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Welcome to the 21st Century Classroom

As I walk into the classroom before any of the students arrive, I switch on the lifeblood of the 21st Century Classroom. The interactive whiteboard whirs into action and I tap impatiently as I wait for the internet connection to kick in. In what seems like an age, but in reality is only 30 seconds, I’m prepped and ready to get down to my core business- teaching.

For a lot of educators, the job of teaching has changed in many ways but has remained the same in many more. When I was a student, there were no such things as blogs, vlogs, wikis and apps. The internet was in its infancy and the kids that owned computers were few and far between. Keep in mind this was the early 90’s- there were more mullets in the classroom than Macintosh.

Fast forward to 2009 when I returned to school (as the teacher this time) and the classroom was full of projectors, the blackboards were now white and virtual spaces were a reality. Never mind the 30-odd students who were craving to be “entertained” by the bloke up the front who was looking as nervous as an ice cube in the midday sun. As I directed their attention to the short youtube clip on solving algebraic equations and introduced them to the virtual balance scales, used to help with their understanding of equations, they were hooked and I was off!

While the physical space of the classroom may look a different to when we were at school, the basic notions of teaching remain much the same. Deliver an education to your students and give them the skillset they need to be contributing citizens in the future. The more perplexing struggle is how do we prepare these students, these “digital natives”, in a classroom environment where the tools of technology often dictate how we do our job, without compromising our core role as teachers.

SPOLIER ALERT I love technology. I love reading about it, I love using it. I love seeing what is out there and how it can help my students solve problems and think critically in and out of the classroom. However, one of the biggest challenges when it comes to technology in the classroom is working out what helps and what hinders and more often than not, how I can use it.

In trying to negotiate the waves of apps and interactives spruiked as highly engaging (often code for “distracting”), I find myself asking the question, ‘is this going to make a positive difference?’ If the answer is no, then that technology is banished to the aether.

The potential downside of technologies is their potential for non-productive use—wasting time and resources. The upside though, is significant if used properly.” —Doug Hatch, president & CEO, Core Learning

For all the bad tech out there, there are many, many great ones with educational benefits. Here at ATC, we incorporate the digital realm into our teaching every day. From a STEM point of view, the use of applications like Education Perfect, Maths Online and our interactive e-books, students with a wide range of learning styles can flourish, learn and explore in a medium that, most importantly, suits them. We use programs like Mighty Minds to track student progress, allowing teachers to tailor learning to the individual student.

The flipped classroom approach, where videos are watched at home and time is afforded in class to work collaboratively instead of focusing on content delivery, is occurring more and more. Educational youtube channels like Crashcourse, TED-Ed and Mathantics,with subscribers in their tens of thousands, are being used as segues into lessons right around the globe. Programs like OneNote are allowing students to stay organised and on task in an often-busy school environment and websites such as Edutopia have great tips for teachers and parents on how to tackle the technology juggernaut.

Like building a house, the 21st Century Classroom is a complex challenge. The key is finding the right tools for the job, whether that is explaining the states of matter or calculating the surface area of a cube. Like building a house, you don’t need to use everything thrown at you. If someone hands you a ratchet but wants you to plaster a wall, don’t expect great things. If someone says ‘try this piece of technology’, I will always give it a go and see if there are benefits for my students. Who knows, it may be the 2017 version of the hook I discovered in 2009. And, if all else fails, just remember Ctrl-Z. Ctrl-Z. Ctrl-Z.

Patrick Behan, Head of STEM
behanp@atc.qld.edu.au