Monday, October 27, 2008

Call For Action: Digital Curriculum

LinkI had mentioned that providing a 1:1 for every 3-12 grade student in Iowa was the easy part. There's heavy irony given the current economic conditions and past funding levels of technology in schools.

Compared to this, though, the purchasing is easy. That's because what I call for now will really bring about dragging of heels and gnashing of teeth.

We need to completely change the structure of the learning environment in every grade and subject. The curriculum must be a constant interchange with the technology tools of today.

Let me give you a vision of what I am talking about. Jane arrives at school early and immediately goes to one of the learning pod areas, where she hops on her educational ning online. Here, she collaborates with a student in Texas, Kentucky, Nevada, Alberta, Sydney, and Nottingham. The group is extremely interested in crickets, and together they are discovering all they can about the insects. They share resources they have found on the internet with each other and pose different thoughts that they have. Bill, the student from Nevada, recently posed the challenge to the group to discover what conditions are ideal for the growth of crickets, and since the research the group conflicts, each person is experimenting with their variables at the local level.

After catching up on an update from those overseas, she goes to her first hour class, social studies. In class, the teacher is introducing a new concept (the Articles of Confederation), but wants to see what students already know. Every student has their laptop ready and they hop on Survey Monkey to take a quick pre-survey of the material. The teacher then displays the results, which show a couple students are quite knowledgeable on the concept. He turns the class over to them, and they discuss what they remember. While they say this, the teacher pulls up the class wiki and enters, as close to verbatim as he can type, what the students say as the initial entry on the wiki for the Articles of Confederation. After the students finish what they recall, the teacher has the students look online to verify the information and add to the wiki, or to branch off and make new entries based on topics that have arrived. Jane split her time between adding more on to the Continental Army, which the Articles gave some direction to, and putting together a new entry for federalists.

Second hour has her in family/consumer science today. The class puts their laptops on the work area next to the kitchenette. Today, Jane's group is to create a chicken entree given the ingredients that are found in their refrigerator and cabinet. They do a meta-search, given the ingredients, and find a recipe for a casserole. As they create the activity, they are to take a digital photo at each stage and upload that to their Flickr account. They also will take a temperature probe when the entree is finished and that data will be loaded in their classroom database record. Finally, they will portion up the entree, and each student in class will travel around and sample them. They will log in on their own computers and score the entree on a four-point scale of how it tastes. The teacher will use the digital images, hard data, and student feedback together to give summative assessment on student proficiency.

Third hour is physical education. Jane has already downloaded her playlist into her mp3 player for the day... she has picked her upbeat music since she is doing aerobics. Like always, Jane gets her Polar Fitness monitor, which will monitor her breathing rate and pulse to assess the exertion. Once again, Jane is doing well to stay in her zone. Like the rest of the class, she is given the last 5 minutes of class to download the data and write a 2-sentence blog on how she is progressing to her physical fitness goal (to reduce her "fitness" age and beat her previous best in the mile by 45 seconds).

Fourth hour is English. Students hop on their blog immediately to give their reflections to the question that was recently posted by a student in class. Each day, a student posts a question to trigger free-writing in a connection to what they are reading. Once students are finished with their blog, they shift into free reading of the book, until the teacher has had a chance to peruse the answers. The teacher then gathers a couple of quotes to share with the class for some further discussion. Then, the students are given an essay topic to write about, and they log into their Google Docs account to start the process of composition. With 10 minutes left in the class, Jane "invites" her editing partner Sarah to her essay, and vice versa. Jane looks over Sarah's writing, knowing she has to give 3 suggestions, be it thoughts to develop the essay, sentences to help the structure, or words to build meaning and style.

Okay, you get the idea. This is what I refer to as the Digital Curriculum. I'm not the first to use this phrase, but I needed to put forth a common term and definition.

You can see some of the features of the digital curriculum:
• Schoolwork makes seamless integration of the laptop in all that they do
• Learning takes place on an individual level, a classroom level, a small group level, and an outside-school level.
• But it always is student-centered. The student is pushing forward the exploration, the connection, the progress on goals, and the assessment of growth.
• The laptop serves as an extension, in and out of the classroom activity. It doesn't take 20 minutes to grab laptops and log in just to do a survey or a physical education journal entry because the device is there when you need it.
• The curriculum finds tools that fit their objectives, not vice versa.
• There is a constant data collection taking place; assessment is real, authentic, and ongoing, and the student plays the critical role.
• This pace may seem fast, but today's learners can handle this with aplomb. It mimics the pace of highly-skilled professional occupations, and is helping students prepare for the future.

There are many other conclusions you can draw from the example. That's the other piece... if we are going to require the state to provide a laptop for every 3-12 grade student, then we must have every teacher use digital information and collaboration as a central piece to the curriculum. And, this is equal parts daunting, scary, and necessary.

The leap that has to be made is gigantic. It will require new curricular development and mapping of 21st century skills. It will demand leadership and vision. Let me be the first to begin. Any school that would like to collaborate with me about how they can move to a digital curriculum, please contact me; if you are willing to make the leap, I'm more than willing to help.

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