Vermont Legislative Summit: Innovation in 21st Century Schools

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Information about Vermont Legislative Summit: Innovation in 21st Century Schools

Published on February 27, 2014

Author: TarrantInstitute



The Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education presented to the 2014 assembled Legislative Summit on Education at the University of Vermont. They were joined by Burlington 6th grade educator Laura Botte, and Manchester principal Sarah Merrill, in explaining to the Vermont legislators and community members what technology innovation in Vermont middle schools does -- and could -- look like.

Innovation in 21st Century Schools


Transformative Change

Co-learning / Co-Creating

Personalized Learning

Innovative Leadership

Laura I was asked here to speak to you today about the transformation of education in our classrooms, and make no mistake, education today is completely different from when we went to school, because it has to be. When my parents went to school they went to there to get the information because that's where the information lived. It was in the books; it was inside the teacher's head; and you needed to go there to get the information, because that's how you learned. You had to travel to the school to get the information from the teacher, and the books available there and store it in the only portable memory device you had, which is inside your own head, and take it with you because that is how information was being transported from teacher to student and then used in the world. To see if you had the information stored properly, teachers gave test and school was all about right and wrong answers.

But now, students come to school with one of these in their pockets. They can access whatever information they need in seconds, so why come to school? I am so lucky to be teaching in a learning environment that validates the way that I know that kids learn, and that really wants to investigate what is possible when you are willing to let go of some of the paradigms of the past, of information scarcity and move to a time when we have information surplus. So what do you do when the information is all around you? Why do you have kids come to school if they no longer have to come there to get the information?

At Edmunds we have a one-to-one laptop program, so the kids are bringing in laptops with them everyday, taking them home, getting access to information. So we have to build a new kind of learning paradigm, one that enhances the skills that these students will need in this new information age. We need to train them to take information and analyze it, synthesize it and use it to create new product.

This technology allows us to build a new kind of 21 century community. Each morning I am able to personally check-in with each of my 22 students. I can find out right away how socially, emotionally and academically ready they are for the day and step in where needed. This all takes place in within the first half hour, intercepting potential blow-outs, meltdowns and other issues that might interfere with our learning. Children will tell me things digitally that they might never be brave enough to tell me face to face.

Technology has changed the way we learn and opened up who we share our learning with. I am a math teacher, a subject not always known to excite and entice middle schoolers, but what if we take out math learning and use it in friendly competition? We use online practice and gaming programs that allow us to practice our skills and then compete head to head in online math competitions with students in Australia, England, New Zealand and other parts of the US. I can tell you, it completely removes the question of “When am I ever going to need to use this?” I have to say, it brings out the competitive nature in all of us. Our class motto is “We never lose Fai-to’s” They even put it on a mug.

Students want to see relevance in their learning and we want to see if they can transfer that learning and really use it. We are able to take our learning of geography, relative location and the compass rose and instead of having a Friday quiz, we assessed their mastery differently. We wanted to know, could they take what they had been learning and transfer those skills to a real world problem. We did this by conducting what is called a mystery skype. We found another school in the US that was also studying geography and we played a high tech version of twentyquestions. Using google maps, wall maps, and atlases and online resources, students worked as teams to discover in fewer than twenty questions the exact location (including name of school) of the mystery school. We had 44 students working cooperatively to complete a challenge and both teams were successful.

Besides learning to use and synthesize the information they have available we also want students to create and produce, and not just to create something that the teacher grades, like the book reports of old, but to create a product for a truly authentic audience where we know they will be inspired and empowered to do their best work. We were fortunate this year to partner with the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center to be invited in to help augment their exhibits for young visitors.

Kids go to museums, they hate reading the signs, but what if using a phone or iPad you could scan a picture or QR code and a story, quiz or video popped up? What if you could play a game that sent you on a scavenger hunt to find information and you had to use that information to complete a quest. Using a platform called ARIS, which stands for Augmented Reality Interactive Storytelling, our students took our geographic, ecological, cultural and historical learning about the Lake Champlain basin and created online ARIS games that would help teach ECHO visitors about the exhibits. Now, (or soon) any visitor that comes to ECHO with any iOS device can have their museum experience enhanced through learning done by a bunch of eleven-year olds from up the hill. When we asked our students to reflect on the experience they told us repeatedly that because they had to not only learn the information, but teach others that they internalized it in a way they never would have if they had just “read the boring book” and regurgitated the information for a test.


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