Wednesday, December 21, 2011

21st Century Skills: Critical Thinking

So my basset hound, Louie, had a problem. Our other dog, Josie, had the bone that he wanted. Josie realized this and began to taunt Louie with the bone by getting nose-to-nose with him and then yanking the bone away at the last minute. Unbeknownst to me, Louie began to create a plan and the following video makes it clear that he was going to exploit her weakness. You need to know, as Louie did, that Josie's favorite thing in the world is her ball. She goes everywhere with it and Louie never...EVER...plays with a ball. So the following is what occurred:

Louie used reasoning and creativity to solve his problem. He even went so far as to wag his tail as to show that he was really enjoying playing with the ball. He also knew that if he kicked the ball a short distance Josie would go after it. When she did, he would make his move and take the bone!

How often do we, as teachers, just simply give the answer to the question without letting the students find the answer? We do this constantly because it is the most efficient method and I can't say that I blame anyone for choosing this route because time is precious in the classroom.

However, think about how we learn as babies. Our learning is mainly through exploration and the use of all of our senses. A baby learns what something is by grabbing it and putting it in their mouth. Toddler's learn through both verbal instructions from parents and through their own investigation. Sometimes they have to bump their head in order to learn to not do a certain action.

When students get into the 21st Century K-12 classroom, we need to continue this style of learning. Teachers need to give information and guidance but we also need to allow the students to explore and experience on their own and using their own means. The 21st Century Student will need to be able to demonstrate the following:

• Utilize the appropriate reasoning skill for the situation.

• Analyze part-to-whole relationships and understand how the parts work together to create the whole.

• Evaluate and interpret information for validity, credibility, and viability.

• Exercise effective self-reflection.

• Ability to ask clarifying questions to help find solutions.

• Solve new problems using established practices as well as through new ones.

Problem solving! When I think about this I always think about the Apollo 13 mission when the C02 levels were climbing and the astronauts needed to make a square filter fit into a round hole using the materials on board:

Now these guys were able to do this because they spent most of their lives in a lab where experimentation, cause-effect relationships, and inductive and deductive reasoning is the norm. How can we get this into an English class? How can we get this into a Social Studies class? How can we incorporate this into all curricular areas?

To begin with, we need to create an environment where "failure" is not an end, but an opportunity. We need to encourage kids to take chances. It is not always about "the right answer" but rather how we react to the "wrong" ones. Further, we need to break the mold of the teacher being the only source of information and answers. When our dads used to say "look it up" when we asked a question, they had the right idea. We have gotten away from that. Finally, allow kids to be creative (a little foreshadowing here...) in how they demonstrate their knowledge. Give them a problem to solve and allow them to solve it how they choose. Not everything needs to be summed up in a paper or PowerPoint presentation.

I hate cliches (yet I use one as the title of this blog...ironic) but the idea of the teacher moving from "the sage on the stage to the guide on the side" is applicable. We need to teach kids how to think for themselves and not wait for someone else to give them the answer.

Have a happy day!

Monday, December 19, 2011

21st Century Skills: Collaboration

Collaboration is not a new concept in the workforce. People work in teams in every profession yet most of the work done in schools is focused on individual productivity. And while that is an important skill, employers have been pointing out that we need to do more in education to produce an individual who can be self-sufficient but who can also work as part of a team. And bare in mind that the team might never meet in the same country, let alone in the same room.

In the 21st Century, we need students to be able to:

• Work effectively and efficiently with diverse teams on a common goal.

• Be flexible and willing to compromise

• Share responsibility for collaborative work and respect others' work in the project.

I spent 15 years as a classroom teacher and I know the immediate "red flag" that pops up when we start talking about "group work" is the concern of one person shouldering all of the responsibility and doing all the work. This is a real and reasonable concern. Technology can help facilitate collaboration and lessen this concern more than ever before. Web 2.0 applications are being developed to specifically meet collaborative needs, and within most of these applications is the ability to see a revision history. This allows the teacher to see who did what parts of the final product. This isn't "a silver bullet" (as the blog title says) in that you can't be 100% certain that a student didn't just login and have his older brother do the work. We can't guarantee that with any homework we assign, however.

So what technology is out there to help facilitate collaboration? Here is a short, yet powerful, list:

Technology Tools To Support Collaboration

Google Apps - Google is synonymous with collaboration. Everything one can create in Google Apps (documents, spreadsheets, presentation, drawings, forms, etc.) were meant to be shared and collaborated on easily.

Prezi - An engaging presentation tool that makes PowerPoint look archaic. Multiple users can work on the same "prezi."

Skype - Video communication where many classes have begun to share and work together.

Evernote - Online note-taking application that allows one to share notes.

• Wikis  - These can be created in many applications. I use either Google Docs or Wikispaces

Wall Wisher  - online "Sticky Note" application great for brainstorming.

Lino  - online "Sticky Note" application great for brainstorming.

Instructional Strategies To Support Collaboration

• Cooperative Learning
• Jigsawing
• Discussion Boards
• Partners: Think/Pair/Share, Tell/ReTell

Remember, we need not replace the individual work with group work, but find places within the curriculum to utilize collaboration. Don't reinvent the wheel...find existing projects and modify them slightly to be more collaborative. It is easier than you might think!

Have a happy day!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

21st Century Skills: Communication

The four "Cs" in 21st Century Learning are Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. This entry will discuss what the 21st Century Learner must be able to demonstrate with regards to communication and will provide technological and instructional tools to aid in that preparation.

Students demonstrate effective communication in a variety of modes, contexts, forms, and environments.

The ability to communicate effectively is not a new idea for the 21st Century as it is a life skill that has been around since the beginning of time. What has changed, however, is the fact that there are many more modes, contexts, forms, and environments that a person will have to deal with. We now communicate face-to-face, on conference calls, via email, through video conferencing, by text messaging, and in written form. We have to be able to interact with the individual, small groups, large groups, and online communities, all of which have much different dynamics and all of which require a different skill-set. As educators, we must deviate from the one-way communication and differentiate our instruction to meet these needed skills.

What does your classroom look like? How many different modes of communication do they use and how many different audiences do they encounter?

Students can communicate in order to inform, instruct, motivate, and persuade.

The 21st Century Learner will need to be able to communicate in order to inform, instruct, motivate, and persuade. Again, this is nothing new, but how they do this in the digital age adds an element of complexity. Students should be able use verbal, written and digital forms to perform these skills. It is commonplace to have students write papers to instruct, motivate, inform, or persuade, but how often do we have them create a website to do this? How often do we have them blog? How often do we have them create instructional videos? How often are our students involved in online discussion boards?

Please do not misunderstand me as I am not advocating to do away with writing assignments. I'm simply saying that, in the 21st Century, we will need to balance the scales.

The student is an effective listener who can decipher meanings, values, attitudes, and intentions.

Communication is a two-way street. One talks and one least we hope. It is much easier to decipher meaning, value, attitudes, and intentions from one's voice than their writing. Sarcasm and satire don't always translate to the written word as well as we would like and it is much harder to provide instant clarification. In the 21st Century, with online classes, webinars, podcasts, and social media, it is important that we are adequately training our students how to listen and decipher in these various arenas. The learner needs to be able to look at the context and environment of the information and make judgements as to its validity and reliability. Further, to listen to a podcast, participate in an online discussion forum, or take part in a webinar requires a different discipline than a face-to-face interaction, and our students will be faced with more and more of these as they continue in their education. What are we doing to prepare them?

Again, do not think I am advocating eliminating face-to-face communication. I am not! It is so vital! As I said before, we simply need to balance the scales.

Students can use multiple technologies to communicate and know the appropriate time for each.

Finding the right tool for the task is so important. I used to think I could fix anything with a screwdriver and a hammer, so my home-improvement skills had to go through some improvements in order for me to be truly effective. There are so many communication tools available to us and we tend to use the easiest rather than the most appropriate; students need to know who their audience is and make a judgment as to  what tool to use and how to use it. Is it appropriate to email a potential employer? When should one use Skype? Should proper punctuation be used for all audiences? Can students get their point across in 140 characters? These are only a few questions that need to be addressed when using these tools. The bottom line, however, is that students need to be able to communicate effectively with each piece of technology.

Technology Tools To Facilitate Communication
• Email
• Skype
• Texting
• Instant Messaging (Chat)
• Twitter
• Facebook
• Blogging
• Google Apps

Instructional Strategies to facilitate communication
• Cooperative Learning
• Interviews (both in learning and assessment)
• Jigsawing
• Discussion Boards
• Partners: Think/Pair/Share, Tell/ReTell
• Think/Ink/Link: Students think about their response, write their response, and then share their response with someone else.
• Power Sentences: Students respond with one well-written sentence.
• Lit Circles/Book Clubs: Small group book discussions.

Have a happy day!