Living in the information age, with all the power of technology at our fingertips, has impacted the daily learning experience in our schools and classrooms. We now have the opportunity to offer every child a first-class, student-centered education through personalized learning. However, it seems that there are issues in how educators define this progressive, anytime/anywhere methodology for learning. There is no shortage of buzzwords in education, and currently two terms are trending: blended learning and personalized learning. The terms are often used interchangeably or without thorough understanding. They both promise to use technology to deliver instruction to meet the unique needs of students, but when various descriptions and words are used interchangeably, there is a problem that could impact implementation in a negative way. We are on the brink of transforming how we educate our future citizens with the use of technology, but it is important for educators to have a common understanding of these terms and methodologies so that we can learn from each other.
Personalized learning is a concept that has varied and sometimes controversial meanings, depending on how it referenced. The term personalized learning has been used by online schools and companies selling online learning programs to K-12 public schools that are designing and implementing new school designs. In some educational circles, blended learning (the practice of using both online and in-person learning) is used interchangeably with personalized learning. The difference between personalized learning and other concepts such as next generation learning and blended learning has not always been clear. The definition of personalized learning continues to evolve as funding provided by foundations such as the Gates, Dell, and Broad Foundations focuses on furthering personalized learning models through efforts such as the Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC).
The NGLC was created to accelerate educational innovation through applied technology to dramatically improve college readiness and completion in the United States. NGLC defined personalized learning as the approaches that individualize learning for each student based on specific strengths and needs, student interests, and/or individualized goals. It funded regional partners and proposed that next gen learning incorporate personalized learning, and that seamless integration with technology was necessary to implement it effectively, affordably, and at significant scale. Technology advocacy groups, with contributions from educators, developed a working definition of the attributes of personalized learning that included competency-based progression, flexible learning environments, personal learning paths, and learner profiles.
In high schools in which students’ courses have a flipped classroom model, students use school-issued Chromebooks to read and research primary and secondary texts online outside of school. This frees up school-based learning time for greater concentration on meaningful project-based and experiential learning. Students are empowered to progress in their learning as they demonstrate proficiency over broad competencies through projects, research papers, social media, and multimedia presentations that reflect ways in which they will have to demonstrate mastery in real life, often before panels of teachers, students, parents, and community members. Advances in technology provide us with an opportunity to reimagine school and personalize learning in ways that will benefit our students now and in the future.
Ozobots are small robots that students can use to complete challenges while being introduced to basic coding through the process. These simple $59 devices can do some pretty amazing things. Draw a color-coded path on a piece of paper and see the robot follow the line as drawn, or use your iPad or computer to create commands for your Ozobot to perform. The beauty of these rugged little devices is their flexibility and the way they introduce basic concepts of coding through play. Students from kindergarten through high school can learn big ideas using these little devices.
We’ve all been there: it’s that moment when you realize (gulp) you don’t know what to do. The grade of this hill is just a little too steep. For me one of those moments was in my first year of teaching. It was a specials class of kindergartners who came through my door excited and energetic, but also a little nervous about a new room and teacher. As we started into the lesson I had planned, their nerves eased and their excitement and curiosity spilled over…all over. It was the longest 30 minutes of my life. When their awe-inspiring classroom teacher walked back through the door (had she sprouted wings and a halo in the past 30 minutes?) I was so relieved – I felt as if the cavalry had arrived. I waved and smiled as they filed out the door – and then sat down and cried. Yes, I cried. In that moment I realized I needed help. I needed a whole new set of classroom management skills – and I needed them before next Tuesday when those sweet kindergartners would return!
Most students still learn using a method that has existed in our schools for over 100 years. In a typical classroom setting, students sit at desks in rows and the teacher “teaches” from the front of the room. The typical student has been trained since childhood for someone to give them information while listening and taking notes.
While the traditional classroom is adept at preparing students for industrial and knowledge-based jobs, it has not kept pace with preparing students for an economy that employs a greater share of workers in service and innovation-based economies.
Today, new learning methods are available to give students an expanded skill set needed for their future. Many schools today are utilizing project-based learning (PBL) and computer-based instruction in the form of online and blended learning to fill the gaps left by traditional instruction. These initiatives are expected to grow as research studies indicate that families want more technology-based instruction and less use of teacher-driven instruction.
However, given that students have been conditioned to learn in only the traditional model, schools and students typically struggle when online courses are made available. Suddenly students must control the pace of learning, show initiative, and make choices about where to invest their time and energy.
Our students and kids are growing up in an increasingly digital world. As soon as parents and teachers catch up in one area, new technologies have already emerged, bringing with them new opportunities and challenges. Staying on top of what’s best for kids can feel like an insurmountable task. How can we as parents and teachers prepare children for their digital futures while also setting appropriate boundaries to keep them safe? Enter Common Sense Media.
Started in 2003, this independent, non-profit organization proves to be an invaluable resource to both parents and teachers. As their website states, their mission is to “…empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.”
“Can I buy your fish in the store?” asked another.
These were just two of the many questions asked by our 7th grade social studies class last year when they took a virtual field trip to a fish farm. While talking to the owner, they learned about the process of raising fish for commercial purposes in connection with their studies of the impact of fishing on the economy of southeast Asia. The farm, located near Ames, Iowa, is approximately a three-hour drive from our school in the northwest corner of the state.
When we first heard about opportunities to connect our students with farmers through Siouxland Ag in the Classroom, a number of teachers jumped at the opportunity to link the work in their classrooms with relevant and meaningful experiences outside the classroom. However, as great as it all sounded, we didn’t have time in the school day or money in the budget to bus students around to learn about the ins and outs of a variety of farming styles.
Welcome to 21st century learning, courtesy of…Skype!