Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stop the Madness: There is a Difference Between 21st Century Tools and 21st Century Skills

In the past year I have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools and attend a number of conferences. In the process I have witnessed and met many incredible, talented and committed teachers.  However, in the same vein, early on I witnessed what appeared to be a seemingly simple and innocent mistake.  Unfortunately, within this same year I witnessed this same mistake too many times to be considered completely innocent.

Many times I would observe a classroom, complete a walk through or sit in a session at a conference.  Each of these events had one thing in common.  Each of these teachers, whether in the classroom or presenting at a conference were all promoting "21st Century Skills."  Please understand, I think that we not only need to promote these skills but students need to be immersed in them.  So, what is this seemingly simple and innocent mistake?  Let me provide a list of the "21st Century Skills" I witnessed:

1) QR Codes
2) Doceri
3) Reflector
4) Socrative
5) Prezi
6) Animoto
7) Poster Maker
8) Glogster
10) Voki
11) GAFE (Google Apps for Education)

Does this look like a list of skills?  More accurately, this is a list of web based tools.  Granite, these are some really unique and powerful web based tools, but they are not skills.  Far too many times I have witnessed  well intentioned and good teachers refer to using these as 21st Century skills.  Let me makes this point very clear; these are tools to engage the 21st century student, these are not 21st Century Skills!

What we need are teachers who can utilize these 21st Century tools in a way that will challenge and grow our students in their use of 21st Century Skills.  Before moving forward it may be best to first list what the 21st Century Skills, as recognized by P21. (non profit group tasked with creating the list):

Life and career skills, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, information, media and technology skills as well as the core subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic.  Looking back at the tools that were being used to ENGAGE the 21st Century Learner, how can we use them to incorporate these skills?

I would suggest that communication, collaboration, creativity as well as information, media, and technology skills can be natural fits for many of these 21st Century tools.  Let's look at how GAFE (Google Apps for Education) can be the catapult for students and teachers alike to use and master these skills:

Collaboration - Google tools are designed for collaboration.  Google Doc's and Presentation allow students to collaborate with one another while working on an assignment.  This collaboration can all be done online both asynchronously and synchronously.  Students have the ability to work in two different locations, view the exact same document, manipulate the document in real time and "Chat" with one another during the process.  Google Hangout's will allow up to fifteen people to participate in a video call at the same.  Each participant will have the ability see each other and speak to one another.  Also, it is possible to open Google Drive, open a Google Document and have every participant manipulate the document in real time.

Communication - Google tools also provide multiple opportunities to communicate with all stakeholders in the organization.  For example, a student, class or school can create a Google Site (webpage).  The student, class or school can post all relevant material they wish the public and all stakeholders to know on the website.  Google Mail will allow users to email any individual with a G-mail account for easier communication.  Google Calendar has the ability to create an event, invite individuals to the event as well as share the calendar with anyone who has a Google account.  For example, school X has created a Google Calendar for all of the events occurring at the school this coming year.  If I am a parent and if I have a Google account, I can actually connect my calendar with the schools calendar.  When that occurs every school event will show up in my calendar.  To make it even easier, the school events will show up in a different color then my events helping me to quickly identify the school events.  Also, a teacher can create a class calender.  The teacher can post that on Friday, August 15th the class will have a test.  To enhance the experience even more, Google Calendar allows users to attach a document to the event.  So, a teacher could attach a study guide to the August 15th event.  Parents who have access to the calendar would know their child has a test on Friday August 15th and would also  have access to the study guide!

Creativity - Schools can use Google Sites to help promote creativity.  Students can create their own site and develop their own content.  They can be as creative as they like in the process.  Picassa is a Google tool that allows users to find, edit and share photos. Teachers could take pictures of student work, presentations, or field trips throughout the year and quickly turn them into a slideshow that you can play at Open House or during parent conferences. Students can create a historical photo album by taking pictures of themselves in historical costumes and settings. Then apply sepia tones or black & white effects to make them look like old photos and print them out.  Journalism students can keep all photos for each edition of their newspaper or magazine in one location on their classroom PC, adding descriptions and captions that make them easy to find, re-use, and share.  Students could use Google Sketchp to design 3D drawings (houses, building, bridges, etc...) and then print out the blue prints.  If possible, students then could send the rendering to a 3D printer and actually print out a 3D scaled version of the drawing.  Other ideas for Sketchup include: Visualize geometry and other mathematical concepts, create model buildings and learn about architecture, design full-scale 3D environments, recreate historical settings and illustrate theoretical concepts.

Information, Media and Technology Skills - Feedly and Google Books are wonderful ways for students to find and consume information.  Google Search Engine will allow students to search effectively and efficiently.  The Google Add-On Easy Bib will allow students to determine the credibility of the sources they are viewing.  You Tube (yes, it is a Google owned media) allows schools, teachers and students to create their own You Tube channel.  The user then has the ability to make videos and share them to a private or public audience.  Google Doc's has a research portion of the menu bar making it much more efficient for Google Doc users to research, organize and evaluate information.  Many of the tools already discussed will allow students to communicate the information they have learned.  Google Plus will allow users the opportunities to communicate and network with a wide audience beyond their classrooms and schools.

This is of course a very short list of all the potential uses of this 21st Century tool.  That being said, the 21st Century Skill that has not been covered is Critical Thinking.  This is a little trickier.  These tools can certainly be used but it requires more thought.  To do this properly, I believe, educators need to incorporate both the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth of Knowledge.

This will be the subject for the next blog!