K – 12 Teachers Changing with the Tech Times
Innovation. Collaboration. Global awareness. Critical thinking. Creativity.
For educators in the 21st century classroom, teaching K – 12 students these skills is vitally important, and the philosophy is being embraced by school districts across the country. At the heart of this move is the growing need to make students college- and career-ready. This shift is dramatically changing the teaching profession and boosting the role of technology in the classroom.
“Few would dispute that the work of schools is changing because the world — and one’s understanding of it — is changing; but, perhaps none feel it more deeply than the teachers who are trying vigorously to adapt their instruction so that their students graduate from high school college- and career-ready,” according to the professional learning association Learning Forward.
Teachers Today and Tomorrow
Public school systems employ just over 3 million full-time teachers; an estimated 200,000 new teachers will join the profession each year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Preparing teachers for today’s technology revolution and providing ongoing education is critical to the success of the 21st century classroom, according to the department’s National Education Technology Plan.
“Technology is a powerful enabler of learning, but educators still must teach. They must support their students’ engagement with technology resources for learning, highlighting the important subject matter content, pressing students for explanations and higher-order thinking, tracking their students’ progress and encouraging their students to take more responsibility for learning. This requires deep transformations of teaching practices,” according to the plan.
Universities, colleges, teaching organizations and school districts are taking wide-ranging approaches to meet the needs of this transformation. The technology plan calls for five important steps:
- Expand opportunities for educators to have access to technology-based content, resources and tools where and when they need them.
- Leverage social networking technologies and platforms to create communities of practice that provide career-long personal learning opportunities for educators within and across schools, preservice preparation and in-service educational institutions, and professional organizations.
- Use technology to provide all learners with online access to effective teaching and better learning opportunities and options in places where they are not otherwise available and in blended (online and offline) learning environments.
- Provide preservice and in-service educators with professional learning experiences powered by technology to increase their digital literacy and enable them to create compelling assignments for students that improve learning, assessment and instructional practices.
- Develop a teaching force skilled in online instruction. As online learning becomes an increasingly important part of the education system, students must receive online and blended learning experiences that are more participatory and personalized.
Along with transforming teaching practices, education leaders are calling for more STEM teachers. As many as 100,000 STEM teachers should be recruited and trained over the next decade to prepare and inspire students, according to the White House Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Programs across the country are evolving to meet this challenge. For instance, the UTeach program at the University of Texas in Austin brings more math and science majors into teaching. Students enter the program in their junior year and graduate with both a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field and a teaching certificate. Technology is a common thread through the program’s course and practicum offerings.
As important, schools are tapping long-time teachers to incorporate technology into the classroom, a key move for expanding and enhancing education, according to a nationwide survey of educators by Walden University’s Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership.
“In reality, veteran teachers are just as likely as newer teachers to use technology to support learning,” the survey said.
Today’s classroom experience looks, feels and sounds nothing like it did a decade ago. Teachers are trading chalk boards for interactive whiteboards. They use ebooks alongside textbooks, apps alongside handouts. They are equal parts teacher, coach and facilitator to a classroom of students armed with a range of technology — everything from Samsung tablets to Adobe Photoshop and Plantronics headsets.
Getter Middle School in Tennessee perfectly illustrates the complexities of the changing teacher role.
Educators there needed to jumpstart academic performance among students. Using a sixth-grade math class for a pilot program, the school deployed Samsung tablets, an interactive whiteboard and a wireless printer. The classroom experience was instantly transformed.
Among the changes:
- Teachers monitored students’ progress as they learned, and offered real-time coaching.
- Teachers tracked student performance to customize instruction. The classroom was separated into groups of advanced students and those who needed extra help.
- Teachers addressed some student questions privately, using devices if the student was hesitant to ask out loud.
Using the Samsung technology and tools, teachers also had the opportunity to engage students in group activities, Q&A sessions and instant polls. They could also make learning materials and information available at any time: posting course materials such as ebooks and learning apps, or sending school notices and news.
Similarly, educators using Adobe tools have transformed their teaching practice.
At Presentation High School in California, teacher Deila Caballero is teaching students how to make their own music videos. They learn the technical aspects of creating a script, collaborate with other students, film a movie and edit the piece. At California’s Balboa High School, teacher Jeff Larson is engaging students through art and animation.
Said Larson, “I believe it’s important for students to become creators of content in media because it reverses the roles and the position they’re in. Instead of passively receiving information, they have to actively engage and think about the whole process — creation and delivery.”
21st Century Classroom
The use of technology in the classroom varies greatly in schools across the country, but the practice is unquestionably growing.
Walden’s nationwide survey of educators reports different amounts of time spent using technology in the classroom. Among the findings:
- 22% were frequent users, spending at least one-third of their class time using technology to support learning.
- 17% were moderate users, spending between 20–30% of their class time using technology.
- 60% were either sporadic or infrequent users of technology.
When nine Kentucky teachers in K – 12 schools took part in a four-month study, they showed a steady reliance on technology, according to Learning Forward.
Over the four months, the teachers collectively turned to more than 70 technology solutions such as BloomBoard and LearnZillion for multiple tasks — everything from planning instruction to personalized learning for students to data management.
Time and again, the teachers reported successes with the technology. Said one, “The use of technology has enabled me to make teaching and learning more engaging. Students see real-life examples, and instruction is more lifelike. Bringing short video clips into lessons allows students to review outside of class, and also brings a different voice/perspective into what is being taught.”
In the 21st century, students must be fully engaged, said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “This requires the use of technology tools and resources, involvement with interesting and relevant projects, and learning environments — including online environments — that are supportive and safe.”
“In the 21st century, educators must be given and be prepared to use technology tools; they must be collaborators in learning — constantly seeking knowledge and acquiring new skills along with their students.”
To meet this challenge, Learning Forward offers five recommendations to help schools and teachers succeed:
- Collaborate. A growing abundance of online material suggests that a teacher need not have to learn or work alone. Sharing resources and practices is helpful and necessary.
- Assessment. Ongoing, collaborative assessment and review of results must occur. Just as with non-technological instruction, student results may initially prove to be superficial or short-lived.
- Resources. Teachers need materials and resources for students’ use after school, at home and elsewhere. As important, materials must be accessible for students who do not have current technologies available in the home.
- Flexibility. Districts and states must seek flexibility in the materials and resources provided to teachers.
- Professional learning. Teachers need effective professional learning. School and district leaders must consider a teacher’s need for flexibility, collaboration and personalization.
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