A Wheeling, West Virginia newspaper reported that at a meeting about local schools, a grandfather spoke up, "I'm tired of hearing about 21st-Century skills. It is the 21st century. Get on with it." He's not the only one who feels that way. Doesn't it seem rather silly to be getting ready for the 21st Century when we are over a decade into it?
The truth is that many teachers are already working with their students on what are considered 21st Century skills and are using 21st Century tools. Before the year 2000, didn't we have project -based learning, collaboration, creative and critical thinking, individualized learning, and use of technologies for learning, enrichment, remediation, and innovation? Many teachers today are using the resources they have to design their own eTexts, are teaming their students with other students both in the classroom and around the world, and are putting to use the digital devices they have to enhance learning.
Maybe we aren't where we want to be with the equipment we have for our classrooms, but that doesn't mean the students in the United States are falling behind because there aren't enough electrical outlets in our classrooms or we don't have the latest in computer technologies. Master teachers find ways of challenging their students with what is available to them, but they also keep their eye on new ideas and products that will benefit their students. When the time comes for budget requests, they put in their requests immediately and lobby for what they need. Maybe they don't always get it, but those who know what they want and how they will use it are much more likely to have their wishes granted. You've probably heard teachers complain, "Why didn't I get . . . ?" Change in your classroom happens not only when funding is available but when educators champion effective learning ideas.
With President Obama's insistence that we improve education so that we can become more competitive in world markets, looking beyond the catch phrase "21st Century", is important. If we purchased our classroom computers in 2000 and are still using those twelve-year-old devices, do we consider them 21st Century tools? With possible changes coming and eventual improvement in the economy, we need to know what we want in order to give our students the best. One-size-fits-all doesn't always make sense when it comes to teachers and students because what methodology and equipment works for some teachers and students, doesn't always result in success with others.
Keeping up with the latest in methodology, equipment, and classroom environment is difficult, but here are some ideas that should help when the time comes for you to explain your classroom needs. Follow them, and you won't get stuck with what you don't want or find yourself saying, "Why didn't I get that for my students?"
- Subscribe to Power to Learn's Teachnology and Digital Smarts Blogs; to free online publications like Technology & Learning, eSchool News, Edutopia, the Journal; and to professional journals related to the subject or grade level you teach.
- Visit sites that offer programs and equipment that interest you, watch videos or slideshows about the products, read the FAQs, take advantage of free trials, call company reps for information and ask about special pricing. Companies like Discovery Education offer periods of free access so that all the teachers in your school can try the media offered.
- Look online for reviews of products you are considering. Often you can find a review by putting "Review:" and the name of the product in your browser's search area. Check to make sure the review wasn't written by the company offering the product.
- Attend professional meetings, conventions like FETC, ISTE, and your state educational tech conventions to discover what works for other educators.
- Make plans for your classroom environment, for you may get the opportunity to create the atmosphere you want. Be ready with ideas about the spaces (small group, large group, and individual learning); access to water and safety equipment; furniture; lighting; touchscreens; projection systems; electrical outlets; fast and reliable wireless access; etc. Consider wall, window, and storage areas. As you imagine your dream classroom, you may want to consider some of the suggestions made by Bridget McCrea in her article, Designing the 21st Century K-12 Classroom (the Journal, January 18, 2012) and browse the images of 21st Century Classroom in Google's images. You'll find ideas for furniture and equipment, student collaboration areas, charts with ideas for design, floor plans, and more.
- Decide how you want to keep track of what students are doing on their computers or digital devices. Would you like software to help you with this? Do you want something where you can be at your desk, at a lectern, or a mobile unit to use as you walk around your classroom.
- Think about how you will be able to manage students in small group space and whether the students in these spaces will be visible to you or need to be visible to you from wherever you are in your classroom. This is something administrators will want to know.
- Take a look at Apple's iBooks Author and at Jim Lengel's article (Teaching with Technology) on ePubs; creating your own texts and materials will be greatly appreciated by students and parents.
- Don't keep your dreams for your classroom a secret. Talk to your department head and school administrators about your ideas. If possible, create a video or slide show to demonstration why what you want i a must for your students. Explain that if you get what you are requesting, you'd be happy to share your expertise with your peers.
While your dream classroom will offer the technologies and atmosphere to assist you in doing a better job in teaching your students, keep in mind that how you use your classroom and its resources will be what makes the difference. Think collaboration, creativity, innovation, projects, reasoning, analysis, critical thinking, inquiry, learning with a purpose, new ways of assessment.... And don't forget to throw away all those old tests you've been using for years.