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iPride - Engage: Engaging students to gain 21st century skills


In May 2012, the Pine River-Backus School Board approved what is known as a 1:1 iPad initiative, placing a multi-faceted, digital, web-connecting tablet in the hands of every student in grades 5-12.

This decision followed an iPad pilot program and months of study and discussion by teachers, administrators and the school board. A central point of those discussions included two concepts: engaging students in their learning and equipping students and teachers with a tool to increase their ability to harness what are known as 21st century skills.

As the building principal and instructional leader at the high school, my point of emphasis to teachers has always been that it’s not just about the iPad, it is really about using a tool that will better help us engage students and equip them with the skills to excel in the 21st century workplace.

So what skills does the 21st century workplace require? And why do we need to “engage” students in their learning? Two very important questions to be answered in the first edition of Tiger Talk!

Simply stated, 21st century skills are the required attributes that are present and in demand in all jobs across the state, country and world. They are what researchers, CEOs, managers and workers say are necessary for economic success today.

• Collaboration – Working together to create content or products across networks.

• Cooperation – Working and acting together to create finished products.

• Communication – Effective oral and written communication to facilitate productivity.

• Creativity – Ability to generate new and innovative concepts and ideas.

• Organization – Ability to manage and store information.

• Problem Solving – Ability to creatively tackle problems and analyze multiple solutions.

• Information Analysis – Not just what you know, but what you can quickly find, analyze and synthesize.

• Initiative and Self-Direction – Managing oneself and creatively approaching large and complex tasks.

While schools will forever teach the concepts of reading, writing, math and science, the way that students need teachers to teach has changed dramatically over the years.

Students today are digital natives, meaning that the fast-paced, information-intensive digital world is all they’ve ever known. Students graduating this spring have never known a world without Google, they have grown up with YouTube, bought their music online (not in a record store) and favored text messages over phone conversations.

Their world moves fast and consequently their expectations for learning do as well. PR-B teachers are working hard to meet students where they are at and to prepare them for the 21st century workplace that awaits them.

Teachers have websites that contain links to electronic versions of classroom content. They upload instructional videos that students click to view. Dates of assignment deadlines are often placed on electronic calendars and notes are taken, organized and shared on the iPad instead of notebooks.

Students are shooting videos of lab experiments and emailing them to absent classmates at home so they can be prepared upon return. Instead of writing a report on the Revolutionary War, students are creating and editing live web pages that contain multimedia information accessible to other students.

Routine cooking labs are now turned into cooking shows using iMovie. Instead of signing up for a computer lab and waiting until the next day to take their class down the hall to a lab, teachers are using apps to drill math facts and vocab quizzes with instant results right in the classroom, freeing up more time for remediation or enrichment.

Students are creating a working document (Google Doc) to be edited and added to by peers from other classrooms.

These are just a few of the activities I have seen in classrooms in the last few weeks.

Good teaching will never be replaced by technology, but at PR-B good teachers are using technology to help prepare students and equip them with the skills they will need to succeed in the future.

(Trent Langemo is principal of Pine River-Backus High School.)