Saturday, July 16, 2011

Partnership for 21st Century Skills

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is an organization that advocates for increased technology usage in the classroom and the development of technological literacy in American students.  The first thing I noticed on their website was the impressive list of corporate partners who are working with them to further their goals.  The list includes AOL, Apple, Cisco Systems, Dell, and Microsoft. I think it is important that companies like these take an interest in the American education system; without their input, I think, America stands to lose its competitive edge in the coming decades. 
The partnership does a great deal of work with legislators and policy-makers, I was happy to see.  They have been working to improve professional development for teachers, which I think is crucial at this point.  They are also monitoring curriculum and standards development across the nation.  They have helped to build a 15-state coalition dedicated to improving the use of technology in schools.  I was interested to be able to read a synopsis of what each state is doing in regards to integrating technology into the state standards.  My home state of Pennsylvania began integrating technology into each of the core subjects, recently. I teach some English classes, and I think the English standards were improved immensely.
If I had to choose something from the site to disagree with, I would say that they are a bit too fervently evangelical in their tone at times. The partnership provides a report in PDF format that advocates for a massive influx of technology into our school systems and explains what our students need to use this technology to learn.  The first paragraph of their PDF states that, “Today’s education system faces irrelevance unless we bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn,” and that is taking it a bit too far, I think.  Yes, bridging that gap is important, but I know that students with a solid foundation in the core skills of reading, writing and mathematics can often bridge that gap with little or no help from me.  In fact, they are often quite innovative about it, and come up with applications that I hadn’t thought of.  The site also states that we must, “commit to ensuring that all students have equal access to this technological world, regardless of their economic background,” which is a noble goal, but which is also impractical to the point of absurdity. We live in a capitalist society.  Our economic system ensures that there are going to be richer kids and poorer kids, the haves and the have-nots. I believe Education should do what it can to close the gap as much as possible, knowing that we can’t succeed in leveling the playing field for everyone.   
Still, it is important to try and I do believe we can make an enormous difference.  The partnership lists 5 main skills that students should focus on as they progress through school: 1. Emphasize the core subjects, 2. Emphasize the core learning skills, 3. Use 21st century skills to develop learning skills, 4. Teach and learn in a 21st century context, and 5. Teach and learn 21st century content.  I agreed whole-heartedly with their list of skills.  The have looked closely at the NETS standards and they mirror them quite nicely, I think.  Overall, I think the site is excellent.  I plan to use it as a resource the next time I get a chance to work with administrators and school board members to build new policies governing curriculum building and the use of our newly revised state standards.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Re: Using Blogs in the Classroom, for Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction, and Technology


In the past, I have used blogs to spice up our large-group classroom discussions.  Normally, I assign a particular topic to each student and ask him or her to become an expert in that topic and regularly report on it in a blog.  In my Eighth Grade Computer class, for example, topics include Internet neutrality, copyright issues, cell phone and iPad apps, new gadgets, government regulations, all things Google, Apple Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, social networking, web 2.0 issues, etc.  Students are then responsible for using the blogs and the information contained within them to "co-host" a class discussion with me at least once and to contribute more informally to the class discussions they aren't hosting.  I like the way blogs can empower the students as speakers, helping them to solidify their opinions and allowing all of us to keep informed about the constantly-changing landscape of technology.

Right now, we publish to a site that is only visible to other class members.  I would love to be able to publish our work to a site that is more public, but I am worried about Internet trolls and cyberbullies.  I don't want my students to get hurt and I don't want my school district to suffer any liabilities, so I would have to create an appropriate form for the students and their parents to sign, first, of course.  Then maybe it would be more appropriate to have them publish group work to begin with.   What do you think?