Welcome to the Start of the School Year. Now Here’s a List of Things to Do: Twenty-First Century Skills to Teach within the First Week of School.

power searching

Welcome to the Start of the School Year.  Now Here’s a List of Things to Do:

Twenty-First Century Skills to Teach within the First Week of School.

By Sherry Mohr

Teachers have a lot on their minds at the beginning of the school year.  They’ve spent hours creating lesson plans, attending faculty meetings, and preparing their classrooms for the upcoming year.  According to Alan November, they need to add just a few more things to their list of things to do.

November is a teacher-turned-author and lecturer, and in a 2014 workshop presented at a gathering sponsored by the International Society of Technology in Education in Atlanta, he presented the four most important skills to teach students within the first five days of school.  Katrina Schwartz summarizes these perfectly.

Before we begin, let’s take a deep breath.  Teacher curriculums are already jammed to the brink.  What more can this teacher-turned-author lecturer add on to the pile?  Well, once you continue reading, you’ll completely understand and even nod in agreement.  I promise.

Power Researching

“Kids literally take their teachers assignment and Google it” and don’t I know it.  I know this firsthand and let me tell you, it doesn’t stop in high school.  I was an academic librarian at a nonprofit graduate school for three years, and if Google didn’t have the answer for those grad students, their research question was too hard.  I loved hearing students’ aha! moments during our research sessions when it finally dawned on them that Google didn’t always have the answer, and they needed to learn how to research (better).

Students need to learn the syntax of searching.  November gives the following example: He assigned students the task of researching information on the “Iran Hostage Crisis.”  The students immediately hit the web and retrieved the first few websites within their Google result list.  They didn’t stop to figure out exactly how to search this information or that in Iran the event is called “Conquest of the American Spy Den.”  Essentially, the information they gathered was incomplete and most likely incorrect.  November emphasizes the need to provide students with problems that cannot be solved by the Internet, and if that’s not a reality, build within them the capacity to solve the problems well.

As a librarian, I couldn’t agree more.  It’s imperative to teach students how to “power search,” understand and use Boolean operators/Google operators, identify the appropriate research terms, and understand a database’s algorithm.

Meaningful Contributions

We live in a society that demands immediate gratification and caters to a “take-take-take” mentality.  November suggests slowing things down and instilling within students the desire to make meaningful contributions to the world.

“When students learn their work can make an impact, they’re not only more motivated, but they work harder.”

November suggests letting the kids teach other and learn from the teaching.  He relays that kids love connecting with each other and that this would be an opportunity for the students to grow through empathy and learning.

Inquire about Student Passions

There are so many projects throughout the school year that are short-lived and so much content to be learned that it is easy for teachers to brush past what students find meaningful.  November suggests learning what means most to students and discovering what drives them through student-led learning.

Allow students to define and work on a project with very few teacher created parameters and no rubric.  Students can work on this project throughout the entirety of the school year and present when ready.  This provides students with the opportunity to experience the maturity needed to identify when a project is good enough and what it takes to make a project work.  It also creates an environment where failure becomes a learning tool.  If something doesn’t work, the students learn to revise and/or restart their project.

Students learn to move past the anxiety of the unknown and become creators of content instead of consumers of it.

Build a Learning Ecology

As educators, we know that learning doesn’t end once that degree is posted but students often carry that assumption.  Teachers should illustrate to students how they learn and identify the types of sources they use to continue learning their craft.  Digital libraries and other such research tools are great examples of lifelong learning.

“Typically we demonstrate what we already know and have learned.  That has to change.  We have to teach students to learn to learn.”

Social media is another method of building an environment of continuous learning.  Social media demonstrates how teachers connect professionally and how they find ideas to become better.  This teaches students how to build networks to the world and how to utilize social media as research tools.

This short list may seem a bit daunting but really these are all skills that the 21st century learner needs to blossom within our innovative society.  The nature of education is morphing into one that connects the tools we use every day to knowledge and empowerment.  We’re giving our students the ability and desire to learn long after the essay is written and the test is over.

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