Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC is the Wide Area Network Coordinator for the Diocese of Harrisburg (PA). She has been a high school tech coordinator and graphics design teacher and also taught middle grades math and science in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City.

by Sr. Geralyn Schmidt

As a teacher, summer means for me a focus on the three R’s — rest, relaxation, and reflection. Rest comes from eight hours of sleep and a bit looser schedule. Relaxation comes from long walks in the woods, a stroll across a beach, or time spent on retreat doing both. Reflection? Well, that is the “heavy lifting” of my summer and where I do much of my creative thinking and analyze how my year has been, and where I see the work going in the future.

Maybe summer is a time of reflection for you, too

You might be saying to yourself, “I’ve read a lot about 21st century learning, but how do I incorporate the latest and the greatest into my teaching?” To answer that question, may I suggest that you take your best lesson or the most creative project you’ve assigned and reflect on how you can infuse web tools and connected learning by:

Changing how your students collaborate and the tools they use to create; and

Using social media tools to share the work of students beyond classroom walls.


21st-centurizing a lesson plan

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says that a good first step for teachers is to “21st-centuryize” a lesson plan or project. One of my favorite lessons in 28 years of classroom teaching began with 6th graders reviewing spelling and vocabulary words by doing some research on national monuments and then a writing activity. I got:  “Oh, Sister, can you think of something creative to do?” (They might have used the word “fun”.) My response was, “Give me a few minutes.”

I paced in front of the classroom, squeezing a chalk eraser as I did some silent brainstorming. Student heads tracked my progress as I walked back and forth. Then the aha moment arrived: an assignment that not only energized our Language Arts class but made a lasting impression on my teaching practice.

The students first had to do research about one of the national monuments listed in our book and bring the facts about it to class the next day. They then divided into teams of four, and I gave each group several minutes to discuss why their individual choices qualified as a national monument. Three specific criteria emerged: remembrance of a historic event; a land feature, or a structure commemorating a national leader.

Drawing on their learnings from research, I asked each team to invent a new national monument, and then create a logo, a billboard, a brochure, a bumper sticker and a 30-second commercial as a marketing tool. Each person on the team was responsible for one item. The entire team was responsible for the commercial.

I taught this lesson back in the B.C. era — before computers — so the students’ work was on paper and the commercials were taped on VHS cameras. How would I update this lesson today? Depending on the available technology, I might use a secure social networking space to let my students do some of their collaboration virtually. I would replace the paper logos, billboards, brochures, and bumper stickers and use either computer applications or web-based tools that could assist in the creation of such products.

Beyond the Microsoft office products, there are many tools available for students to do this online now. The digital video could be edited using a whole host of software programs. Some may have come bundled with your operating system (e.g., iMovie, Movie Maker). Sound could be added as well as visual effects. These videos could be uploaded to School Tube, YouTube or vimeo and embedded on the classroom website, wiki or blog (where we could also display still images of the other student products), allowing parents to comment and view their child’s work.


Summertime and the learning is easy

So, as you reflect on your past school year, pick at least one unit or theme and become a 21st century master by incorporating some type of technology. Remember it’s not so much about the TOOL you use, but the curriculum objectives you want to accomplish. Do not be afraid if you really don’t completely understand the tool. Just set your students loose with the tool and allow them time to play with it. Your most technology-savvy students will quickly learn how the tool is used and they can teach others. Let them teach you as well. You will model the need for all of us to be lifelong learners and give students the opportunity to discover that teaching others can be fun too.

As you master new tools, you’ll think of even more ways to improve and enhance your lessons. Share your ideas with other teachers — and not just those who are already using technology. Reach out to others who might be reluctant and be transparent about your own learning curve. Coach them through their first trial run, and then help them post their own students’ work in appropriate web spaces where it can be viewed by parents and peers.


Where to find the tools

You might be asking yourself, “Where do I go for these tools?” There’s a free resource to meet the needs of just about any educator. It’s a digital e-magazine available at the Free Technology for Teachers website called  The Super Book of Web Tools for Educators. This guide (created by 10 ed tech bloggers, teachers, and school administrators) offers page upon page of wonderful tools (for elementary, middle, high, ESL and online settings) that can be matched to lesson plans and the learning needs of your particular students. In addition to this excellent give-away book, the FTT website itself is a true gold mine of well-organized information and resources that every 21st century educator should know about.

Set a personal goal to create this type of learning experience for your students on a regular basis. It’s okay to start small. As you gain confidence and see the kind of engagement and learning that technology-enhanced lessons can produce, you’ll soar out of the cloud cover and trek through cyberspace with all the digital natives!

Photo: Andy Carter @ Flickr Creative Commons

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