After my last post regarding something a bit more philosophical when it comes to a 21st Century Classroom, I thought about more of what it might look like–what it might physically look like.  I have actually been thinking about it for as long as I can remember.  I thought I might focus more on the tools and perhaps take it one at a time.

In a classroom that includes 21st Century tools (21C) computers or even netbooks would be obvious.  Whiteboards would be obvious. Data Projectors would be obvious.  Document cameras are becoming more obvious.  Digital still and video cameras (sometimes in the same piece of equipment) are obvious.  Important none-the-less, but still obvious pieces of 21C tools.  I want to get to those later. 

A year ago, I had the opportunity to put some less-than-conventional tech into classrooms in schools in my district.  I thought of our reading program that supports those who need a little extra help.  That program had been in place for years with the same teacher doing the same things year after year after year.  Nothing really wrong with the method, nothing really wrong with the teacher–she was very good at her job and did still make modest gains.  The issue was that the program was not forward thinking–it was not as engaging for the kids that teacher served.  I thought that this program didn’t need an overhaul, just some updating. 

With that in mind, I went for a couple items that I knew have value.  I turned to Leapfrog.  My now 3rd grade sons have had Leapsters since they were 3 years old.  This was probably the most valuable investment that we have made in a piece of technology for them.  They walked into Pre-K with the knowledge of letters, numbers, colors and shapes.  I credit the endless play on the leapster for a part of that.  It reinforced what we had been teaching them at home.  It was (is) engaging for them.  I ordered a set of 6 for the program with a multitude of cartridges. 

The second piece I came across was the TAG reading system.  This is a pen that connects to the computer, has software loaded into it for specific books and interacts with the special books that you can order to go with the program.  OK, so what is so special?  Students learn to read high interest reading material with a little bit of help at their own pace.  Kids use the pen with the loaded software for that book, as they read the story there are multiple methods of help.  Don’t know the word?  Touch it with the pen and HEAR it read to you. Can’t put together the words in the sentence?  Run the pen over the top of the entire sentence and HEAR it read it to you.  When kids have problems with phonics, this is the tool to assist.  I bought 10 pens and 10 sets of 8 books.  Our district’s Special Needs coordinator ordered 10 as well.  that program is flourishing under the tutelage of the teacher I selected to take over the program after the previous teacher retired.

The idea behind this was to “seed” a couple schools (of our 17) with something different.  To put out there some new tools that would engage kids to learning without really knowing that they are learning.  This is the difference in an updated classroom today.  Several years ago, Marc Prensky gave his talk about digital natives vs. digital immigrants and our kids (the natives) kept telling us and continue to tell us, “engage me or enrage me!”  Engagement is a key to these new classrooms and her are just two of the tools to get there. 

Have a great evening and I welcome your comments.

Mike

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