Since September 2006, we've been curating content and creating innovative tools to help educators integrate the Internet into their curriculum, and teach students how to use the Internet effectively.
A barrier to the wide adoption of our products is the status quo - textbooks and other crude tools from the 19th century that remain the primary method by which students learn. We've attended dozens of education conferences in the past two years, and have met thousands of passionate educators who are determined to bring about their own version of education reform - one that is focused on students. The goal of these efforts is to create a new system of education that is relevant to and engages students, addresses them as individuals, lets them develop their passions, and encourages the development of skills they'll need to succeed when they graduate, not the skills their parents needed when they graduated 30 years ago.
With the explosive growth in social media, it has become easier to interact with these educators on a daily basis, rather than at once-a-month conferences. The number of solid examples of innovative teaching practices we're seeing is growing exponentially. Here, we'll share just a few that we've come across recently.
In a blog post aptly titled, "Own It," Andy Marcinek writes of how he assigned his English 101: College Composition course what he termed, "not a standard, written essay, but a focused collection of media that they will use to inform, to persuade, to challenge or defend." He gave them a simple writing prompt, and then had them gather links, images, videos, and other media to synthesize, with his guidance, into a final presentation. Andy explains, "I am making an attempt to harness all the great resources we have available at the moment. I feel it is my moral obligation as a teacher to open up all learning avenues to them, not hide them." He then provides a new prompt, this one for his fellow educators: his work is "not the pinnacle of classroom innovation. It is a start. It is an idea that I hope you steal, remix and make your own, for your own students. Don’t we owe them that?"
One educator who feels Marcinek's sense of obligation to students is Lisa Neilsen, Technology Innovation Manager in NYC's public schools. In "Advice for Choosing Pages, Groups or Profiles When Using Facebook for Education," Neilsen gives advice and specific examples of educators who are using Facebook to teach, collaborate with students, and communicate with students, parents and others in the community. Nielsen writes that, "in schools where we’re doing what is right for kids, you see engaged youth who use the filter between their ears to determine how to best access information. Students are empowered rather than restricted from using personally owned digital devices in school. At these schools they understand that people, not tools, have behavior. Fortunately, more and more often these schools that mirror the real world are starting to crop up."
One of the exemplars that Neilsen cites is Michelle Luhtala, whose library program at New Canaan High won the ALA's 2010 National School Library Media Program of the Year. Luhtala maintains separate personal and professional profiles on Facebook, as well as a Page for her library. In response to Nielsen's post, Luthala explains how friending students through her professional profile enabled her to, among other things, (i) get student input for the post, at 10 pm on a Friday night, (ii) collaborate with two groups of students who decided to enter a video contest at the last minute, and (iii) coordinate a trip by a large group of students to Philadelphia, for a Model UN.
Another teacher who is a living example of effective and innovative practices is Pulaski (WI) High School English teacher Kim Noe, recent winner of the "Golden Apple Award" from the Green Bay (WI) Chamber of Commerce. According to the Green Bay Press Gazete, Noe's philosophy when it comes to technology is that students, “don’t turn it off very often, so why not tap into it?" The Gazette reports that, in Noe's classes, "tasks like memorizing vocabulary words are accompanied by related YouTube videos," students receive MP3 files with feedback to essays, and authors visit via Skype. Further, Noe chats with students every night on Facebook; she says, “I have found Facebook is one of the greatest tools to reach kids I could imagine.” How do the students react to Noe's practices? Her co-principal, Dan Slowey, tells the Gazette, “it becomes kind of a small, close-knit family in those classrooms.”
The last "practices" I want to note were not actually put into place by a classroom teacher; they were suggested by Ashley Appozardi, a student teacher who is observing classes. She sat in on the class of a teacher reviewing fractions, in the wake of a test where students had not performed well. In Azzopardi's view, the teacher:
"- Moved through the questions very quickly
- Did not give the students enough time to answer her questions
- Did not rub off the writing on the whiteboard once moved onto the next question
- Did not provide much praise to the students
- Did not allow the students to write anything in their books
- Did not allow the students to use concrete materials, and
- Did not use the interactive whiteboard."
Azzopardi believes that the students learned little from the lesson.
She echoes the calls from Marcinek and Nielsen to build upon the innovative work of other educators, as she writes, "we need to acknowledge that our students have changed radically. The educational system wasn’t designed to teach today’s students....Adapting materials to the language of this generation has already been done successfully, in particular the creation of games which help teach the content, even the most serious....I can only imagine how different that lesson could have been if the interactive whiteboard had been turned on. Instead of the students looking out the window, hoping not to be the one chosen to answer a confusing question next, they could have been excited, engaged, learning and participating in a visual and interactive math lesson."
These four educators are a very small sample of the passionate educators from all over the world who are beginning to offer up examples of innovative, and effective, teaching practices for educators to follow.
In the comments, please offers your own examples that you invite others to "steal, remix and make [their] own."