The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identified 4 critical areas of learning for students that include creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. In Forsyth County Schools, we’ve been working hard with parents, teachers and students to embrace learning with student-owned technologies; something we call Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT). What we know for sure is that BYOT is really more like Bring Your Own Learning because we’ve discovered that it is NOT about the technology – it IS about the learning.
The video, Above and Beyond, by Peter H. Reynolds and produced for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, is a wonderful illustration of what is possible when students are given the freedom to personalize the learning experience for themselves.
As you watch the video, you might consider the following questions:
- What happens when designers of learning recognize that students are always volunteers in learning?
- How can designers of learning create a “kit” and still allow students the freedom to produce individualized results?
- In a world where we feel pressured to cover everything within a given time frame, how do we schedule innovation and deeper learning?
- How do we honor each child’s strengths and still nurture collaboration?
- How would the meaning of the story change if Maya and Charlie were to lose the race?
We have spent a great deal of time watching BYOT unfold its wings in the classrooms around our district. And we’ve seen so many great strategies that support the 4 C’s of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. These strategies are ageless and cross all content areas. We teach them in our professional learning sessions and coach teachers to consider these as they begin to incorporate BYOT themselves:
- Backchanneling while watching a video: In this way the teacher is able to foster collaboration and communication by having students answer questions and post observations as the video proceeds.
- Take a picture or create an image which demonstrates understanding of a concept: This is a powerful way to encourage creativity as well as critical thinking. A variation on this strategy is having students annotate on the image using an app on their device.
- Arrive at consensus and submit one answer per pair: It’s not necessary for every student to have a device. In fact it’s preferable that students are forced to collaborate on their thinking and agree on the answer that will be submitted via a student response system like Socrative. This strategy enhances critical thinking as well as collaboration.
- Sharing tools for learning: There is a magical thing that occurs when BYOT is first introduced in a class. If a teacher encourages students to share their devices with each other while talking about the ways in which the apps and device can be used to support learning, the great ideas flow and student excitement about learning blossoms. And meanwhile students are thinking critically, collaborating, communicating and getting creative.
- Demonstrating how to do something: We’ve seen some fantastic examples of critical thinking where students are using screen sharing apps to demonstrate how to solve math problems. We’ve even seen some examples where students have to incorporate a mistake into the problem and show why that mistake is incorrect and how to fix it – requiring some creativity to communicate as well.
- Turning a standard into a driving question: When teachers gain some comfort with implementing BYOT and have begun to give up some of the control in the classroom, this strategy works very well. The teacher will share a particular standard with students and together they will write a question that is compelling, asks “so what” and results in a product that useful and beneficial beyond the classroom. This strategy definitely addresses all of the 4 C’s in the process!
- Finding a new way to show what you know: Another great strategy to use once students have become comfortable in the BYOT classroom is to ask them to demonstrate their learning in an innovative way. Students cannot repeat any of the previously used strategies as a way to represent learning. Students are forced to think critically about ways that they can demonstrate their mastery and to do so creatively.
- Building a community bank of ways to show what you know: The teacher has to utilize the ingenuity and critical thinking of the students in the classroom for instructional and technical support. By suggesting ways to learn with their technology tools, students begin to own their learning. Teachers can posts these ideas throughout the classroom or online in a wiki, so students can use them as creative resources and communicate with each other for additional expertise.
Implementing the above strategies can strengthen the learning community of the classroom. The real transformation begins to occur as teachers realize that they can and should learn alongside their students to explore new ways to utilize personal technology. Not only do students strengthen their digital age skills, but they also feel more connected to each other, their teachers, and their learning. As shown in Above and Beyond, our students will one day truly take flight, and hopefully their experiences today will successfully pilot them in their different directions.