Over the past two years, I had the incredible opportunity to be one of the professional development strategists for the Nevada Ready 21 program. I was part of a team that created a series of professional learning opportunities for teachers integrating instructional technology at twenty-three middle schools throughout the State of Nevada.
I had a chance to see firsthand what works and what doesn’t when integrating instructional technology and one-to-one devices at schools. As I conclude my time with Nevada Ready 21, I’d like to share some of my thoughts on digital learning and what I learned along the way.
At the start of the 2016-17 school year, our Nevada Ready 21 schools received one-to-one Chromebooks. This was a huge change in our schools and so many teachers viewed the new devices as an opportunity to change the way they taught their subject.
Take Ms. Matthews at Greenspun Junior High School, for example. Ms. Matthews teaches an elective technology course and her students code video games, engage with Google’s G Suite for Education tools, create online portfolios of their work, and participate in passion projects. Ms. Matthews recently held a showcase of her students’ best work during a family night. When I asked her how she was able to get her students to create all of the incredible work on display, she told me, “I have taken on a facilitator role with my students. It is important for students to problem solve and be in charge of their learning. I had little experience with coding, but we learned together. My students self-advocate and I help them find the answers to their coding questions as they come up. In many cases, the students share, and teach me what they know.”
Facilitators run student-centered classrooms and provide opportunities to engage in the content on a deeper level. In an Earth Science classroom, for example, students might prepare for a debate on alternative sources of energy. Students can use their connected devices to prepare for the debate by researching pros and cons on the topic, anticipating the other side’s arguments, and coming up with killer opening and closing statements. The teacher facilitates the process by providing the basic structure of the lesson and the students drive their learning.
The structure the teacher provides for the debate could come from a collaborative organizer like this one. This template provides the structure for the debate but it asks the students to do the heavy lifting by researching the topic themselves.
When teachers act as facilitators, students become active participants in their education and own their learning.
The Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) from the Florida Center for Instructional Technology provides a roadmap of what transformational teaching looks like in a connected classroom. A classroom with the highest level of technology integration is one in which “the teacher encourages the innovative use of technology tools” (source). Exploring the TIM reveals that transformational lessons can be a lot of work for the student! But teachers can get more buy-in by allowing more student choice. Choice can be a powerful motivator.
One way to provide more choice is through learning stations. In an analog classroom, learning stations are defined spaces through which students physically rotate. In a connected classroom, lesson elements can exist online, so stations can be a mix of both physical and digital spaces.
For example, an ELA lesson on citing sources could be broken down into three stations. In the first station, students choose to learn from a YouTube video, interact with a Google Slides presentation, or read an online article. Not only do students have a choice in how they will learn the content, they also have a choice where in the classroom they want to learn it. Some students work better with a friend while others work better independently. This station is available to absent students, too. Since it is a digital station, the materials can be accessed through a class website, Google Classroom, or Padlet.
Because the direct instruction runs on its own in the first station, the second station could be a physical location in the classroom manned by the teacher to help students who need extra support. This station could also serve as a checkpoint to ensure students understand the material before they move on.
In the third station, students have a choice in the product they create. Using our example, they might choose to make a Screencastify video that explains how to cite sources or choose to write a response to a prompt in which they have to cite a source.
Teachers find it easier to plan for a station rotation by planning the lesson horizontally rather than vertically. Check out our horizontal Station Rotation Lesson Planner and use it to organize learning goals, the flow of the lesson, and the different stations.
Providing choice allows students to learn on their own terms and in a way that is personalized to their learning style.
The Four C’s
Designing technology-rich lessons can be a daunting task and it isn’t always obvious where to start. One way to get started is to plan opportunities for students to practice the Four C’s of 21st Century Learning as much as possible.
The Four C’s include communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity and are listed by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) as skills students need to be successful in college, career, and beyond. According to P21, students proficient in communication are equipped to navigate civic and work life. Students are exposed to diverse views when they work in heterogeneous, collaborative groups. When students practice their critical thinking and creativity skills, they are better prepared to be productive and innovative in the workforce.
The Four C’s are an integral part of the digital learning movement.
And for me, the Four C’s are where I start when I write lesson plans. I have found that just about any analog classroom activity can turn into a technology-infused, student-centered lesson just by incorporating the Four C’s.
For example, teachers can still lecture to students from a Slides presentation, but why not ask students to respond to a prompt on the class Flipgrid, too? With the right Flipgrid prompt, students can practice communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills. The good news is that Flipgrid recently became a free online tool, courtesy of Microsoft. Because Flipgrid is no longer a pay-service, teachers can now create unlimited Flipgrids and students can now respond to other students’ videos.
One classroom staple you will find in any school likely dates back to the advent of the ditto machine: the worksheet. In an analog classroom, worksheets are printed and stapled and students fill them out with a pencil. In a connected classroom, worksheets usually exist in the form of a downloaded PDF filled out using an online PDF-writing tool. But analog or digital, a worksheet is still a worksheet.
With one-to-one devices in the classroom, teachers can replace the worksheet with digital assessment activities. Rather than have them fill out a worksheet, engage students by having them create an Adobe Spark video. Or have them create a newscast using WeVideo. Or have them collaborate on a Slides presentation. Devices give teachers more options to engage their students. As long as the teacher provides structure and expectations, students will use all Four C’s on a product they will be proud to share!
Transforming instruction in a connected classroom is easy when teachers embrace the change, allow students to choose how they show mastery, and incorporate the Four C’s as much as possible.