7 Key Ingredients in the successful 21st Century Classroom

Every modern school should have at least 4 things in technology or take off the modern and just call yourself a school:

  1. a STEM Lab.If you want to make it STEAM – Science Technology Engineering, Arts, and Math, then go right ahead! You've still got STEM and you can't have technology without the arts. Some are getting rid of their “computer” labs (which I think is a huge mistake). The argument is that every teacher should integrate technology. The problem is that every teacher doesn't, can't, won't or isn't.

    A STEM lab not only focuses on the technology but the Engineering, Math, and Science and critical thinking technology-app infused decision making required in our Higher Order thinking world. The best example is the interview with my friend Kevin Jarrett who removed his elementary computer lab and put in a STEM Lab. I'm all in, Kevin, you've convinced me.

    It stresses me out to think what I'm doing to myself but I'm in the process of proposing that I no longer be called the computer lab but the STEAM lab. I'm willing to do what it takes to rewrite my curriculum. If I believe it, I've got to do it. I'll never settle for the same thing I taught last year but only to do the right thing for my students. It will still include genius projects and Flat Classroom, that is for sure.

    See Turning Elementary Computer Labs into STEM Labs an interview with Kevin Jarrett, elementary STEM lab teacher


  2. Genius Hour.Twenty per cent personal interest projects (some call this genius hour) are VITAL. Students spend 20% of their time on a personal interest project that they propose and teachers coach. I first saw this when I spoke in Evansville, Indiana. They require their seniors to do a personal interest project taking at least 100 hours. (See the video from Dantae Thrash below, the Evansville student who blew me away.)

    In Flattening Classrooms (p115-116,125), we wrote about the EAST Initiative in Arkansas where students work together to solve a problem in their school or community using technology. This is another great example with some research behind it showing that the students in this program improved their math and science scores and also their attendance. Harnessing their passion made them WANT to come to school. (Imagine that.)

    In my classroom, we use Trello to manage our genius hour work, goals and accomplishments. (I wouldn't survive without this handy tool.) The students propose and vote up courses and lessons they want me to teach. I've taught lessons on Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter this week but even more exciting, the students get together and share what they've learned. They attend the classes if it is related to what they are doing in their project.

    We now have “consultants.” One student who is excellent at writing for Tumblr (http://breakups16.tumblr.com) is our “Tumblr Consultant.” The students who manage the oceans instagram are Instagram consultants. I did genius hour last year but this year shows me it keeps getting better. But what stuns me is how much CONTENT we're covering. I have always built in four weeks of digital literacy/ social media marketing and awareness and photography. We're covering all of this and more.

    My most exciting take away from this year is this: students propose and vote up what they want me to teach them as it relates to their genius hour projects. I call class and those who come want to and others work on their projects. This is FANTASTIC and should be part of every STEM lab. There are so many amazing things.

    See the Genius Hour Wiki and Angela Maier's The Passion-Driven Classroom and my students and me talking about our Passion Based Classroom.

  3. Flat Online Connections and Collaborations.
    Meaningful online connections with other students in the world as the classrooms “flattens” and connects and teaches things that kids can't learn in a book. Connections are vital to being well educated but sadly many schools block these or don't understand.One person I know had a principal come in and call her work in global collaboration “fluff” and told her to get back to teaching wordprocessing! Misguided. Mistaken. Word processing is a skill but how long does it take to teach?

    See my book Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds and the interview with some elementary teachers who are connecting on “How Teachers and Students are Connecting Globally” on BAM Radio.

  4. A network engineered to support 1:1 or better.I met with my principal this week and he's all in for BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology.) We're taking down the network this summer and (with board approval) hope to rework the whole network with a new set of ratios in place. We are engineering to support 1.5 devices per person in the high/ middle school and 1 device per person in the elementary school.

    We're moving ahead to encourage and foster and environment where students can take notes on their phones or their paper notebooks. This will take some time, but it is the right way to go. It isn't just about technology and infrastructure but also classroom practices and that is always a challenge.

    See Miguel Guhlin's shared Evernote notebook on BYOD. 

  5. A Connected, Passionate EducatorYou should connect yourself to the world. Innovation starts in me. Kids say “bring it” when they are talking sports to mean you bring all you've got, because I'm here to play and bring all I have. Passion starts with me saying “bring it.” I'm going to bring all my passions, interests, and ingenuity and I expect you to do the same.

    I'm going to engage with a PLN (personal learning network) and help my students build one of their own. I'm going to make friends around the world to help me advance my professional practice and help you learn the digital literacies to do the same. I'm going to help you find your passions, your purpose, and reach your potential. I won't stop. I won't give up on you even when you give up on yourself. I'm here to change the world starting with myself and my students and I won't stop until I drop full of exhaustion and sleep well earned from a life well lived.

    See chapter 3 “Connection” of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds for a quick way to get started. I've also heard my friend Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach's book The Connected Educator is a great one and have it on my list to read.

  6. A Worthy To Be ListWe've been so busy with our to-do list in schools that we've forgotten what we want our students to be. They gave me a chance to invite someone to my school for PD in January and Angela Maiers came and shared this idea with me.

    Now, each month, we focus on a Habitude. I like the term habitude because it is attitudes that we want to be habits. Curiosity. Perseverance. Imagination. Self-Awareness. Courage. Adaptability. Passion. and we are adding Integrity.

    These habits are based upon the research of successful people. The most successful people have these traits but may or may not have mastered Algebra. If we leave our to-be list out of our teaching, we are filling up our plate with food without teaching kids how to use a spoon and fork. Some might call this character education but it is more. I think it should be school wide and result in a common vocabulary that can be reinforced by everyone.

    See Classroom Habitudes (Revised edition) and Angela's list of resources for the new Habitudes.


  7. The Flexibility to be a TeacherpreneurThis comes from administration. Are you allowed to innovate? Are you given flexibility to customize? Can you personalize to the interest and learning styles of your students?

    This is the one thing that is crunching much of the love of teaching for many. Teacherpreneurship cannot be scripted any more than a fantastic first date. If you're new to a school this comes in baby-steps. You have to earn their trust like I did. It takes time.

    Standards and scripting make sorry teachers less sorry, perhaps. But they make fantastic teachers want to quit.

    You might not have a lot of flexibility but take what flexibility you have to do something. It takes time to flex your wings, earn the right, and learn how to be a successful teacherpreneur. If you look back at #1, you'll see that I'm proposing a change to my own curriculum and computer lab. It may or may not be accepted but they see me pushing myself and never settling.

    If you don't innovate, you depreciate.

    To learn more see page 44-50 of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds see the CAST UDL Lesson Builders to learn how you can differentiate your lessons even amidst standards.

After looking at this list, there are technologies that many of you will throw in there: tablet, ipad, interactive white board, apps maybe.It isn't about WHAT you use but about WHAT you do with WHAT you have that is more important. The Flat Classroom was born when I had Pentium III computers in the computer lab and a very slow connection.

What we are missing in education is not the resources — but the creativity to make the most of the resources we have.

Would love to hear the ingredients you feel are essential in the modern classroom in the comments or on your own blog posts. What do you think?

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere