Teens hate Twitter, don’t like talking on the phone, and think email is passé

These were among the findings of a recent Business Week report “The secret lives of teenagers online.” Their research observed that:

  • While few teens (13-17 years old) own tablet computers such as an iPad, teens remain very connected through cell phones and other, smaller gadgets such as an iPod Touch.
  • More than 95% of teens own a cell phone and their data usage has increased over 250% since 2010.
  • 68% of teens prefer to text each other as a means of communication. (They don’t really enjoy using their phones for talking.)
  • Teens like to spend time checking social media sites during the day. Top teen activities on Facebook include looking at people’s profiles and commenting on them.
  • Teens don’t read the news online.

In addition, the authors were surprised to note that “teens are way sneakier using the Internet and gadgets than their parents imagine.”  In fact, a good percentage of teenagers “take serious measures to cover their tracks online, and [their] parents have no idea.”

I found this report quite interesting, as it provided a snapshot of Internet use that focuses on teenagers. It is clear that teenagers are incredibly connected. How can we use this knowledge to foster a positive culture of learning that leverages technology and access to the Internet? Are there implications for encouraging positive digital citizenship? Do we need to pay  special attention to policy development with regards to device usage on campus? These are just a few questions that I found myself asking as we consider ways to engage teenagers and their devices in high school. Hmm … I wonder how other successful schools are addressing issues such as these.

What if we worked together?

What if a number of smaller K-8 Christian schools decided to partner together to share resources as we develop our own high schools based on a 21st century learning model?

This question was behind a special meeting today to discuss a proposal for the Pacific Northwest Christian High School Consortium. The leaders from four Christian schools in the NWCSI region met to start developing a shared vision for working together. With great appreciation to CSI Online Academy for hosting the event, we were able to envision how the academy can play an important role in this partnership.

There was interest in the room, as each school has faced the incredible organizational and financial hurdles of wanting to expand 9-12. I enjoyed meeting with building leaders who share a similar passion of excellence in Christian education. I have a feeling that the schools will be watching Monroe Christian School very closely as we “break new ground” in our attempts for a new high school.

Proposing a governance structure

The question of governance and accountability of the proposed new high school was brought to my attention last week. Acknowledging that the current MCS Board is fully occupied with its various responsibilities, I offered a suggested governance structure to provide oversight of the school development process as follows:

During the initial development and implementation phase of the proposed new high school, a High School Advisory Council (HSAC) will be convened whose mandate and primary function will be to seek the will of God by providing oversight in matters of development concerning the proposed new high school per the request of the MCS Board.

Goal & Purpose

The HSAC will be charged to make recommendations for consideration, approval and action for regarding initial, annual and long-range plans for the proposed new high school and will serve in an advisory capacity for 3-5 years: one year (2012-2013) for initial preparation, planning and development, and then 2-4 years (2013-2015/16/17) for implementation, assuming one grade level implementation per year.

Expectations

The HSAC will reference the existing Christian School International Vision to Action standards to develop, or cause to be developed, the immediate implementation plan for the new high school. This will include recommendations for consideration, approval and action regarding:

1)       Community (CSI Standard Category 1.0)

This will address and include the development of a proposed high school philosophy, mission, goals statements (1.1), overall school organization (1.2), financial management (1.3), public relations (1.4), and parents (1.5).

2)       Staffing (Category 2.0)

This will address and include the development of policies and expectations for all staff members (standard 2.1), administration (2.2), and teachers (2.3).

3)       Students (Category 3.0)

This will address and include the development of policies and expectations on admission and retention (3.1), student services (3.2), and physical facility (3.3).

4)       Curriculum (Category 4.0)

This will address and include the development, expectations and understanding regarding curriculum procedures (4.1), instructional procedures and resources (4.2), and the written curriculum (4.3).

Level of Authority

The HSAC will be under the authority of, and respond to, the MCS Board. One current member of the MCS Board will sit on the HSAC and serve as a liaison between the MCS Board and the HSAC.

The decisions made by the HSACwill be understood as recommendations for consideration, approval and action when shared with the Monroe Christian School Board, with whom final decision-making authority rests.

HSAC Membership

The HSAC will consist of a minimum of five and a maximum of seven individuals. One current member of the MCS Board will sit on the HSAC and serve as a liaison between the MCS Board and the HSAC. This member will represent the HSAC at MCS Board meetings.

All HSAC members either i) hold membership in the MCS Society or ii) are employed as administrative and/or instructional staff at MCS.

Monthly Reporting Mechanism

The HSAC will meet monthly on an agreed-upon date before the monthly MCS Board meeting. All recommendations from the HSAC for consideration, approval and action will be reported to the MCS Board in the form of written statements and/or minutes of the HSAC meetings. It is expected that the MCS Board will respond diligently so as not to impede the progress of the HSAC.

Acknowledging certain limitations of the iPad in the classroom

Here are two articles written by the same author attempting to answer the questions: Will iPads replace backpacks? and Will the iPad replace the simplicity and convenience of paper products for higher-level learning tasks?

I like how Ledesma addresses both questions and highlights numerous advantages in using an iPad. For example:

  • An iPad is great tool for research on the Internet and other consumption of web-based media.
  • Most desktop computing can be completed using an iPad.
  • It is possible to access and/or synchronize your files through the iPad.
  • Real-time communication (chat, email, voice) is possible with the iPad.

However, he does acknowledge that there are limitations in screen size and in the ability to access multiple sources easily when using the iPad for certain work.

“Unfortunately, higher-level work, which requires deeper analysis and simultaneous access between multiple sources, may be more than what a single device and small screen can handle.” (2010)

“Technology should make the learning process easier, not harder or more complicated.” (2011)

So, it may seem that students will continue to use their backpacks as they carry around their books, pens and paper which will still be needed for the more academic, higher-order learning tasks.

“Enjoy the iPads for what they are best at, and let’s stop trying to force them to replace tools that they shouldn’t.” (2011)

Reference:

Ledesma, P. (2010, Sept. 14). Schooled on my iPad. Accessed through Education Week Teacher, Nov. 15, 2011.

Ledesma, P. (2011, Nov. 14). iPads in schools: Replacing backpacks? Accessed through Education Week Teacher, Nov. 15, 2011.

Questions to ask when choosing a K-12 learning platform

The Getting Smart blog that I follow released a list of 10 essential questions to consider when choosing the right platform for teaching in either an online or blended format. These are important questions to remember. The point that struck out for me was consideration #6, namely that “kids see their computers as places where the park and store their data. But they drive around on their Smartphones and tablets all day.” From this perspective, mobile access should an important consideration to remember.

The blog referenced A Guide to K-12 Open Source Learning Management Systems options from THE Journal. This guide provides a nice review of options behind Moodle, Sakai, Canvas,  ATutor, OLAT, and Google CloudCourse as open access options for schools, an important consideration for a smaller Christian high school on a limited budget.

Thinking of classsrooms

A blog post on Edweek.org caught my attention today. The author, an educational architect and futurist, noted that far too many discussions on educational reform assume the maintenance of a “failed system” (Nair, 2011, ¶3), which he suggests is the average American classroom. He argues that this “relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution” (¶4) needs to be reconfigured, both physically and pedagogically,  to better suit the instructional demands of teaching and learning in the 21st century. He suggests that the following universal design principles need to be considered to help foster engaging learning opportunities that focus on 21st century skills:

  • personalized
  • safe and secure
  • inquiry-based
  • student-directed
  • collaborative
  • interdisciplinary
  • rigorous and hands-on
  • embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations
  • environmentally conscious
  • offering strong connections to the local community and business
  • globally networked, and
  • setting the stage for lifelong learning.

As I think about my research, I admit that there is nothing new in this list. It does serve, however, as a good reminder. I think that the ideas can help drive successful organization and instruction as we consider a new high school. I still believe that we can consider how, where and with whom students learn best; that teachers would want to work collaboratively on integrated projects; and that the community can serve to resource and support students’ learning opportunities.

I acknowledge that direct instruction is still an important and research-supported instructional strategy. We need to acknowledge its effectiveness and include space for direct instruction to take place. However, the idea of a learning commons continues to rise as an important consideration as a learning space, too, and one in which the design principles above can be implemented easily for student learning.

Reference:

Nair, P. (2010). The classroom is obsolete: It’s time for something new. Accessed August 2, 2011 through Education Week.

 

The shift in thinking patterns of digital kids

In addition to the four implications discussed in my post on a foundation for 21st century schooling, I wanted to highlight a fifth, significant implication for the classroom that Kelly, McCain and Jukes (2009) associate with the reality of the online digital world and its relationship to schooling. Simply put, there is emerging evidence that today’s kids are thinking differently than their teachers. As a result, schools need to address the shift in thinking patterns of digital kids. This is, indeed, a novel observation that I had not considered before.

Kelly et al. discuss the theory of neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to modify the organization of its neural pathways, thereby effectively rewiring itself in response to new demands placed upon it by the external environment. Neuroscientists suggest that such brain plasticity underlies the brain’s ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize how it processes information based on new input. If the brain encounters a new kind of input for sustained periods of time on a daily basis for an extended period of time, it will reorganize neural pathways to handle the new input more effectively. This is what happens when a child learns to read. With sustained exposure to textual input on a daily basis, the child’s brain reorganizes how the brain processes this new input so the brain can make sense of it.

In the same way, kids growing up in a digital world are being exposed to new kinds of input from digital experiences for sustained periods of time on a daily basis. Consequently, their brains are reorganized to handle the digital environment more effectively. This is creating a huge problem in our schools. Kids are quite literally thinking differently than those who teach them. (p. 23)

As a result of growing up in an increasingly digital world, it appears that the neuroplasticity of the brain has impacted student learning preferences. Kelly et al. suggest that the digital generation prefers:

  • receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources
  • parallel processing of content and multitasking
  • active, engaged learning
  • processing pictures, sounds and video before text
  • random access to hyperlinked multimedia information
  • networking simultaneously with many others (p. 23-24)

These learning preferences are more often than not in direct contrast to teachers who have learned, and therefore tend to teach, differently. They prefer slow and controlled release of information from limited sources, favor passive learning models such as lectures, choose to provide new information linearly, logically and sequentially, and ask students to work independently before they interact in groups.

Kelly et al. highlight the following implications for quality teaching and learning to reach the digital generation:

  1. Classroom instruction must shift from a predominantly lecture format to one that focuses more on discovery learning. Students should be provided with hands-on learning activities that allow them to master the digital tools for learning.
  2. Teachers must make a shift from the text-based instructional tools to include pictures, video and sound as appropriate media to convey information.
  3. Teachers must provide students with more access to hyperlinked information that can be navigated randomly. This ‘random access’ approach to navigating information in the World Wide Web is a mode of learning that students are already used to. Guided opportunities to develop these skills further are essential.
  4. Teachers must allow students to network and collaborate with each other and with experts from around the world on an ad hoc basis. (p. 24-25)

Without a doubt, these implications will impact teacher preparation substantially. Today’s students are developing skills from using new technologies that should be incorporated into the classroom. It is imperative for schools to provide the necessary professional development and appropriate collaborative planning time to help them succeed. Unfortunately, it appears that far too many of today’s teachers focus, instead, on of the skills that the students do not have because of the technologies.

Reference:

Kelly, F. S., McCain, T., & Jukes, I. (2009). Teaching the digital generation: No more cookie-cutter high schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Wesson, K. (2010). Neuroplasticity: Experience and your brain. Retrieved from http://brainworldmagazine.com/?p=717 on Feb. 1, 2011.