SoftChalk Talk

The 21st Century Classroom

Posted June 20, 2013 in Archives, Uncategorized

teamworkToday’s post is from Renee Citlau, teacher from Anaheim Union High School District.  She won Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) Teacher of the Year 2013 Award.  She has experience with teaching online classes and getting students to be engaging through her courses.

In order to prepare all students for the future, students must not only acquire content knowledge and literacy skills, but they must also develop 21st century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving, and, in addition, they must develop dispositions (Habits of Mind) such as persistence and metacognition. In-depth content knowledge, 21st century skills, and Habits of Mind have been identified as crucial for students to compete in a global economy. Online and blended learning has the potential to transform teaching and learning. However, in order for that transformation to occur we must turn from a 20thcentury, teacher-centered approach to teaching and learning to a 21st century, student-centered approach that includes 21st century skills, and Habits of Mind. We’re at a crossroads, we can transpose the old, 20th century model, into online and blended learning education, or we can truly transform education and incorporate new ways of teaching and learning into our virtual classrooms.

Community

The bridge to the 21st century classroom is community. It’s crucial that students connect with their teachers and with other students. Many students come from single parent homes or don’t have connections with adults, and some cultures value community more than other cultures. We need to make sure that we’re purposely building that sense of community into our virtual classrooms. I was reminded of the importance of community when a student sent me an email and shared some personal challenges he was having. He went on to say that he felt more connected with me than with the face-to-face teachers he saw every day. He said that he was struggling in face-to-face classes, but he had an A in my class. Then, he said, “I like how you teach.” I think what this student was saying is, because he had a connection with me, he was able to learn in the class. He was able to access the curriculum. I learned that community not only engages students, it provides the bridge for them to learn the content.

Strategies I use to develop community include responding individually to each student’s learning journal, writing announcements and emails in a professional but informal tone, including and participating in community building discussions, providing quick feedback, highlighting exemplary student work, letting students know that my goal is for them to succeed, and giving periodic student surveys about the course and my teaching.

Project-Based Learning

The 21st century classroom incorporates real-life, project-based approaches to learning. Project-based learning is not an add-on at the end of a unit, but project-based learning is the curriculum. Students learn content, answer guiding questions, and solve real-life problems. A recent study by Microsoft, Pearson, and Gallup concludes that there is a direct correlation between students developing 21st century skills in their last year of school and their long-term, future success in the work place (In the U.S., 21st Century Skills Linked to Work Success, by Jenna Levy and Preety Sidhu, May 20, 2013). Levy and Sidhu go on to say,

 “Schools could have a significant effect on their students’ long-term work success by incorporating 21st century skills, specifically real-world problem-solving and collaborative technology, into curriculums through project-based experiential learning.”

Project or problem-based learning is beneficial to all students including native English speakers, English learners, special education, and GATE students. If we’re going to prepare students to be successful, we need to include project-based learning in online and blended learning. When project-based learning is done well, students develop literacy skills, content knowledge, 21st century skills, and Habits of Mind while they’re solving relevant, problems in their community.

In my high school accounting class, students learn federal tax law, and, after obtaining certification with the IRS, prepare tax returns for low income and elderly taxpayers. Through a partnership with the United Way and IRS, we participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. We host numerous community tax days where students get to apply what they’ve learned and help their community at the same time. Students learn to determine the correct filing status, the number of dependency exemptions, if the taxpayer qualifies for any of the various tax credits, and if it’s more beneficial for the taxpayer to take the standard deduction or to itemize their deductions. At our community tax days, high school students work alongside volunteers from Cal State University, Fullerton (CSUF) and the United Way. My students gain confidence as they research and answer taxpayer questions alongside CSUF and United Way volunteers.

One student said that he can now speak his mind, and is no longer shy when working with strangers. Another student said that what he likes best about the class was that he got to apply what he learned to real-life situations. I think my favorite quote was from a student that said, “Accounting helps improve skills in a way that better motivates students into learning. Schools should provide more classes online like accounting to better motivate and educate their students.” I don’t think this student was saying that learning tax law online is particularly exciting, but that real-life, meaningful learning is educational and engaging to students!

Students develop their reading and writing skills in project-based learning. They complete a Learning Strategies Scavenger Hunt at the beginning of the year where they learn strategies to make sense of difficult text (IRS manuals) and various note taking strategies. Students self-evaluate their notes and create portfolios where they include their notes, readings, key vocabulary words, and reflections of their learning. Many students say that their note taking, reading, and writing skills improved as a result of the class. One student said her “ability to write and communicate in a forum-style environment and keep a professional writing voice while online has improved.” She “learned new ways to take notes and organize concepts.” Another student said, “there are at least two assignments every week that require the ability to write and communicate effectively, and it’s often in a more interesting and applicable manner than in a regular class.”

Collaboration

The 21st century classroom includes opportunities for students to collaborate. In my online classes, students learn the benefits of working in teams, develop team norms, and complete various team projects using Web 2.0 tools such as Wikis, Glogster and Google documents. Many students say that the most important thing they learned in the class was teamwork.

One unexpected benefit of online group work was that geographic and ethnic barriers were broken down as students from different cultures got to know one another. I work in a very diverse district. The east and west sides of my district are very different in ethnic and socio economic makeup, and through online teamwork, students developed friendships that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

Habits of Mind

The 21st century online classroom provides opportunities for students to develop “Habits of Mind.” Students post to a learning journal every school day. The learning journal is a discussion that is just between me and the individual student. On Monday students create a schedule of when they plan on completing the weekly assignments. Every school day they write a daily post by responding to a stem such as, “I was successful in my learning today because . . . .” or “I need to do a better job of . . . tomorrow because . . . .” At the end of the week, students reflect on what they learned during the week and what they don’t understand. The learning journal helps students to develop metacognition (thinking about their thinking) and time management skills. The learning journal helps me to formatively assess students and to connect with each student individually.

Some students say that the most important thing they learned in the class was how to be responsible. Others say that they have become more organized and have learned to manage their time.

Course Development

The 21st century classroom includes community, 21st century skills, project-based learning, and Habits of Mind.  According to “Schools Saying No Thanks to External Online Course Design Help,” colleges and universities are developing curriculum in-house rather than relying on third-party vendors.  Malboro College’s director of educational technology, Caleb Clark said,

“It’s not something we would consider.  I don’t think an outside company knows our school, and they don’t know the teacher.  The teacher’s personality can get somewhat lost.  Your tone and manner would get lost.”

As colleges and universities say “no” to third-party vendors, some, if not most, K12 districts are relying on third-party vendors to deliver their curriculum.

SoftChalk along with our learning management system are essential components to our online program.  SoftChalk gives us  the ability to develop content that is well laid out and interactive. AS we build our courses, we purposely develop community, 21st century skills, Habits of Mind, and project-based approaches to learning.

The 21st century classroom includes community, 21st century skills, project-based learning, and Habits of Mind.  According to “Schools Saying No Thanks to External Online Course Design Help,” colleges and universities are developing curriculum in-house rather than relying on third-party vendors.  Malboro College’s director of educational technology, Caleb Clark, said,

“It’s not something we would consider.  I don’t think an outside company knows our school, and they don’t know the teacher.  The teacher’s personality can get somewhat lost.  Your tone and manner would get lost.”

As colleges and universities say “no” to third-party vendors, some, if not most, K12 districts are relying on third-party vnedors to deliver their curriculum.

SoftChalk along with our learning management system are essential components to our online program.  SoftChalk gives us the ability to develop content that is well laid out and interactive.  As we build our courses, we purposely develop community, 21st century skills, Habits of Mind, and project-based approaches to learning.

clip_image001Renee is a 16-year teaching veteran who has taught online for six years.  She piloted the district’s first online class in 2007, after her study in a master of arts in educational technology leadership program showed her the potential to engage dissatisfied students.  She also helps skilled classroom teachers learn to blend online tools into their classrooms and to teach online.  She is a Leading Edge Certification trainer and active member of Computer Using Educators, the International Society for Technology in Education and the International Association for K12 Online Learning.

3 Responses

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