Monday, November 28, 2011

21st Century Skills: An Overview

Madeline Hunter talked about "Three Bends and You're Out" when checking for understanding. The idea is that if you have three encounters of confusion to a given concept or question, then it is time to re-teach.

I've encountered 3 bends.

In the last week, I have had three teachers that I work with ask if our district is still promoting and expecting 21st Century Learning. Their point, and it is well taken, is that the subject was brought up a year ago and then really never spoken about since. They were told that students are learning in different ways now and that instruction needs to change with it, and then they were left without adequate professional development and support. This is totally understandable, and it ends now.

I will be utilizing this blog to assist the teachers I work with, but hopefully more will benefit as well. I will explore the "Cs" (the number of Cs keeps's kind of annoying) and discuss how each can be implemented without much disruption to the teacher.

So let's begin with an overview. I will be referencing two of my favorite resources for 21st Century Learning: The 21st Century Fluency Project and The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

The Four Cs

In the book 21st Century Skills: Learning For Life In Our Times, by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel, the authors point out the following critical learning and innovation skills:

Communication: Students should be able to convey information in a variety of forms, contexts, and environments and they should be able to listen in the same manners. They should be able to communicate for multiple purposes and know the appropriate mode for each. Hmm...I like how "listening" is involved in this idea of communication.

Collaboration: Students should be able to work productively and respectfully with diverse groups, and to show flexibility when trying to complete a common objective. They should do their fair share and respect the roles and work of others within their team.

Creativity & Innovation: Students should be able to use multiple techniques to come up with new ideas. They should be able to analyze and refine their ideas, and those of others, to get the best result.

Critical Thinking & Problem Solving: Students should be able to break the whole product into its parts and understand how they work together. They should be able to use different and appropriate reasoning skills in order to make decisions and judgements. Finally, students need to be able to find solutions to problems through quality questioning, time-tested solutions, and new ideas.

Wrapped around these 4 Cs is the goal of incorporating the students' digital lifestyles into our curriculum to help attain these skills. 

Notice that I said "help" not "solely."

21st Century Fluencies

The 21st Century Fluency Project addresses the same issues from a different point of view. They assert that it is not enough for a student to just be taught these skills, but they should be fluent in them in order to become a quality Digital Citizen. This idea of fluency is true for any discipline. If we are fluent in something, that means it has become part of us and it is intuitive.

The project states the following as critical 21st Century Fluencies:

Information Fluency

• Media Fluency

• Creativity Fluency

• Collaboration Fluency

• Solution Fluency

I did not provide ellaboration on the fluencies because they really do state many of the same ideas of The Four Cs. In future posts, however, we will look at them in more depth. Until then, please visit The Fluency Project at

So I leave you with a question before we dive into the individual components: How do you currently address these skills/fluencies within your curriculum and classroom activities?

Have a happy day!

Monday, November 21, 2011


Questions, while very important, can kill the flow of a presentation. One question can often cause an avalanche of many and cause confusion and loss of engagement.  On the other hand, the audience, whether child or adult, needs time to process what they are being given. Inquiry is essential to learning.

How do you reconcile both?

Conventions, in recent years, have taken to setting up "back-channels" through Twitter where participants can comment or ask questions without disrupting the presenter. Often times, other participants will be the source of the answer or clarification...or deeper inquiry. This is certainly a good example of 21st Century Learning. And while I was really excited to see this and anxious to implement it in my school, my brain quickly brought me down to the reality where social networking is met with great skepticism and caution.

Understandably so. We do need to protect our kids.

Put the social phobia of social networking aside (my district supported Twitter use) and look at how Twitter operates: Hashtags and Mentions, and Tweets...Oh My! It can get confusing. I have offered Twitter training and I am a Twitter-atic myself (I have three accounts...I'm getting help for it), but it seemed to participants of my trainings to be a bit more of a hassle than they wanted.

What to do?

One morning, as I was checking my email (what else does one do in the morning?) and I had a message from one of the other Instructional Coaches in our district. Julie had heard about a cool Web 2.0 tool:


GoSoapBox is a tool that allows participants to stay engaged in a presentation, through a variety of means, using a mobile device connected to the Internet. Here is a short list:

1. Ask Questions: Students can post a question at any time to the SoapBox. Since all questions are anonymous, students can feel more comfortable in using their voice. How many of us have not asked a question because you didn't want to be the only one with that question? Safety is one of our basic needs.

2. Answer Questions: The teacher isn't the only one who can answer questions. Participants can offer answers and clarifications to any posted question at any time. Since the SoapBox is online, it is accessible 24/7.

3. Confusion Barometer. This is really cool because it is so simple. At any time during the presentation, students can click a button saying "I Am Getting It" or "I'm Confused" so that the teacher will know how the class is feeling about the information. They will know if they can move on, re-teach, or jump-ship.

4. Vote on Questions. Students can vote on questions and the ones with the most votes will move up the queue. This will tell the teacher what the most pressing item is at the time.

5. Poll. Teachers can create polls to check for understanding throughout the lecture.

Here is a video from the website. I'm sure it will explain better than me:

Good Points

• It's anonymous. Kids often don't get involved because they don't feel safe.

• No student account is needed. The teacher just gives an entrance code.

• It's a closed environment. Creepers stay out! No code, no entrance.

• It's simple and intuitive.

• It's accessible on any device with an internet connection. I tried it on my former Blackberry with success...and that is saying something.


• It's anonymous so there is no accountability. I think it is important for people to own their words.

• It's a closed environment. The power of Twitter is that you can collaborate globally and your insight might benefit someone else a half a world away.

• It's simple and limited. I'm sure there are things I will wish it could do. However, they are rolling out updates as we speak.

It isn't a silver bullet, but I have had some teachers very excited about it. The ones who were a bit overwhelmed by Twitter were pumped about GoSoapBox. The best review I had was an unsolicited one from a student. I was talking to another teacher about GoSoapBox and this student overheard us and said "We used that the other day in English! It was awesome!" 

Again, not a silver bullet, but it does provide teachers and students with a simple way of creating an interactive environment during a presentation. Yes, a good teacher can get the students engaged and get them what they need without the technology, but using GoSoapBox also teaches how to use technology properly, which is another necessity of 21st Century Learning.

Have a happy day!

Monday, November 14, 2011

iPads & Wikispaces...A Pretty Good Match!

I am a Google Certified Teacher (GTAWA '11) and there has been a lot of discussion on the GCT forum regarding iPads. iPads are all the craze in education, as you certainly well know.

Last year, my district was awarded a grant that allowed us to purchase 4 iPad labs (30 each), one lab for each core area. We also implemented a hybrid class where English students were each issued an iPad and met in class only about 50-60% of the time. This was to test both flexible scheduling and a 1:1 environment. This year, both middle schools in my district purchased iPads for the Science departments rather than textbooks, another hybrid class is in session at the high school, and we have another high school iPad lab coming at the end of this month.

So, iPads have been on my mind...

The problem is this: The iPad was not made for education. Both teachers and Apple realized, after the fact, that it could be a valuable tool, and that it is not without its limitations. It's not a square peg/round hole situation...more like an octagon peg/round hole. You can make it fit with minimal banging, but bang you must. So we are forced to utilize the 21st Century skills of critical thinking (problem solving) and creativity to make it work.

Here is my advice: Don't rely solely on apps. Mix it up with Web 2.0 tools!

The one I have found very successful with a 6th Grade Science teacher is our old friend Wikispaces.

The WIKI provides an interactive place where the teacher can list the agenda, media, web-links, and the students can access them during the lesson. By using the WIKI, you can eliminate the time-killers that occur with misspellings of URLs (web addresses), add focus to normally misguided searches, and save paper since there is no need for handouts. Everything is on the WIKI and accessible 24-7! These reasons, along with all of the various widgets that can be added to the WIKI, make Wikispaces a pretty good tool!

You can also take it a step further and have a separate WIKI page where students can ask and answer questions or reflect on the information they are receiving.
What I don't like is that video embedding is clunky. You can't have too big of a file when uploading so you have to do pre-posting editing. There are some video widgets, but in the land of school filters and flash, those options come up short. I may be on to a remedy, however. I will let you know what I find out :)
I know you can do similar things with other learning management systems, but not every school has one. We use Moodle and that Science teacher I spoke of before uses Moodle quite a bit. Again, the WIKI brings focus where as Moodle can resemble a warehouse, and collaboration is much easier with a WIKI.
Kids want to use the iPads when they are in the room, so let them! Don't save it to do research or for a later activity; make it integral to the learning of the day! Keep them active, engaged, and focused!

It's not a silver bullet, but it's got some punch!

Have a happy day!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Coming Home...

The name of the blog is "In Search of the Silver Bullet" and it is meant to be a pun. In my opinion, there are no "silver bullets" in education, but there are some that will maim the wearwolf...or at least really tick him off!

I have been looking for a good place to blog for a while.

I started with Blogger, tried our School Fusion site, made my way to Edublogs, and now the Prodigal Son has returned. I just like Blogger. It's easy to use, there are no ads, and it is familiar.

So I will set up shop here for a while. It's no silver bullet, but it works pretty well.

So I will talk about educational techniques, technology, and philosophies that I come across and deal with in my discussions and interactions with teachers, friends, family, and colleagues. Again, there won't always be a conclusion or an answer...this is an ongoing journey!

Have a happy day!