Tag Archives: 21st century skills

A new direction

I’ve decided to take this blog — and my classroom — in a new direction.

There’s been a nagging feeling for some time now that my classroom was not as it should be.  For the last few years, I’ve felt like I was losing touch with the reasons why I wanted to be a teacher, and losing control of being able to guide the atmosphere of my classroom into being one that encouraged students to enjoy their time at school while they learn.

Of course, my first year and a half as a teacher probably focused more on the enjoyment aspect rather than the learning.  Yes, students liked being in my class, but it was because of the digressions we had during class discussions, or the multimedia projects that probably focused more on how “cool” the students’ videos looked rather than how much they actually learned doing them.  To counter-act that, I’ve felt as though the last few years in my classroom have been swinging too far the other way.  I’ve graded more harshly, I’ve spent less time really getting to know my students… everything was their fault if they didn’t have the intrinsic motivation to learn.

I’ve been reading, tweeting, but most of all rethinking everything I’ve come to view as the norm in my classroom.  It’s not enough and it’s certainly not the best way for the students under my care to learn.  I’ve been too much of a lecturer and the resident expert on everything.  I’ve taken away their freedom and assigned them writing prompts that may hold no interest for them whatsoever.

This year, that all changes.

Overnight?  Of course not.  This will be a daunting year.  My wife and I are expecting a baby in October.  I have a student teacher coming in January.  I’m a week away from the start of the school year and some of these ideas are still just swirling around in my head, yet to take on a coherent shape.

Here’s my ideal: No grades. No homework. Develop in them a deep desire for exploration.  I want my students to learn and love learning.

I’ve been reading the newspaper all summer, seeing the steps being taken by our government to “improve” the education system.  Instead, all I see is the federal government killing teachers’ desire to help students learn and eviscerating students’ natural inclination to learn about the world around them by replacing learning with testing.  The way this whole system is being run is wrong.  And no one at the top has any clue about what it will take to fix it.

That’s where we come in.  I’m trying to transform my classroom this year into a place where every student has every opportunity to learn and to make the necessary mistakes to get to that learning.  Will it be pretty?  No.  I readily expect this to be a messy year.  I expect to make a lot of mistakes myself.  I expect to feel exhausted at the end of every day (or more than usual, I guess).  I expect to try to reach every student and still be disappointed by a handful that never connect with what we’re doing.  Maybe my expectations going into this will be enough to keep up morale when the going gets tough.

So what about this blog?  I’ve been a bad blogger.  I don’t write regularly and I’m not anticipating that changing for this school year.  But now this blog also has a focus to it that I really never had before.  I want this place to chronicle the steps I take this year.  I want it to be a list of my failures and blunders, as well as my successes and discoveries.  I want to be an example for others… whether it is an example of how to make this transition or how not to make it, only time will tell.

The tagline for this blog is Yoda’s line from The Empire Strikes Back: “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Amen.  Let’s get to it.

Tagged , , ,

How I hope to approach “21st Century” education

Yesterday I attended an all-day workshop at the ICE 2009 conference led by Chris Lehmann of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  It was one of those workshops that you leave wanting to change the world.  There were so many things I wanted to take from what we discussed there and use in my school, whether it’s tomorrow, next week, or next year.

The first thing I’m taking away from this is a change of perspective.  I don’t know when or why I forgot this, but it was Chris’ statement on what schools should be that really struck a chord with me:

School should be…
– Thoughtful
– Wise
– Passionate
– Kind

Sometimes I think the current educational climate is too reactionary.  All too often we’re presented with a problem, such as low or stagnant test scores, and we respond impulsively.  Do that too much and you’re simply layering on a series of bandages to repair a punctured artery.  There are teachers in our district who sometimes feel that’s what we’re doing, and to a degree, I’d have to concur.

School has to be thoughtful.  We cannot afford knee-jerk reactions and spontaneous decisions when we’re dealing with students’ lives and learning experiences.  In order to help our students, we need to be carefully deliberate about what we do.

Chris Lehmann spoke about those people who believe schools should be run like businesses and how foolish that idea should seem in the light of our current economic situation.  The last time I read or heard anything on that topic, the catchphrase that was used was “Ready-Fire-Aim.” Is that really the best way to approach students’ learning?

Sometimes the quickest way to find out if something will work is to jump right in and do it. You can always make adjustments along the way. It’s the ready-fire-aim approach, and surprisingly, it works a lot better than the more common ready-aim-fire approach. The reason is that after you’ve “fired” once, you have some actual data with which to adjust your aim. Too many people get bogged down in planning and thinking and never get to the point of action. (“Do It Now,” Steve Pavlina.com)

As a point of clarification, this author is referring to business; he is not speaking about education.  What I’m afraid of is when schools begin trying to fix problems by “firing” away with technology.  I’ve heard this all too often, but if schools want to implement a “21st Century” education program that includes things like 1:1 computing for students, increased use of technologies, and Web 2.0 tools, it should be done with a deliberate and thorough examination of pedagogy first.  Something I’ve been trying to do lately — and this probably seems obvious to a veteran teacher — is to actually use my trusty UbD framework and decide what “big ideas” I want the students to get, rather than saying “Hey, let’s create a wiki and once we’re done, THEN figure out what the big picture is!” Chris’ presentation allowed me to reach some great insights with regard to my own classroom and my own lesson planning.  While I’m happy to be a “21st Century Pioneer” in my district, I want to do so with a renewed focus on making sure my students become “thoughtful, wise, passionate, and kind.”

The next step is to figure out how you teach someone to be “wise.”

Tagged ,