Reflections on 21st Century Skills

making changes that improve student success

Don't give it all away

I like teaching math, but there is a temptation to tell students the answers. This can be boring for students and is detrimental for the motivation to learn. When students discover the answers on their own, it is more rewarding. I have been experimenting with new ways to help students discover learning for themselves. Things like blogging, tweeting , cartooning, and phone polling use new technology to help in the discovery process.

Teach content that connects with students

Learning targets are sometimes not very interesting. That doesn't mean that they are not important or of little value. Motivation and interest improve when we find activities that make learning relevant for students. What value does this learning target have in a real-world context?

Stop giving students the final product of our thinking

In a higher math setting, there are lots of math rules that have already been discovered. It is often the learning task to become familiar with these rules and to be able to apply them. To me, it is like getting to know the tools that are available in your toolbox. The challenge is in getting the students discover the tools without having to reinvent them. There is a danger in doing to much thinking for the students and leading them too far.

Problems first, teaching second

Students need to be drawn into the learning so that they can be properly motivated. By having them solve problems and answer big questions first, the learning becomes more relevant. Technology can be a useful way to explore problems and connect with other learners. Most students are already using technology to connect with each other. Meeting students where they are at is another way to make the learning more meaningful and memorable.

Too much helping fosters dependancy

Almost everyone agrees that a worthy goal is for our students to become independent learners. As teachers, we want to help our students. Sometimes we can help our students more by not helping them solve their own problems. It should be a gradual process. At first, students may need our help for learning to take place. Later, when students really don't need our help, we should be less and less willing to give it. The hard part is in knowing just how much help to give at the right time.

Examining our examinations

Careful thought should be given to how we evaluate student learning. State and college testing requires our students to be able to perform certain tasks, but we certainly don't want to stifle discovery and creativity. How can we balance these two ideas? A good start would be to not always use the same assessment method. In math we have quizzes and tests where students must demonstrate competency in solving various problems. I would like to use technology to give students the opportunity to demonstrate math competency more creatively. As an example, I would have the students create a u-tube music video that demonstrates some aspect of math learning.