What Does It Mean To Be A 21st Century Teacher?

At the beginning of the semester, I answered this same question. Reflecting back, I notice that many of my thoughts overlap each other, and I am drawing the same conclusions. It is very important for teachers to adjust to the 21st century way of teaching and learning.

One significant aspect with which 21st century teachers must come to terms: Learning is not just for students. Teachers must continually learn in order to become more and more experienced and proficient in their field of expertise. A specific area in which teachers must continually learn is technology. As classrooms start utilizing technologies, it is important that teachers are informed regarding how to properly employ and utilize them in order to promote student learning.

Another key component 21st century teachers need to master is innovation. Technology is an advantageous tool for teachers to use, however it should not be the focal point of the classroom, nor be the single contributor fostering student learning. A pivotal element of innovation in the classroom is forming lesson plans to fit each student’s individual learning styles. Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Estrada incorporates this idea in his quote,

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

Being a 21st century teacher means being adaptive, innovative, and open to continual learning. I believe that incorporating these facets inside of the classroom will cultivate student learning. Teachers must exhibit a positive learning environment for their students. I believe that student learning increases when they are engaged, and interested in the designated subjects. One of my favorite quotes, by Robert John Meehan, summarizes my overall attitude on teaching,

“Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning.”

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Personal Learning Networks

Personal Learning Networks, or PLN’s, are extremely beneficial for people of all ages. They allow people to make connections and build relationships, while learning from each other by sharing resources and ideas. PLN’s also allow people from all over the world to come together and communicate with each other over a specific topic. PLN’s are personalized, flexible, and grant people instant access and expertise over certain subject areas.

As a future educator, I can definitely see myself utilizing a PLN. Being a connected educator allows me to collaborate and interact with other educators online, using a range of social media tools to help build my own personal learning network. In my opinion, PLN’s are a great tool for educators. We are constantly eager to learn and build upon our knowledge, day after day, and PLN’s help to make this possible. They offer global connections, and multiple perspectives regarding education-related topics.

PLN’s can also be applied beyond the scope of teaching. PLN’s allow people who share a common passion to come together and explore that area more in-depth. PLN’s gather points of view from people all over the world. They also allow people to share their ideas and findings with those people. PLN’s are a great way to broaden the horizons of knowledge among diverse groups of people.

I do see opportunities to use PLN’s in my instruction with students. They allow teachers to locate resources for their classrooms, such as free websites and software that students can utilize in the classroom. PLN’s also show teachers how to integrate technology in their teaching in ways that will benefit student learning. With PLN’s teachers can find interesting links to education news, and find collaborative solutions to any problems that may arise inside or outside of the classroom.

PLN’s are very advantageous to educators, as well as anyone who is willing to broaden their knowledge related to specific areas they find fascinating. PLN’s bring people with the same interests, ages, and professions together, helping them to communicate and collaborate with each other.

Digital Portfolios

Online student portfolios, also known as digital portfolios or e-portfolios, enhance and promote student learning in a variety of ways.  In general, student portfolios — whether they are digital or not — allow students to reflect on the content they create and share.  They include performance-based work such some of the student’s best works, as well as an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of several pieces.

Online student portfolios are more advantageous than non-digital portfolios.  Digital portfolios invite students to become more engaged by allowing them to adopt digital tools that help cultivate communication, collaboration, and creativity.  They are also more accessible, portable, and can easily be updated.  With technology being at the forefront of the 21st century, I believe it is important for students to adapt the skills that coincide with creating an online portfolio.

In my opinion, electronic portfolios are very versatile and beneficial, regardless of who is employing them.  They can be used by professionals and students, each of whom must know how to properly utilize the form of technology that assists the e-Portfolios.  They are a great way to showcase achievement and growth over a period of time, and also offers students, in particular, the ability to showcase skills and kinds of intelligence that are often not measured by standardized tests.

Online student portfolios help students gain the necessary skills required to create a professional, digital portfolio for their career down the road.  E-Portfolios are a simple, effective way to showcase achievements and growth.  The 21st century requires innovative and specific (and digital) tools that people must develop to stay “up to date”.  E-Portfolios serve as valuable tools to people of all ages and with different occupations.

Trending: Finland’s Leap of Faith

Education to Save the World

1413119955858We’ve talked about Finland a few times over the last few years.  We’ve written about their awesome PISA results, quoted Tony Wagner referring to their students as the only “innovation-ready” high school graduates in the world, and discussed what it is exactly that they’re doing right in our review of the Smartest Kids in the World.

Today though, we’re talking about something pretty amazing that Finland is doing, something that doesn’t happen everyday….while they are proverbially on top of the education world, they are changingthings up.

This is pretty impressive because, as you probably know from your own life if not from the vast realms of scholarship on change leadership, it’s often hardest to change when things are going well.  Why change when things are good right?

The thing is  – in our crazy-fast-paced world, to stay on top you have to be ready…

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Differentiated Instruction

Technology has been integrated into 21st century classrooms to promote learning among students.  Technology has enabled and empowered teachers to take a more individualized approach to teaching.  With technology, students are able to work at their own pace, which lets teachers assist the students who struggle with certain concepts.  Differentiation, however, is not individualized instruction; it is a student-focused way of thinking about teaching and learning.

The Glossary of Education Reform defined differentiation as

“a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment.”

Though students might use different media to explore and learn the same concepts and skills, the learning goal should be the same for all students, even as it changes them individually.

Differentiation is designed to address learning and affective needs that all students have.  This means that classrooms that incorporate differentiated instruction are filled with students who: have different needs, come from different educational backgrounds, and who have different attention spans and interests, different language abilities and cultural backgrounds.

Teachers are able to differentiate content (knowledge and skills students need to master); process (activities students use to master the content); and product (a method students use to demonstrate learning); according to student readiness (student knowledge and skill level regarding given content); interests (topics, skills, or activities that pique a student’s curiosity or inspire him/her); and learning profile (a student’s preferred method of learning new information or skills [e.g., visually, hands-on, through deductive means] and to environmental factors that influence a student’s learning [e.g., small group, bright lights, no distractions]). In order to achieve this, teachers must know their students.

Determining student readiness can occur in many ways, one being pre-testing students.  Teachers can give students a test prior to the lesson plan in order to gain a better understanding of which students know the material, and which do not.  This allows the teacher to spend more time with the struggling students, and allows the students who are already familiar with the content to keep practicing at their own pace.

In order to tailor lesson plans to students’ interests, teachers should give students options as to how they wish to learn the material.  For example, students may struggle with retaining information from a textbook because it causes them to see, decode and comprehend written text, and process visual information.  Instead, students could be given an alternative, such as gaining knowledge from digital text.  Digital text can be manipulated for easier visual access or can be converted into speech.

A student’s learning profile is very critical part to their education.  Students should have access to assistive technology, in moderation, such as phones, laptops, and calculators.  An example of how this can be incorporated into a classroom is by using technology with linguistically diverse learners.  There are various resources that can be of assistance to these types of students such as – online translation services, multilingual web resources, international newspapers and interactive maps, and English language world origins.

I believe that utilizing differentiated instruction inside of my future classroom will be very beneficial to my students.  This type of education will make learning and teaching more simple and gratifying.  21st century learning and teaching is constantly changing, but with differentiated instruction, it is no longer up to the teacher to constantly be changing with it.  Students are now able to control the way they learn, while still being able to fully comprehend the material.

AT&T Classroom

I was pleasantly surprised when I was introduced to the AT&T Classroom.  I have never been exposed to so much technology in a classroom, let alone expected to learn how to utilize different types of technologies from first graders!

Before the kids arrived, I was not sure if I was going to be able to enter the classroom and get hands-on experience with the students and their devices.  I figured I was going to sit behind the one-way mirror during their class and take notes while Annette filled me in on what was going on. I was expecting the students to be fairly novice when it came to utilizing the iPads and laptops. I was also expecting them to get very distracted and off topic while handling these technologies.

When I arrived at the AT&T Classroom, I was greeted by Annette and Tom.  After talking with them for a few minutes, the students started to arrive and get settled.  I was very amazed with the students’ abilities and familiarity with their devices.  They introduced me to multiple educational, interactive apps, including Popplet and  TinyTap.

Popplet is a free, digital web-organizer that helps students create a diagram for a specific topic.  The first grade class in the AT&T Classroom was learning about polar bears, and created a web including different facts about polar bears.  The sub-topics were color coordinated, and included three facts branching off of them.  This is a great app that will aid young students in writing research papers and organizing ideas.

The other app I was introduced to was TinyTap.  TinyTap allows students to create their own games, and is a more personalized approach to education.  Students are able to create, play with, and learn from various tools TinyTap has to offer such as: games, puzzles, E-books, quizzes, digital textbooks, and more!  Students are also able to incorporate their own pictures in the games they create.  For example, the second grade class who visited the AT&T Classroom last semester went around Kent State’s campus and took pictures of living and nonliving things, while fourth graders took pictures of different angles and shapes.  These students were able to make games from their pictures that are shared all around the world through TinyTap!  TinyTap is not just for students, however.  Parents, teachers, authors, organizations and brands also use it too!  This is a great app that I can see myself using in my classroom.

Although the students were a little distracted when they shifted from different mediums of technology, their attentiveness inside of the classroom was excellent.  I was fortunate enough to get hands-on experience, and help struggling students with difficult concepts.

Overall, the AT&T Classroom, allowed me to work one-on-one with students, while also providing many different ideas and lessons that I can employ in my future classroom.

Enhancing Learning Through Multimedia

Multimedia is a very beneficial tool for teachers to utilize inside the classroom.  There are many different types; and each one comes with numerous benefits. Various modes of multimedia range from educational videos to animated applications.

Multimedia offers students the opportunity to excel in the following areas: School readiness, grades and performance, collaborative abilities, communication, and professional development.  These competencies build the foundation of students’ educational experience, as well as preparing them for their professional careers.

An example of a video form of multimedia is Khan Academy. Khan Academy offers free personalized, instructional videos, allowing students to practice exercises so they can learn and study at their own pace outside of the classroom.  This website provides assistance in multiple subject areas, such as: math, science, history, art history, and economics.  Khan Academy is a fantastic educational tool that presents students with multiple ways to diversify their knowledge.

Another example of a more animated form of multimedia, which appeals to elementary students, is called Bookabi.  With Bookabi, children have everything they need to tell their stories: 2D and 3D characters, extravagant backgrounds, and fun objects and stickers that children can place, resize, or rotate with the swipe of a finger.  Bookabi allows children to add speech bubbles, text, front cover design, and use their own personal photos as backgrounds!  With bookabi, children are able to bring their wildest imaginations to life.

Mulitmedia comes in many different forms and is used for a variety of purposes.  It is a great interactive tool that I plan on implementing in my future classroom to make learning effortless and enjoyable for my students.

Communicative and Collaborative Tools in the Classroom

The idea of “21st century learning” and “21st century teaching” has manifested itself across the world.  The most critical aspect of this educational style is to utilize communication and collaboration tools in the classroom.  These tools have the power to transform education in numerous ways.

Communication and collaboration allow teachers and students to effectively work and share ideas outside of the classroom.  This allows students to work in a more comfortable environment where they feel less stress about incorrectly answering a question in front of their peers.

Improved communication and collaboration also help the teacher determine where each student stands, on specific concepts.  This helps foster a more individualized environment in the classroom, and allows students to get the appropriate help they need to succeed.

Another important aspect these 21st century tools carry with them is the opportunity for parents to gain insight on what their child is learning.  With tools such as Google Classroom, and all the applications incorporated within it, parents are able to keep tabs on their child’s performance inside of the classroom, while staying up to date on the latest lessons, projects, homework, and other various assignments.  Parents can play a very influential role in their child’s life.  The more aware they are, the more they can help their child with the concepts they struggle with, improving the child’s overall performance.

Another example of a technology I can see myself employing is a classroom-based blog.  I would keep the prompts simple for the students to understand and respond to, and they would reflect on the lesson taught that week in class.  This allows students to share their opinions about the concepts, helping me get a better understanding of what went well and what did not, as well as how comfortable each student was with the specific topic.  These blogs will also be available for parents to view, allowing them to be in-sync with that which their child is learning.

21st century communicative and collaborative tools have the ability to re-invent and improve learning and teaching world-wide.  By taking a more individualized approach, teachers are able to reach out to the students needing it.  These tools also allow parents to be more involved in their child’s education, giving the child another source of help if needed.  This technology has great potential to re-shape present-day and future classrooms.

Software & Apps & Games… Oh My!

Educational software, apps, and games–much like other technologies applied in classrooms–have great potential to promote student learning.  These tools broaden students’ knowledge in several subject areas.  Generally speaking, software lays the foundation for the apps and games.  Countless categories of educational software–such as Skills-based Learning, Productivity, Visual Thinking and Concept Mapping, and Simulations and Virtual Reality–perform different functions, and stimulate different styles of learning in the classroom.  Depending on the type of software, apps and games are purposefully incorporated into lessons as “enhancers” and, of course, to keep the students engaged without getting bored.  Numerous different types of software, apps, and games are used in conjunction with each other to foster an efficient learning environment for students.

Unlike traditional teaching methods, academic software, apps, and games promote individualized learning by encouraging students to learn at their own pace, without feeling subordinate to their peers.  These technologies also diversify the ways in which students learn the material.  For example, some students may find it beneficial to learn math by playing games online, using sites such as Weebly, or Mr. Nussbaum, while others prefer to use apps on devices that accommodate them, such as Visnos.  These specialized, digital tools are highly accessible, and allow students to master the specified subject areas taught during class-time both inside and outside of the classroom.

As a future elementary educator, I believe incorporating technologies, such as games and apps, is extremely advantageous to young children learning an assortment of different subjects.  Before the students start diving into these new technologies, they must first learn how to properly utilize these tools.  Elementary students, especially in the lower grade levels, are notorious for this behavior.  A recurring theme in my last couple blogs—Digital Citizenship—is highly important for students of this age, and it cannot be stressed enough.  These kids are so young and inexperienced with these new forms of technologies, that the likelihood of their security being breached is very high.  Prior to students adopting these technologies inside the classroom, they must learn both how to correctly use them, without abusing the privilege.

Once students develop a sense of familiarity with these technologies, it’s time to play!  After learning about different kinds of software, apps, and games, I have a better sense of which will be the most constructive to exercise in the classroom.  Presumably, elementary students will not be highly accustomed to these categories of technology, so I plan on keeping them simple to navigate, while enhancing the overall lesson and helping the students to learn.  Take reading fluency and creative writing, for example: Without technology, students will most likely be assessed by reading from an informational prompt assigned by the teacher, or writing a short story using sensory words and colorful language.

Technology allows students to go “above and beyond” on assignments.  ColARmix is one of many examples (and personally, my favorite) on how students can enhance their creative writing skills.  ColARmix turns students’ coloring pages into a 3D image that performs specific tasks, depending on the picture.  Students then present their pictures with its movements in front of the class, creating a story to accompany it.

 To help students with reading fluency, I will have my students use Flocabulary, which is an interactive tool that allows students read about a specific topic–for example, the Industrial Revolution—and the app will transform their words into a Hip-Hop Remix.  This makes students learn the material while they enjoy and learn their songs.

Several forms of software, apps, and games help promote student learning in a number of ways.  Looking forward to my teaching career in the future, it is of utmost importance that the technology being incorporated into my classroom will improve the lessons as well as the students’ knowledge.  Personally, I would prefer if the digital tools I employ in the classroom are entertaining to the class.  I believe that the earlier students engage with these technologies, the sooner they will learn to love learning, and become eager to explore new concepts on their own.

Throwback Thursday: Joy is a key ingredient in efficiency

Education to Save the World

Around this time of year kids (and teachers) get antsy. It’s cold outside and spring break is not yet in sight. Classroom procedures start to slip and students fall behind on homework. So, I’m reaching into the Ed2Save vault for a little inspiration to keep up the joy and efficiency of the classroom.

It’s always good to remind myself that joy is a key ingredient in classroom efficiency!

Credit: urbanmamas.com


We’ve often talked about the need for joy and efficiency in classrooms as separate ideas. Classrooms must be joyful so that kids want to be there, enjoy learning, and feel safe enough to take intellectual and social risks. Classrooms must also be efficient, meaning that time is well spent and that teachers can craft an effective path toward the learning goal without worrying about student misbehaviors or off-tasked-ness.

Today, I’m thinking about how adding joy to my class can actually

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