A Pack of Cheap Paper Plates

What do 21st century classrooms look like?

I guess that question is about as useful as those cheap paper plates.  You know the ones I mean.  The kind that you use when you could easily use a paper towel to hold a slice of pizza.  I mean really…what does that question really mean?  To me it implies that I might be behind the times.  I have a one computer classroom.  The students and I travel to a shared computer lab once in a while when testing isn’t happening to do a few “fun” online activities.  In reality, my classroom isn’t all that connected.  Sure I bring in Skype and Google Hangouts, but on a daily basis, we still take notes and use old fashioned paper and pencils.  We still use the tub of manipulatives to provide hands on learning so the kids can discover the distributive property (for example) for themselves.

I’ve been chatting on Twitter about 1-1 classrooms.  I know there must be teachers out there that still require students to put down the devices and actually PROVE that learning has taken place.  If EVERYTHING is turned in online, how do you really know that crazy cousin Carla didn’t do the work for little Clara?

I contend that even though paper and pencil activities are still the majority of my day, I most definitely have a 21st century classroom.  How many professions today are truly paperless?  Doctors still have files full of information; even my hairdresser has a file with information about my natural hair color (my most guarded secret).  Shouldn’t we be teaching students how to choose the right tool for the job?  Why would we teach that an electronic device is always more valuable than a pencil and a piece of paper?

Yes, I want more computers/devices in my classroom.  I want the students to be able to choose which way to prove their knowledge.  I want them to acknowledge crazy cousin Carla so I can judge (as a professional educator) what little Clara knows and what she still needs to practice.  I just don’t want to throw out all the things that do actually work because computers/devices came along and made everything paperless.

We practiced the other day with a pack of cheap paper plates.  Students practiced basic skills as a team.  Each student was assigned a set of questions.  As the paper plate was passed back, each student wrote and solved their question.  Yes, these were skill and drill questions.  Yes, I know those are “so last century”. Yet, these students never got those skills because they hate the skill and drill worksheets and refuse to do them with any accuracy.  However, in a relay, they were eager to get their plate.  They checked the question of the student in front of them and sent the plate back to them if corrections were needed.  The “winning” team only got bragging rights but, they were eager to do another relay.  I call that a win any day.

I guess those plates are useful after all, just not the way they were intended to be used.  Perhaps the question about 21st century classrooms needs to be adjusted as well.  The definition of a 21st century classroom should mean more than just being a “connected classroom” or using devices instead of paper and pencil.  Maybe the 21st century classroom is more about finding the right tool for the job.

I am done ranting.  I need to hang a picture.  Where is my sledge hammer?

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