I’ve long said that the school I teach for has a certain dynamic that makes it unlike any other school I’ve attended myself or visited through various opportunities. There are so many factors that make our school community unique that it is impossible to identify any one element that makes our school the family like environment that it embodies. However, when reading through the K-12 Edition of the Horizon Report and reflecting upon the technology trends occurring in my classroom, there is one element in which I am able to attribute all others in my technology integration. I am thankful for them always, but when evaluating a national report that calls for the importance of supportive school leaders I realize just how lucky I am to be surrounded by the administration that I have. All the tech trends are currently blossoming in my classroom are due to the, “…environment of teamwork and trust” as the report mentions in the “Students as Creators” section.
This teamwork and trust was in play when I transformed my classroom at the start of this year into one with “flexible” or “alternative” seating options. My goal with this arrangement was for students to have a learning environment in which they felt an ownership of their learning space. Without hesitation my administration allowed me to transform my classroom from the 100 year old model consisting of desks positioned in rows, as exemplified in the Horizon report in “Redesigning Learning Spaces”, to a room that much more resembles a coffee shop. Walk into my room now and you are greeted with lamps and string lights purposefully placed around the room instead of traditional overhead florescence. There is a coffee table that doubles as a floor seating work space at the front of the room and a standing table option that additionally features tall stools at the back of the class. At any given moment you may find a student lying on their back researching with an iPad held in outstretched hands, dictating their findings to their “belly worker” partner, who is also lying on the ground but in a position that allows them to take notes. It is not your traditional scene in regards to how learning should or might take place but I can assure you that it is in fact happening. As the report highlights that “simple adjustments to classroom environments such as lighting, temperature, and decoration affect academic performance” I believe it has accomplished this and so much more for my students. They are able to assess which physical environment they work best in, made conscious decisions to move when they know they are not being productive, and are able recognize that different tasks allow for different physical arrangements that will best serve their overall success.
My classroom’s physical transformation not only encompasses the tech trend of redesigning learning spaces but extends to that of, “Rethinking How Schools Work.” In this section of the report our students of today are defined as “entrepreneurial, global thinkers who are highly social, visual, and technological.” The scenario described above with the two students working together in a place of their own choosing, in a method that allows for them to be productive, and using technology while doing so exemplifies the report’s description of today’s learners. Building upon this vision of rethinking how our school’s work my grade level team and I have been planning throughout the year for a project that would allow for students to move from one of our classroom’s to the other based upon their role and needs in completing a culminating project. Each classroom would represent a specialized elements of focus in regards to the project which would encourage students not only to report to the classroom that would best suit the successful completion of their personal task but would also encourage collaboration with students they would not normally be able to partner with if relegated to just their assigned teacher’s classroom. This seems to mirror the idea presented in the report in which students are working in “arenas” moving through a specific curriculum lead by the teacher and then given time for self paced and personal learning goals thus encompassing another aspect of a long term technology trend, and an activity that would not be feasible without the support and trust of our administration.
Building upon the previously described activity is the tech trend of “Deeper Learning Approaches” in which the report states that pedagogy approaches that, “shift the dynamic from passive to active learning allow students to develop ideas themselves from new information and take control of how they engage with a subject.” Again, working with my grade level team we set out on a mission this year to not just read stories, novels, and texts but to engage with each piece of writing focusing on the idea that every story we encounter can teach us something as human beings. We’ve read song lyrics, studied quotes, viewed TED talks, and explored novels all with this idea in mind. Because every person in the world, including ourselves, brings something different to the table in regard to experiences and perspective no two lessons learned from the same story will ever be exactly the same. This is ideal that we’ve expressed is perfectly acceptable and the purpose of our year long theme that everyone has a story to tell. In fact, a unit that we incorporated this year was one on refugees in which we looked into refugees of the past as well as our current global refugee situation, flipped the point of view to put ourselves into the shoes of those in such situations, and made connections to the plight of a refugee and that of a runaway slave. With this project and our goal of to using technology and resources afforded to us, we helped to open the doors of the world for our students, many of whom have never left our city let alone our state. Without realizing my team and I entered the world of “Phenomenon-based curriculum” as it is identified in the report.
Because our goal was always to positively impact the learning of our students, it seems that ending this reflection with the tech trend of “Personalizing Learning” only seems fitting as it was the end game of our backward design planning, instigated all the changes detailed above. Within our district as a whole we are working to make thinking visible for students. Under the study of works by John Hattie and with professional development work with the Corwin Institute, we have focused on strategies that aid students in understanding where they are in their learning, what they need to do next, and how they are going to get there. This goal seems to exactly match that in the report under this trend in which it is mentioned that personalizing learning practices, “…have the potential to advance equity in education by enabling educators to connect with historically undeserved populations, increasing motivation and engagement by helping students understand their own learning.” My school’s population is one that includes a high level of poverty as well as a large minority population. Our visible learning mission is definitely a first step to maneuver through the “wicked challenge” of personalizing learning for all students.
Tech trends will forever be changing but I believe, as I opened with in this reflection, due to the trust of the administration I work under and the teamwork of those I work with we are currently on a successful path to purposeful and successful integration. Integration that will not only bring technology to our students but do so in a way that helps open doors to experiences that will pave the way for authentic learning and 21st century success.
Adams Becker, S., Freeman, A., Giesinger Hall, C., Cummins, M.,and Yuhnke, B. (2016). NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.