Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Transformation of a 21st Century Classroom

My co-teacher, Christine Southard, and I speak each day on the phone as we drive into work. We both have long commutes and use the time to plan, wake each other up, make to-do lists, and just talk. We often think we should be recording these conversations and creating podcasts. Over time, we have solved all the education problems, found motivators for every unmotivated child, and figured out what each administrator needs to do to create the perfect school environment. Of course, we then get to school and forget all our great ideas. Sigh.

But last week, I got so excited by one conversation we had that I was determined to blog about it so it could be saved for posterity. Or at least saved for longer than it takes to walk from my car to my classroom. So here is the great thinking.

Christine and I have worked together for over three years. But three years ago we really began the transformation of our classroom. It was three years ago that we learned about Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, rss feeds, and delicious. And it was then that we began to spread our wings. So how have we transformed?

The Beginning

At first, we were excited by the tools. We started a blog for no other reason than we thought it was a cool idea. There was no great plan to integrate this idea into our curriculum. We didn't consider even coordinating blogging with our writing lessons. It was a total extra. Ditto for other fun tools such as mixbook, gcast, and adding widgets to our site. We already had a website, thanks to our district. Now we could add...a clustrmap, podcasts, a voki, video! Let's have the students create avatars for their blogsite. Let's play around with... Well, you get the idea. Tools were fun. Tools were cool. Tools excited the students. But there was no learning involved.

The Middle
Year two began a move toward putting technology into our curriculum. So our class went something like this. Teach a unit - maybe geometry. Use our cool SmartBoard to liven up the lessons. Maybe add a BrainPop video or Discovery Streaming video to the unit. Then find a way to have the students use a fun tool, such as VoiceThread, to demonstrate their knowledge.

So in year two, the tool still came first. We learned about a new tool and thought about a lesson we could do to incorporate that tool into our curriculum. And as for our teaching, it was still very much teacher directed. Assessments were often project based assessments but the learning was all about us.

There were some positives, though. We learned about a huge amount of tools, built up our PLN, and even won some awards for our projects. We were proud of our accomplishments.

The Big Transformation

So if we were happy, why did anything change? First, let me tell you what started the conversation Christine and I were having. I pointed out that we really don't "teach" much anymore. And that, to a stranger coming into the room, it must look like we aren't doing anything. We both sit with our computers on most of the day. We sit at tables and have students come to us with their work, usually on a laptop or flash drive. While we wait for students to come to us, we are editing blogs, loading videos, adding podcasts to our site, updating website pages, and much more. Or we walk around and talk to groups of students, finding out what they are working on and where they might need some guidance. Or we're monitoring a live blog session. Rarely are we in front of the room talking. And rarely are the students in their seats all at the same time. A colleague recently said that every time she walks by, the students are at their computers working quietly. We laughed, saying we felt the class was a pretty noisy group. They love to talk with each other and we are just grateful that at least they are on topic when they are talking.

How did we get to this level? At some point, over the summer, we realized that we needed to step away from the front of the room. And that technology could help us do just that. We wanted to move from project based assessment to project based learning. So we planned lessons where we posted information for the students online. Videos, audio clips, websites, book lists, all available as needed. And we demonstrated a variety of tools the students could use to share their knowledge. And we (gasp) handed out our toys to the kids. We gave them our cameras, our digital recorders, the flipcam. And now they even use our laptops when editing material. This was huge. We lost control. And gained a class full of learners. We trusted them with the tools and they haven't let us down yet.

So here we are, nearing the end of year three. Feeling proud, still winning awards. I wonder what year four will bring to us.


Unknown said...

When I become a more established teacher, I hope to accomplish the same thing in my classrom! Way to go!

Thanks for sharing this, Lisa. I believe more teachers who have this kind of success really need to share their stories because it encourages others who are a little apprehensive about the technology being in their classroom, utilizing it in so many different ways and forms.

Anonymous said...

Lisa and Christine,

I truly enjoy reading the posts, listening online, and observing student projects via shared links. The two of you are very deserving of the awards/recognition received from the changes implemented in the learning environment you offer. I use "learning environment" because (IMHO) you are not offering a class within a classroom but challenges that take the students outside of the room and making learning truly real world applicable.

Best wishes,
Dean Mantz

bcrosby said...

Hi Lisa – I'm really glad you wrote this post because I've been struggling with this very issue, but with an interesting twist. Currently I have 2 college intern students, that are close to doing their student teaching, 3 afternoons a week and they were thrilled to be in my classroom to see how we use technology to change the pedagogy and learning in our classroom. However, my classroom of late too often looks much as you describe ... not big teacher driven lessons for the most part ... and so I have been having a hard time coming up with lessons for them to teach. This isn't helped by the fact that we are overtime on our bike project and we did most of the ground work for that well before our interns appeared and so students are doing things the interns have no background in, and unless “you were there” it is hard to explain. Therefore my interns do a lot of watching my students work. Now they are good at checking student's work and all, but I don't think this is what they envisioned.

The upshot is I've actually caught myself stressing over how to adjust things in my day so that there is more for them to do. Fortunately, we have a Space unit coming up and that should give them much more to do. Reading your post helped me to see that the same things I have questioned and wondered about are happening to someone else ... I often “set up shop” at the back of the room with my laptop and call students back as their posts show up in my email or they bring me work to check or go over with them ... and if that isn't happening I'm wandering and answering questions and noting progress and asking questions about how they decided to do something, but for the bulk of the day students are engaged and we just kind of hum along.

I've said before that I miss having a “Christine” and others to bounce ideas off and plan with here ... you are lucky.
Learning is messy!

Mrs C said...

What an inspiring story - my idea of a great classroom is right here!

Do you ever have issues with technology not working/the internet being "down"/lack of equipment, etc? Any tips?

Lisa Parisi said...

Mrs. C, we often have issues with technology not working. It slows us down considerably. We've learned a few work offline as much as possible, use flashdrives instead of saving to our local network, move around the room to get a better signal, use the desktops instead. Our motto - "If you're not frustrated by technology, you're not using technology." :)

Brian, I often feel the same way when there are pre-service teachers in my room. Also when there is a sub to replace Christine. They want to know what they can do to help. But the answer really is "nothing." As to the pre-service teachers, just keep explaining the set-up or have the students explain. Then start a project with them there. They'll get it. How lucky they are to be in your room and see what a classroom should really look like!

Kathleen Risolvo said...

I loved reading this post. Change can be hard but so rewarding! I have had a similar experience and it was great reading about it happening somewhere else. Sometimes it feels a like we are cheating when we get to do our jobs by having so much fun and seeing so much learning, doesn't it. I am a technology facilitator and today I got to go into four different rooms and bring in iPods with movies about the five senses. I broke the students into two groups and the other group made iMovies about how they use their senses...really?...can life get any better? It is a great way to live life. Watching kids learn using these "toys" is pretty great.

Kristi said...

Great article. What grade(s) do you teach?

Lisa Parisi said...

Kdveiten, we teach a fifth grade class.

Paul Hamilton said...

What an exciting journey! And such an inspiration for teachers everywhere. Thanks for sharing it, Lisa.

Rebecca McIntyre said...

Wow. Great example of where we as technology literate teachers should be progressing. Thanks for sharing!

Keep it going and tell us all about your experiences.

Neil Stephenson said...

I love your honesty about the first two years - where the tools were great but it wasn't about the learning. In my opinion, that is often the case - lots of great blogs about the tools - not many about deep, well-designed environments. Thanks for the post.

SusanT said...

Hi Lisa, many thanks for sharing, your experiences. I don't know if you ever see the little Haifa flag that appears on your feedjit widget. But I visit often and am always inspired by your writing.
Thought I'd tell you that you are one of the 5 women I posted about in the Ada Lovelace pledge.

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Betsy Kretz said...

I enjoyed this article, it reminded me a lot of the differentiated instruction training I recently attended. We left the training feeling inspired and stumped because we didn't really have a direction but we liked the big picture of where we wanted to head. Technology could help get me there in so many ways, just need to learn/know my options and utilize them to the best of my abilities. The kids want to use the technology, some of them only have access to it at school and may not feel totally comfortable with it, but they want to be. This would teach to different modes of learning, allow me to work with small groups, students could actually be ON TASK and learning. Wow. I think this would definately help motivate some of my students who aren't doing well.

It's just the time in planning, the time in gathering the information, finding and utilizing the right resources for the standard I'm trying to teach. It feels a little overwhelming, but again, I like the big picture.

Anonymous said...

Great article! It is nice to hear that even teachers who have figured out how to do this efficiently were once where I am now. I have started to feel like my students are using the technology as tools: instead of me teaching them how to use the technology, we're using the technology to learn other things. This has been a nice change, but we have a long way to go! I appreciate all the new ideas! It really gives me a reminder as to the direction I want to go in my classroom. I do wish I had someone I worked closely with each day to bounce ideas off like you do! I think that's the easiest way to accomplish great things! Two heads are definitely better than one! Thank you for sharing! You're an inspiration!

Melissa Rebecchini said...

Thanks for the article. I am taking a class on technology and education and am just beginning to learn about all of these exciting and innovative tools that I can incorporate into my classroom. I find the idea of learning how to use all of this technology and then incoroporate it into the curriculum a little intimidating and it was nice to read your article and learn about the process that you went through. Your class sounds very much like the class that I would eventually like to have.