Monday, May 31, 2010

The 21st Century Educator

Tomorrow is our big meeting: we start writing our vision for IT and library for the next three years. Today I dipped into Andrew Churches Educational Origami wiki again for a bit more inspiration. I was first introduced to this wiki a couple of years ago at a technology meeting when I was a teacher in Bangkok, and I've been back and forth to this wiki many times, especially to look at the pages on Bloom's Digital Taxonomy. However today I wanted to check out the page on the 21st Century Teacher.

Andrew Churches writes about 8 characteristics of 21st century teachers. They are adaptors, visionaries, collaborators, risk-takers, learners, communicators, models and leaders. I think our vision for what IT and library needs to evolve into over the next 3 years should take these characteristics into account.

With the current state of technology at our school, I think all teachers who are using IT right now are definitely adaptors. At times this year I have found myself planning three different lessons for a single class, because I couldn't be sure that the hardware, software or network would be functioning as they should! Sometimes, when I've only planned for one activity, I've had to come up with something new very spontaneously when it was clear that things were just not going to work out as expected. Other times we have had to adapt software that definitely wasn't designed for young children, for example when we used Excel with our Grade 2s so that we could use negative numbers on our temperature graphs, as the child friendly software we originally planned to use didn't allow the student to graph temperatures below freezing.

In addition, our teachers have had to adapt to the introduction of Web 2.0 tools this year, as they were never used here before. Many of our teachers were fairly competent users of Microsoft Office and were happy leading lessons using Word and PowerPoint, but most had never heard of Prezi, Glogster, XtraNormal and so on. I would sit in planning meetings and listen to ideas they had (based on what they used in previous years) and I would say things like, "Well, you could do a PowerPoint .... or you could try a Google Earth tour." To their credit, they were all prepared to leave their comfort zone of familiar software and learn new things. A lot of what was done in the past few years has now changed - our teachers have shown that they are prepared to be life-long learners and to evolve and change as technology evolves and changes. This, I think, has had the biggest impact on the way technology has been used to support student learning this year.

Half way through the year, just when they were starting to get comfortable with some of the Web 2.0 tools, I introduced another big change - a flexible schedule. Again this took teachers right out of their comfort zones. The teachers and the students were used to having one IT lesson a week, now I was asking them to think more carefully about what they wanted to do and when they wanted to do it. Did they want a lot of IT at the beginning of the units of inquiry in order to help the students tune in? Did they want most of the IT at the end as part of their summative assessment? It was hard for them, initially, to go for several weeks without any IT at all, even though they knew that later in the unit they would perhaps be coming for a whole morning or afternoon to work on something.

I'm hoping that I'm not pushing their adaptability to its limits, but there's another change I want to bring in for next year based on the SAMR model which I've written about earlier. Our plan is to have the teachers lead the S (substitution) and to lead the A (augmentation) with our support, while we focus on the M (modification) and R (redefinition) of tasks that would be impossible for students to do without technology.

Another characteristic of 21st century teachers is vision. As we are educating our students for the future it's important to try to predict what skills they will need. We are looking at emerging technologies and asking how can we use them with the students. We are also taking risks, as we are not really sure how some of these new ideas are going to work out. For example when I attended a Grade 4 planning meeting for their current unit, How the World Works, I suggested it would be good to try some animation with the students. At the time I knew we didn't have any animation software on the computers, but I felt confident that I would be able to find some. I put out a tweet asking for suggestions and immediately heard back that DoInk would be good to use, and this is what we have done. Students were quick to grasp the idea of creating drawings and frame by frame animations and putting them into compositions. Here are a couple of animations they made based on the experiments they did into light and colour:

Another characteristic of the 21st century teacher is that of collaborator. Because we are in a PYP school, all our units of inquiry, maths and language are planned collaboratively. This year we have also used email and skype to collaborate with schools around the world, for example our Grade 2s who inquired into how the weather affects life and who later shared this knowledge using VoiceThread.

Some of our teachers have started to use blogs, wikis and Twitter to build up their own PLNs too. They are beginning to communicate with other teachers worldwide. All of this collaboration is going to have an impact on the way they teach and on the way their students learn.

21st century teachers model the behaviours that they want to see in their students. They reflect on what they are doing and encourage their students to do the same. Some of our Techie Breakie team are now starting to act as leaders in their grade levels - they are modelling how to integrate the IT into the curriculum and are supporting and encouraging others to do the same.

All in all we have come a long way this year. I am confident that whatever we talk about and decide to do at our meeting tomorrow we will be able to do over the next 3 years, because it will be built on strong foundations already established this year.

Photo Credit: Kusudama by Etringita, animations by Yejun and Julia in Grade 4

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