Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thinkfinity Links Curriculum and 21st Century Skills

Last year we began exploring the topic of 21st Century Skills. What are those skills that our students will need to meet the challenges of the future? In our conversations last year, we discussed finding ways to integrate content knowledge, technology and learning skills including research and information literacy, critical thinking, problem solving , decision making, innovation, and creativity.

With so many competing demands and limited time, teachers are seeking tools that enable them to quickly locate and access high quality online standards-based resources. Recently I came across an article that featured Thinkfinity as one such online resource that integrates 21st century learning skills.

Thinkfinity is a Verizon Foundation initiative to build a comprehensive digital platform that empowers teachers with the tools to integrate technology in core subject areas. Edutopia Magazine and ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) rated Thinkfinity as a leading online source for finding and downloading lessons and resources including: printable materials and worksheets, multimedia, interactive lessons, reference material and primary sources. These lessons are designed by leaders in education and technology.

The site is easy to navigate using its powerful search engine. I was able to search lessons by subject area, key word, grade level or even by resource type. By clicking on each link, I quickly accessed the lesson plan, materials, and resources. Lessons are highly engaging and provide opportunities for students to make connections between their classrooms and the real world. Some examples are:

Your Town Past, Present, Future (Grades 3-5) Shows one way the study of geography can be applied to planning for the future. By studying the town of Bodie, California, an old gold mining town, students are encouraged to explore environmental issues in their own community and develop a plan to address them.

Amazon Interactive (Grades 1-5) Students explore the geography of the Ecuadorian Amazon and learn about the rainforest through interactive online games. Students can even try their hands at running an ecotourism business.

There are numerous interactive math lessons and activities for children K-8 designed to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. This site is also a great resource for activities that can be used at home to reinforce skills taught in school. For example, there are interactive math games that allow children to compete with themselves or against the computer. In addition there is a parent portal which includes resources and activities parents can utilize with their children at home.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In "Growing Up Digital", by Don Tapscott, he explores how people between the ages of 11 and 30 - the generation the has grown up with digital technology - use technology to learn, communicate and socialize. He characterizes the Net Generation as incredibly flexible, adaptable and multimedia savvy. They are more adept at multitasking using a variety of digital technologies. As we pursue our own technology initiative, I wonder is this true of our students. If so, do these qualities benefit them as learners?

I recently had an opportunity to observe the fifth grade students in our Global Awareness Club participate in a video conference with a teacher from Australia. She was sharing her experiences as a team leader for the non-profit organization Teachers Without Borders. In this video conference, this teacher volunteer shared her experiences working in poor rural communities in South Africa and Kenya. She described the problems of poverty, limited resources and lack of technology as well as serious health issues faced by these communities.

I thought her presentation was riveting. When I looked up to see the children's reaction, what I saw surprised me. The children were were all intently typing away on their laptops. At first I thought -How could they not be fascinated by the story that this teacher was sharing with them? As I looked over their shoulders, I realized that the children were utilizing a live blogging tool Cover It Live to engage in an dynamic conversation in which they were sharing their reactions and reflecting on what they were learning through this experience. Some children noted facts that amazed them, others wondered what they could do to help the children in these schools, and others jotted down questions. I was amazed by their ability to listen attentively to the presenter and engage simultaneously in a real-time conversation. This conversation demonstrated high levels of critical thinking skills and student engagement.

I want to take an opportunity to share with you a video that one of our fifth graders created about our video conference visit with author Peter Golenbock. Utilizing a flip camera, MS Moviemaker and You Tube, he did a very impressive job of editing and producing a video that captures the experience through the eyes of children.

In speaking with him about this project, he radiated his enthusiasm and was eager to share what he learned through this experience. He is looking forward to working with other students in creating other videos. Among the many things that amaze me about this project, is the realization that with little more assistance than providing them with the right tools children are capable of creating sophisticated multimedia work products.

Certainly our children seem to possess the abilities supported by the research in "Growing Up Digital", and I think that these affinities and abilities have interesting implications for teaching and learning.