The 21st century classroom

Classrooms across the nation can connect via Skype.
Classrooms across the nation can connect via Skype.

The only thing that stays the same is the fact that everything changes.  Just as the hands of time manipulate the world around us, so has the student learning experience, climate, and anatomy of the classroom.  The evolution of technology and the academic experience in public education is in full throttle.

Take a moment to sit back and contemplate a classroom where the students are assessed both formatively and summatively with authentic, valid feedback without outside peer influence.  Imagine a classroom where the teacher can evaluate and analyze student performance in “real-time.”  Envision collaborative instruction on one side of a metropolitan area, using team teaching, with another teacher on the other side of the same city.

With 21st century resources available, teachers are cognizant and equipped to use every teaching strategy and technology tool mentioned in this illustration.  “Best practice” is not only apparent, (i.e. collaboration, assessment, classroom management, evaluation, self reflection, etc.) but more efficient.  In Bowling Green, Ky., two colleagues, serving in two separate elementary schools, are maximizing 21st century teaching strategies and tools.  These educators communicate via video conferencing in conjunction with other media to present to two diverse student bodies to meet all learning needs.

Jonathan Carrier is a 5th grade math and science teacher at Potter Gray Elementary School in the Bowling Green Independent School District.  Potter Gray is a 2009 National Blue Ribbon School that has a history of high test scores and academic achievement.  Approximately 25 percent of the student body qualifies for free and reduced lunch and 9.8 percent are minority students. Across the district, Jonathan Stovall is a 4th and 5th grade science teacher at Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary.  More than 98 percent of Parker-Bennett-Curry students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 85 percent are minority students, and at least 7 different languages are spoken in the school each day.

Both schools are terrific places to educate children, but they have unique and vastly different challenges. To meet the demands of these diverse challenges, Carrier and Stovall have turned to technology.  These young educators use multiple modes of technology in the classroom to make the learning experience more engaging for the students and more efficient for the teacher.  The staple software programs used in their classrooms include Interwrite, TurningPoint, Skype, and other web-based resources that evaluate student learning. Real time evaluations allow for collective, whole group reflection that compares and contrasts the knowledge of students from two different schools with completely different backgrounds and life experiences.

Carrier and Stovall have consolidated the use of Skype and TurningPoint to team-teach. Skype is a free internet-based program that allows remote sites to interact and communicate via video conference. The two classrooms are able to see and hear each other as they complete developmentally appropriate, content driven, teacher-created lessons. TurningPoint is used and viewed as a user interface that shadows the screen of other software application windows. It has the versatility to be used creatively “on the fly” and be accessed to respond to questions viewed by a document camera, from a web site, through a PowerPoint presentation, as well as other software applications.  The material and content displayed on the screen can be polled using a response pad.

TurningPoint response tools let teachers develop a baseline of student knowledge, gauge student retention, and identify trends that ultimately guide instruction.  The electronic devices used for student response provide anonymity and eliminate the element of stage fright or negative peer pressure.  The teacher can see the immediate response of the entire class right away and divulge his/her attention to individual needs from the feedback provided by individual diagnostic reports.

The dual classroom, team-teaching experience begins with a teacher-created presentation displayed on both interactive classroom boards. Each presentation is designed according to the content of curriculum that is being taught at the time. Presentations may be used as a pre-assessment to introduce new material and determine what is familiar and unfamiliar to the students, or as post-assessments to review and evaluate student retention. After the presentation is displayed, response tools are distributed to each individual student, a Skype call is made, and the lesson is ready to begin.

The TurningPoint presentation overlaps the Skype video feed to ensure that students in both classrooms can see the lesson and presentation, and also hear both teachers. Carrier and Stovall introduce the lesson title and topic, and when they are ready to assess students, they open TurningPoint polling for student responses. The teachers alternate moderating questions throughout the assessment. After students respond, teachers close polling and student results are displayed as a group on the screen in the form of a graph.  The teachers briefly interject and compare results from both sites.

Students at each school have the opportunity to showcase their intelligence and acknowledge that diverse populations have academic commonalities.  Teachers make real-life connections and elaborate according to the real-time feedback.  When disparaging responses are evident, teachable moments are apparent and in-depth instruction takes place.

As the lesson comes to a close, both teachers minimize the TurningPoint presentation and maximize the video component of Skype to actively engage in student self-reflection.  Each student speaks to the camera for a brief introduction and to reflect by participating in a “Think, Pair, Share” conversation.  This promotes relationship building between children from different backgrounds, allows the opportunity to establish and maintain a positive rapport among students within the school district, and reinforces the aspect of audibly reviewing essential points from the lesson.

Using Interwrite, Skype, TurningPoint, and more, Carrier and Stovall have discovered that interactive technology tools provide an avenue to engage student learning and to expand beyond the four walls of their classroom. Students in Bowling Green, Ky. are interacting with peers from various cultural backgrounds, building relationships, and are engaged in student learning.  Plus, student assessment is more readily available, efficient, authentic, and valid.

As the world evolves, educators must also evolve and prepare classrooms to reach all students.  Schools must embrace technology and the endless opportunities that it provides to promote 21st century skills, enhance student learning, and build relationships.

YouTube Classroom Video

The Bowling Green Independent School District is located in the downtown area of Bowling Green, in south central Kentucky. Currently serving approximately 3,800 students in seven schools, the district strives to lead the way in education for all students, and encourages and recognizes distinction in every field of human endeavor.

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Laura Ascione

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