with VR.

12. Create a classroom full of student entrepreneurs

What better ways to encourage teamwork, collaboration and global thinking that to introduce students to entrepreneurism to solve real-world problems? This past year, one of our middle schools did just that by wiping away the bell schedule and spending time with student teams identifying issues with the school and proposals for how to fix them. Expanding this to local, state or national level help introduce students to the design thinking and project-based learning to solve actual issues.

13. Design and deliver a presentation

This may seem like something every teacher can already do, so I’ll say that this challenge is more about working with students on the art and science of an effective presenting. Being able to communicate a point or idea effectively is becoming more and more of a lost art. The “3-legged” stool approach to balancing a presentation (content, slide design, delivery) can be an invaluable skill for all students going forward in life. While I prefer the use of Keynote, there are many effect tools out there that students can access to create and present from. One word of advice…take it easy on the bullet points.

14. Identify fake news and internet bots

With the current political climate and the increasing use of bots to sway public opinion, we need to help students identify what is real and what is not online. This goes far beyond “fake news”.  It can be something as simple as understanding the angle of a post based on its title to identifying real people versus robots on twitter. The good news (or bad news) is that there seems to be an example of this happening every day in real time.

15. Establish a space for student voice

Student voice (and choice…coming up later) is something that classrooms of the 20th century really struggled with. A teacher may ask for feedback or an answer to a classroom, calling on those with the courage to raise their hands. What if some truly incredible ideas were out there but students were too shy to share? Using tools like FlipGrid (free for educators now), you can ask for each student to give feedback to a question or even submit an online poetry slam around a scientific fact.

16. Practice mindfulness in your classroom

There is a lot of hype around mindfulness in schools, some of which is true some of which is not (see #14).  While the impact of mindfulness on test scores may still be open to debate, there is value taking a pause and reflecting on the now. Technology can hinder some of that, but short of banning all tech (see #6), we need discover life balance in this new “instant-on” world. Give your students 1-2 minutes to stop, breathe, reflect, and simply “be present” every day. You may find it helps their learning as well as behavior on those dreaded rainy days or test-taking days.

17. Utilize robotics to tell a story

The fourth industrial revolution will definitely feature more and more robots in our world. Use of robotics in the classroom is currently relegated to specialized elective classes or maybe a Friday afternoon of free time in a maker space (see #19). The common misconception around these tools are that they are too pricey and one-dimensional for regular classroom use. By using low-cost robotic technology systems like Trashbots, schools can now have a wide array of materials for building robots and better yet, using them in a variety of subjects other than math and science. Why not program your robot to re-enact a moment in history? Or maybe have it tell a story?

18. Augment reality in an old textbook

As witness by the Walmart raiding of Merge Cubes, Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming a new way to engage learners. However, buying a bunch of these may not be possible for every teacher. Luckily, on the back shelves of classrooms and libraries exist rows and rows of old textbooks, some of which are still in regular use. By using an augmented reality tool like HP Reveal (formerly Aurasma), you can breathe fresh life into those old textbook pages. Take a graph and make it interactive or hover over an image to reveal a more in-depth video on the subject. While AR may seem like “flashy” technology, coupling its use with existing materials can be a cost-effective way to increase engagement and deeper learning.

19. Build a maker-space for hands-on learning

A maker space is not a new thing. It used to be called “shop class” when I was in school. However, unlike its 20th century relative, maker spaces today can be built into the classroom environment. They allow room for exploration, design, and iteration. And here’s the best part for schools struggling with funding – they can be almost free and require little to no technology. A trip to the local hardware store can yield some donated materials as a trip up to the attic to dig out those old childhood legos. Much like practicing mindfulness (#16), having hands-on learning activities can increase retention and help encourage creativity.

20. Become an activist for a worthy cause.

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes a little creativity is all you need to awareness to a cause. Whether it’s helping a country in need or finding a cure for a disease, our new connected society can be a powerful thing when galvanized for good. Participating in a global project (see #12) gives students perspective on their own lives while helping others with their life challenges.

21. Let your students drive the learning

While you could do all of these challenges by yourself, the real power comes in letting students own a piece of it.  They have the curiosity and the digital acumen, it’s the teacher’s job to give them instructional focus and empowerment.  We live in wonderfully connected times.  Despite all of technology’s perceived misgivings and the apocalyptic fears that we are losing ourselves as a society, why not use some of this power for good?

Just know that as a teacher in the 21st century you ultimately hold the key to unleash this creative beast.  So try something on the list this year that may force you a bit out of your comfort zone because there is no better way to learn than trying.

Just be sure to share your successes and struggles when you are finished as learning in isolation helps no one.

 

 

How Mobile-Friendly is Your Classroom?

For generations, the main areas of learning in the classroom have been the same. Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies.  These “core” subject areas of curriculum have been a focus of American learners since the mid-20th century.  These subject areas were thought to be the essential curriculum necessary to prepare the youth for success in college and the workplace.  The manner in which these subject areas were taught mirrored the factory model method in which they were delivered. Content was passed back, row-by-row, as students repeated tasks and built skills over time.

While both traditional teaching styles and core subject areas have been slow to change to the modern world, the new area of mobile devices in classrooms is disrupting all of our previous ideologies around these sacred pillars of education. Repetitive tasks can now be gamified into forms that create critical thinking. Fact-based content can now easily be searched, opening up time to work on association and application of that information. Science and Math have given way to STEM.  Reading and writing are now being embedded throughout the curriculum in a more project-based approach. 

As these changes collide in a classroom that now welcome mobile devices, the modern teacher needs to think about how this affects change in their classroom in multiple areas. In Book #4 of the Mobile Learning Mindset, I represent this transition in a concept I call the Mobile Learning Quadrant (MLQ).

The four areas of the MLQ are Content, Space, Interaction and Time.  Here’s a brief overview of how these four quadrants can change in a mobile learning environment:

Content

While much of the content in education is still based on the core subject areas (driven mostly by traditionalism and standardized testing), it now begins to take on a much more interactive form with mobile devices. Initial iterations of content on mobile devices meant glorified PDFs in the form of online textbooks. Still, at the beginning, mobile learning meant consuming content on a screen rather than in a book. In the new mobile learning environment, content must shift from consumption to creation. Rather than reading the textbook online, students can create their own textbook to demonstrate learning.

Space

The days of having desks in rows are over. It’s time to write an obituary to the student desk. Obviously the word “mobile” applies to much more than just devices.  However, in many classrooms this isn’t the case. Devices are distributed to engage learners, yet really all they do is replace their paper notebook as students sit in rows and take notes on their Chromebooks. The mobile learning environment should contain flexible spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration with others in the room and online.  It doesn’t always have to be an expensive new modern chair either. Many teachers are hacking their spaces with bean bag chairs, exercise balls and pub tables. Learning doesn’t even have to be contained within the classroom walls anymore.  Teachers assessing their space in the MLQ should determine how much of their students’ time is spent in static spaces versus dynamic ones.

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A sneak peak at our new Incubator room at Westlake High School. Purposeful and mobile furniture.

Interaction

With more flexible space comes more meaningful interaction amongst students.  When I took part in the #Student4aDay Challenge, in the classrooms where the space was static, there was little to know interaction between student to student.  In fact, most of the interaction was uni-directional (teacher to student).  However, in the classrooms with more flexible space and student created content, interaction becomes much more collaborative in nature rather than isolated.

Time

All of the above quadrants can still happen without technology or mobile devices.  While mobile devices make them all much more possible and dynamic, much of it depends on how the teacher integrates them. The ability to shift learning from a set-time every day to more on-demand can only happen with technology.  Remember only a couple of decades ago when in order to watch the next great episode of the Facts of Life, it meant that you had to sit in front of the television at 7:30 on Thursday night? If you missed it, you missed it. In our schools you could apply that same rule to the class schedule.  If you are the type of person that learns math best in the afternoon but have to take math at 9:30 in the morning, you also “miss” it. Now with flipped classrooms and blended learning in a mobile environment, we can “bend” time to make the necessary content much more available on demand.

Infusing mobile learning into a classroom where students consume content in isolation in a desk at a set time of day is a waste in some ways. Creating flexible spaces that encourage collaboration to create content and an environment where learning can happen 24/7 is truly a thing to behold. Leveraging the MLQ in this way can really begin to move the needle when it comes to efficiency of learning with mobile devices.

Now, if we can just do something about those standardized tests…        

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My infographic on the Mobile Learning Quadrant (MLQ)

Editor’s note: This post is based on the book series Mobile Learning Mindset.  This 6-book series explores how each key stakeholder can best support a mobile learning initiative.  The first two books are already out and can be purchased here.  Books 3 (focused on coaches and professional learning) and book 4 (focused on the teacher and classroom environment) are set to be published at the end of September.

   

The Obituary of the Student Desk 1887-2013

StudentDeskThe Student Desk (known by several aliases, most notably the Classroom Desk) died today when teachers at Bridge Point Elementary school in Austin, TX discovered that learning could happen in a variety of spaces that no longer necessitated their use. “We just feel like kids in this new mobile age don’t need to be confined to a small, uncomfortable desk.” said one teacher who chose to remain nameless for the purposes of this obituary

Student Desks had a rich history in public education. Descended from its “parent” Anna Breadin, who is credited with “birthing” (designing and patenting) the student desk in the late 1880’s, the Student Desk really found a moment of growth and boom during the 1940’s. In this Industrial Age, when the need to put things in neat rows was prevalent, learning needed to take place in much the same way as factory assembly lines. Why would students need to move around the classroom? The only time students needed to move was to go to the bathroom and you better really had to go because it entailed carrying around a large wooden keychain that said, “Hall Pass”. Much like the ballyhooed and unrelated bell curve chart, it seemed that the Student Desk’s middle age was a time of great dominance in the classroom of America.

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The Student Desk had a life-long fascination with putting students’ rear-ends to sleep, a trait it mastered by the mid-1950’s. The 50’s were a time of transformation for the Student Desk’s life as it became a tool for protecting students during the “Duck and cover” days of cold war-era America. The Student Desk came in all shapes in sizes, especially by the 1960’s, a time of cultural change in our country. Tie-dye models and desks made from hemp would be built and later destroyed during this time, but one thing remained constant – their severe lack of mobility and comfort.

Through the decades the Student Desk persevered through tough times, like the “Pencil graffiti” years of the 1970’s when students felt like its top was their own personal canvas. The 1980’s were no easier for the life of the Student Desk as numerous spit-puddles attacked their tops by sleeping, drooling teens (a trend made popular as witnessed at the :52 second mark in this scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)

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“Pencil Graffiti”

Despite these rough times, the Student Desk maintained its dominance in the American school system. Indeed, it seemed like nothing could stop the proliferation of the standard Student Desk in our school systems until the dreaded 2010’s. This was the beginning of the end for the Student Desk. This dark time in the Desk’s life began innocently enough. Schools were looking for ways to get more access to learning in the hands of kids. While this seemed like a novel idea to the Desk, one that would pass in time (like those 1:1 Lava Lamp days of 1968-69), this concept seemed to have staying power. The last few years of the Desk’s life would be a blur. Students began to come to class with some smartphone thingy and schools were even issuing tablets to kids. The Student Desk was no longer needed for physical support as it was in the past.

As preposterous as it sounds, this new idea of learning with mobile devices also meant that the Desk’s other primary strength (its ability to create neat rows) was no longer a necessity. Students needed to be able to move around and work in a variety of ways; individually, in small groups, or as a whole. The teacher no longer need to relay information down the rows, instead learning could happen anywhere and everywhere in the classroom.

Depressed and no longer needed, the Student Desk ended its life by throwing itself into a giant wood-chipper behind the school. The Desk is survived by aged relatives like the pencil, the paper notebook, daylight savings time, and as of this writing, the paper textbook (which is currently on life-support in a Santa Monica area hospital). In lieu of flowers the Desk asks that you plant a tree in its honor for the wood that was used to make the desk and offer a donation to the Chiropractors Helping Ailing Inflamed Rears Society (C.H.A.I.R.S.).

Finally, the family asks that in honor of the Student Desk that you write your school board and administration to rid classrooms of its kind. It’s time to move on people.

For more in depth ideas of what the classroom sans Student Desk looks like, see this post on the BPE Bobcat blog. Also see pictures below classrooms by two Bridge Point elementary teachers and watch this news clip recently released following the demise of the Student Desk.

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