Now that the last of the four 21st Century Learning sessions in Elluminate is over-- it's a good time to pause and reflect on where this work has taken the Alabama Best Practice Center's 21st Century schools that are involved in the Microsoft 21st Century Partners' project.
Last night we had the final virtual 21st Century Learning Fair presentation from the ABPC 21st Century schools. These schools have been hard at work since February learning what it takes to be a 21st Century School.
These teachers (with average techie ability) had to configure for and master two communication platforms (Elluminate and Tapped In) while at the same time being exposed to an ever-growing list of social networking tools and how by using these tools they could positively impact student achievement and meet AYP in their schools. The Alabama school teams were encouraged not only to take what they were learning, during the busiest time of the school year, and apply it to their teaching- but to share all they were learning with their faculty in true "change agent" form. Here is what the learning fair was all about...
21st Century Learning Fair .... an opportunity to showcase, reflect, and celebrate!
The focus of our 21st century learning fair is to reflect on the successes and challenges of our journey in our ABPC 21st Century Teaching and Learning Initiative and to share and learn from each other.
Each school team was asked to showcase their work through collaboration in the creation of a visual representation of the learning that has emerged at their schools from this initiative. Each school team had an opportunity to discuss their work using the tools in Elluminate. A showcase should reflect: ~ One or more Cool Tool (blogs, wikis, podcasts, videoblogs, or other) creations each school team has used for professional development or for instruction in their classroom.
Included in their presentations:
~ Sucesses and outcomes of the project
~ Challenges and solutions
~ Lessons learned
The showcases were simply amazing. I was struck with how this was so much more than a "one time- shot in the dark" like so many inservices are in a school. And the feedback we got from the participants echo'd the same sentiments.
Here is a delicious list, that my colleague and friend John Norton has put together, that will enable you to view some of the developing projects in the schools-- http://del.icio.us/abpcjohn
An ABPC staff member reflected recently – "In the mainstream media and in the education publications we all read – people are talking about 21st Century Learning. It's becoming increasingly apparent that the world our youngsters are growing up in is vastly different from what most of us experienced ten or twenty or thirty years ago. And the future they face is different, too. We all feel some obligation to help them prepare for that future – a "digitally enhanced" era where they will not only need to be technologically proficient, but also be able to use technology to communicate effectively, work in teams, solve problems and create new knowledge and understanding."
My colleagues and I do not presume that this project is going to fully prepare participants to deliver on all these obligations. But we do believe it is a good model for setting a school's feet firmly on the path to full-scale 21st Century Learning. In fact, in a recent conversation with Microsoft, they told us they believed our model to be one for the nation. As you can imagine, that was an incredible thing to hear.
Here, in a nutshell, is what we think this project is all about.
Although online learning offers many advantages – convenience, privacy, self-pacing, modeling of best practice, the chance to sharpen technology skills – Web-based professional development comes with its own set of challenges. In designing our framework for this 21st Century Learning project, we grappled with some key questions: How do we bring a group of individuals together online and nurture a sense of community and trust? How do we connect with local practice and context? How do we get the change effort to resonate, not only with the individual teacher, but also with the school and district? And how do we do all this in ways that respect teachers' time and many responsibilities?
With these important questions in mind, for our first "adventure" in 21st Century Learning we designed a four-cycle framework built around three components.
We imagined that: (1) school-based teams of 4 or 5 would attend four live Web conferences (in Elluminate) with the purpose of concept development;
(2) these live, two-hour sessions would be followed by participation in a collaborative community (Tapped In) where teams would further explore the ideas presented in the conferences – and because the Tapped In discussions are "asynchronous," they would do so at times that best suit their schedules. Finally, we imagined that;
(3) teams would find opportunities to use what they are learning and experiencing, applying it in a local context, experimenting with various web tools and digital teaching strategies in their own classrooms and schools.
Our Curriculum Sessions
Our first year curricular framework occured in the following four sessions:
Session #1: "Introduction to 21st Century Learning: The Digital Natives Are Restless" – What is 21st Century learning? Why is it important? This session introduced the teams to the research about why 21st Century Tools and learning strategies are critical to student learning in a digital age.
Session #2: "Cool Web Tools for Teaching & Learning" – This session moveed us from talking about 21st Century Learning to actually examining some specific tools and gadgets available on the Web.
Session #3: "Cool Web Tools: The Sequel" – delved deeper into the cool tools, focusing on their seamless use in instruction and the concept of developing adpative expertise.
Session #4: "21st Century Learning Fair”- Between Session #2 and Session #4, we encouraged teachers to begin to experiment with some of the web tools and digital gadgets that were introduced and explored. In the final session of 2005-06, teams had an opportunity – individually and/or in teams – to showcase, reflect upon, and celebrate the success and outcomes of your learning with all the educators participating in this project.
The real questions we posed to the teams are these:
Are you willing to change – to risk change – to meet the obvious need for better alignment between "school as we know it" and the needs of 21st Century learners? Can you accept that Change (with a big "C") is a sometimes messy process and that learning new things together is going to require some tolerance for ambiguity?
The outcomes have far surpased what we thought was possible. Here are some other resources that were the result of other aspects of our work this year.