Tag Archive | 21st century learning

No More Boxed Lunches!


I spent a while today reading a paper that Will Richardson mentioned in his latest blog. It’s called “The Right to Learn: Identifying Precedents for Sustainable Change“.

The paper talked about the need for a significant change in the essential framework of our schools, allowing learning to be self-directed, and encouraging students to follow their interests and passions.

I thought about the nature of the young child. When we were young, we played wonderful, imaginative games. We taught school to our friends or stuffed animals, pretended to be firefighters or astronauts, played doctor, put on shows where we sang or danced for our friends and family, or put a variety of seeds and plants in a bucket and made magic potions or stews. We imagined what it would be like to teach, be on stage, cook gourmet meals, and heal the sick. But tragically, this period of exploration is short-lived. By third grade (if not sooner) we have squashed that wonderful creativity that came so naturally. I could cry when I see my third graders walking around the playground bored, claiming there’s nothing to do. What have we done??

Have you ever asked a teenager what their interests or passions are? How many graduating seniors do you know that have no idea what they want to do with their lives, or what they want to study? All they know is what has been fed to them at school – They have never had the opportunity to explore or try different things, so they have no idea what their interests or passions are!

In our current system we are delivering every child an education. This amounts to feeding them a boxed lunch education that is the same for every child regardless of talent, ability, personality, interest, or background. Do we leave any time or opportunity for them to focus on the things that interest them? If we don’t give students this “right to learn”, we shouldn’t be surprised when they reach high school or college and have no idea what they want to do with their lives…

The world has changed. Facts and information are available 24/7 with a quick Internet search. Our students must know how to channel this technology, and become creative, innovative problem solvers that can make significant contributions to the new world. The boxed lunch has gone bad and is no longer nourishing. The time for change has come.

My question is this – How do we change the current framework of our schools to meet the needs of our students? What can schools do to start moving in this direction? How do we bring back the freedom to think, explore, and discover?

Powerful Learning (put into) Practice

Wordle: PLP-ARP

In many of my previous posts you’ve heard me mention my experiences with PLP (Powerful Learning Practice), and the journey our Digital Learning Team has traveled this year as part of this transformative professional development program.

Most recently, our team has created and begun implementing our action research project, the culminating project for the year. It took an enormous amount of brainstorming, patience, and determination to create a project that would work for our entire Pre-K to 12 faculty. The project had to be completed in the last 2 months of the school year, when we guessed faculty might be most resistant to having yet more work heaped upon them…

Our first idea was entirely too broad – When we presented it during an Elluminate session with our cohort, we got shot down – hard. We were angry, frustrated, and went back to our corners sulking and fuming… for a day. Then we took a deep breath, pulled together, and got down to business. What emerged from that point was an incredibly successful effort I would love to share.

Our team decided to choose one area where the faculty most needed to grow – collaboration. We have three separate divisions that hardly see each other! We wanted to find a way we could bond as a faculty with the assistance of some new technologies that we hoped would excite our staff. We would share ideas and resources, and demonstrate the power of collaboration.

We felt strongly about these things:
• The faculty is overworked, and seldom receives positive reinforcement for their efforts. Salaries have been at a standstill for years. We felt it was important to give something back to the faculty – to provide positive feedback and incentives.
• We needed to make sure the faculty felt supported by our team, and knew they weren’t alone.
• We wanted to show the faculty how their learning was going to be useful and relevant for them.
• Although the tasks were required, we chose to make it fun.

We decided on two tasks each faculty member would complete.
1. Each faculty member would contribute to a discussion on our school Ning, and post a discussion or article. Here they could have a voice, and contribute to discussions about school policy and practice.
2. Each faculty member would create a Diigo account, bookmark a site, and follow a member of the Digital Learning Team. Here they could understand the benefits of online bookmarking, and find and share new resources with colleagues.

We introduced the project in 15 minutes at an all-school faculty meeting this month. We started off with a funny Xtranormal movie (a creative way to introduce the project AND show off a fun tool). Then explained the project and encouraged folks to ask us or one another for help. (Did you watch the movie? Go back right now and watch the movie.)

THE GAME: To make it fun and supportive, we divided the staff among the 7 of us, so that everyone would have a team member for support. We created a game called Ningo Bingo. Everyone received a bingo card with 9 activities. It was not required to play the game. You could just do the 2 required assignments and be finished. But… if you did just one more, you could earn a Bingo! Those who earned a Bingo could take their card to their Digital Learning Team support member and receive a small prize. We gave out bags of candy with positive affirmations – i.e., a bag of Tootsie Rolls with a note that said, “You’re on a ROLL – Keep learning!”

Those who really wanted to have some fun had the option of completing all 9 tasks on the card for a “blackout”. These tasks took the development of a personal learning network a step further and included things like commenting on a blog, creating an RSS reader, etc. Those who earned a blackout could choose a $10 gift card to a local business AND have their name put in the drawing for an IPAD 2!!! Names of those who have earned a blackout are posted on the Ning for all to see.

The response has been nothing short of incredible. Folks who swore they would NEVER use technology are all over the Ning… They’re posting articles, asking questions, and exploring well beyond what we’ve asked of them. Administrative support staff (that we did not require to participate) are emailing us, asking if they can “play”… Wow.

As I reflected on the experience, I thought about these things: What motivated our faculty learners? What were the optimum conditions for learning? How did we create a project that worked for all levels of ability? Why did so many learners go “above and beyond” the requirements? How many of them will continue learning on their own?

George Couros posted a blog entitled “Don’t Fear the Teacher; Creating the Optimal Learning Environment” – I came across it today and realized how many of these conditions we met with our project. The question is… Am I meeting these conditions in my classroom as well? Are you?

What Motivates You?


At the beginning of this school year, I submitted an “application” of sorts to be considered for a new team at our school. A “Digital Learning Team” was being formed, with only 6 faculty members that would participate in the Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) program. We attended a kickoff in Dallas in September, attended several Elluminate sessions, and are wrapping up the year by creating an action research project for our faculty. We’ll celebrate the year and share what we’ve learned back in Dallas next month. I was honored to have been chosen for this team, and have put many hours into learning and growing this year to improve my teaching and to help lead others.

As a “student” I’ve stepped into some very new territory and learned to use a plethora of new tools! I also began writing this blog, created a Google Reader, and became active on Twitter. Collaboration and sharing are two of the most important concepts I have embraced this year. I have also begun to value creativity and innovation more than ever before. These concepts define 21st Century Learning for me: COLLABORATION, SHARING, CREATIVITY, and INNOVATION.

What best motivates me to work these crazy hours, learn new programs and create accounts for each student, write a regular blog, keep up with an RSS reader, Twitter, and two Nings? I can answer that question in two words: POSITIVE FEEDBACK. It’s embarrassing, but I’m a glutton for it. Here are just a few examples…

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, co-founder of the PLP program, cross-posted one of my blogs on the PLP blog. She tweeted a link to another one of my blogs with the hashtag of the NAIS conference she was attending. She has a HUGE following, and was recommending that people read MY blog!! I was beside myself for days…

• I attended a social event at my school last weekend, and the Associate Head of our school told me how impressed she was with what I had learned this year. I went back to my table and beamed…

• I created an Xtranormal movie to be used as part of the introduction to our action research project, and tweeted a link to Susan Carter Morgan for feedback. Within ten minutes she tweeted back with an enthusiastic positive response, AND put a link to the movie on her Scoop.it! on Educational Professional Development. Suddenly the three hours I spent creating the movie were all worth it…

Ok, this sounds like it belongs in Will Richardson’s “Shameless Self-Promotion Department” now, but that’s not the point… The point is that positive feedback is incredibly motivational. I knew this… but suddenly when it was me, I got it.

I’ve worked with my 3rd graders this year to help them see the benefits of collaboration, sharing, creativity, and innovation. One thing we have done is to learn how to use Storybird and Glogster to produce creative stories and posters, and most importantly, share them with others. My students love these sites, and frequently use their free time at home to create new stories and posters. This is one BIG selling point for Web 2.0 – I’ve never had students working voluntarily at home on the weekends!! I take care to leave a positive comment on anything new they’ve created so they know I’ve seen it, and am proud of them! They love getting feedback from each other as well. It motivates them to keep trying and pushes them to produce higher quality results, hoping for more positive comments. What more could I ask for??

On the wall behind my desk is a piece of art that says simply, “Inspire”. When I am in the front of the room teaching, I can see it behind my students – It reminds me what I am there to do. To inspire – to motivate – to encourage. Positive feedback may be the most important tool I use.

21st Century Revelation – It’s Not About Me…


The other day I was thinking about what an incredibly different year this has been for me. I didn’t make a career change, a school change, a grade level change, or even a room change. So why on earth has this year been unlike any other? For the first time, my job isn’t only about MY students, MY lesson plans, or MY goals. Friends, I know it’s shocking (you can only imagine how hard it was to swallow), but it’s not all about ME!

All joking aside… I feel like I’ve had a 21st century revelation. My participation in Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) has shown me the power of collaboration. This has been an intoxicating experience! I’ll admit it – I started out a “lurker” as Will Richardson would say… I developed my PLN, and started reading blogs, tweets, and ning posts. But I remember Will wagging his index finger at us at the PLP Kick-Off in Dallas way back in September, telling us it wasn’t fair just to lurk – We had to contribute. What did I have to contribute??

Well here we are, six months later, and I feel like maybe I’m finally getting it. I’m getting a ton of good resources and ideas from teachers all over the globe – but I’m not sitting on them! I think we’re called upon to be channels for this information. I’m always on the lookout for things my colleagues can use. My boss was looking for information on a Digital Citizenship curriculum, so I’ve been sending things her way when I find them. Today she put out a request to our team to find instructional materials for the recent events in Japan. My division head has encouraged us to learn more about reading and writing workshops. Our PLP team is looking for web 2.0 tools to share that will help teachers integrate technology and really make a difference in instruction… The list goes on.

So what does this mean? It means I’m spending a pretty serious chunk of time each day cruising my Twitter feed and reading blogs!


But it also means that I’m not only learning and hopefully improving my impact in the classroom… Hopefully I’m serving a greater good, and giving back to those in my PLN that have given so much to me. I’m more likely to ask a teacher if I can observe a lesson, pick someone’s brain on a new idea, or ask advice on a student situation. I’m not afraid to admit I don’t know it all and consider myself fortunate to work with incredibly talented colleagues from whom there is much I can learn. Together we are so much stronger than we are alone!

Do You Practice What You Preach?

A good friend and fellow educator wrote a blog recently about how to convince teachers to leave their dated teaching methods, and explore some of the technology and 21st century teaching methods that allow students to drive their own learning. (http://mweser.edublogs.org/2011/02/26/incentives/) The blog got me thinking… Actually, it got me angry. Why should we have to beg and plead these teachers to stay current in their field? Why should we have to offer incentives? In what other field can you fall behind in current trends and methodology and not risk losing your job to someone who is willing to work harder for less??? My 100 wpm fingers spun off an angry retort to the blog – Don’t ask them to do it, MAKE them do it! It’s their JOB to do it!

Why do we teach – it’s the big paycheck, right? Not so much. We teach because helping to develop young minds is our passion – Because we have the incredible opportunity to help feed a child’s natural curiosity and foster a love of learning. So what should be the primary goal of a teacher? Not to teach skills or content (although these are secondary goals), but to teach children HOW to learn. How to find the answers to their questions. How to solve problems. Why? So they can continue learning for the rest of their lives.

How can we convince our students to become life-long learners, if we have stopped learning ourselves? I am frustrated by teachers who talk loudly and proudly about how they are not jumping on this latest “fad”. They boast that their methods have worked for years, and will continue to work, despite the fact that children are learning differently in this age than ever before. The world is changing around them, and they are painfully stubborn and stuck in their ways. It reminds me of the Dr. Seuss story of The Zax. These characters will only walk in one direction. They refuse to step to the side when they run into each other, even though this stops them from making any forward progress.


I’m not suggesting that anyone blindly abandon everything they are doing for something new and unfamiliar. I think that’s just as irresponsible. I’m just asking them to do what we encourage our students to do – LEARN. Get out there – Develop a PLN (Personal Learning Network). There are folks to help, and even online tutorials. (http://prezi.com/xwxonmn3ryn8/web-20-for-teachers/) Watch videos. Read books, blogs, and tweets… There are teachers out there who are willing to SHARE what they have learned and what works for them. Then make an INFORMED decision. If something sounds like it has potential to light a fire in your students, give it a try! Be a role model for your faculty. Be the best teacher you can be.

Lost in the Jargon of 21st Century Learning

In the past few months, these buzzwords have taken over my life…

21st Century Learning
Paradigm Shift
Web 2.0
Project-Based Curriculum
Global Citizens
Digital Learners
Social Communities
Culture of Inquiry
Outcome Based
Active Learning
Multiple Literacies
Best Practice

I found this video today and was mesmerized…

Is it any wonder I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed as an educator??  I am not a young 20-something fresh out of school.  I am a mid-40s mom with 2 teenage daughters, who changed careers almost 10 years ago, and found my passion in teaching.  I have always embraced technology – It does not scare me.  But I entered teaching in a very traditional environment – one that was very textbook/testing/paper-driven.  Now I’m trying to adjust to a new environment, and make sure my students are prepared for today’s world – not the one I entered when I graduated from college in 1985.  If this “shift” overwhelms me, I can only imagine what it does to my colleagues who are 10 years older than I, who are not tech savvy, and who have been teaching the same way for 30 years…

My stress comes from feeling as though I have to change everything at once.  I need to use more technology.  I need to use less worksheets.  I need to teach without textbooks.  I need to provide “authentic assessment”.   I need to assign more projects.  I need to assign less homework.  I need to differentiate more.  I need to start using “workshop” style lessons.  I need to rearrange my classroom.  I need to provide more hands-on opportunities.  I need to provide more opportunities for collaborative learning.  I need to facilitate, not teach.  I need to determine which content is really important, and spend more time helping my students become critical thinkers and problem solvers.

I do think I have already begun to take important steps in this direction.  But I know that change is hard, and many teachers struggle with changing the way they have always taught.  I don’t believe in “throwing the baby out with the bath water” – I don’t believe everything we have been doing is wrong.  I think a certain amount of paper and pencil/drill and practice is necessary in some content areas to help “lock in” basic skills.  I believe that we should not throw out what works  – But we must look for ways to reduce what doesn’t work, and improve our methods and strategies to meet the needs of the changing times. 

This means that I am beginning to question the things I have always held dear, and it is an uncomfortable feeling, to be sure.  If we are focused on collaborative learning and problem solving skills, and differentiating to meet students where they are, is it still appropriate to assign grades in elementary school?  If we are embracing the whole child and encouraging our students to pursue their passions on the stage or the playing field, should we still be assigning homework in the same way??

I feel an obligation to my students to do the very best I can for them.  This means taking part in the Powerful Learning Practice program, and spending more hours reading, researching new methods in education, and finding creative lesson plans than ever before — and trying not to get overwhelmed and discouraged in the process!  It’s all for the very best cause… our future.