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21 Things Every 21st Century Educator Should Try This Year (2019 Version)

In 2014 I wrote the original “21 Things” post with the hope that an educator reading it would be inspired to try one or two new things in their classroom. While the post has evolved over time, that continues to be the main driving factor behind this. As trends and technology change often, it’s important to keep evolving and growing as learners and educators as well. Before I present you with the updated 2019 version of the list, a few disclaimers:

  1. I know that this is an ambitious list. We need ambition to move the needle in education.
  2. While I love my friends in other countries, I’m not as familiar with their laws, so for the purpose of this post, put on your U.S. hat.
  3. Yes, technology costs money. Money that we are sorely lacking in education. That said, I’ve tried to differentiate some items on this list require little to no money, just a growth mindset.
  4. The purpose of this list is not to shame teachers into trying EVERYTHING on the list. My hope is that it will generate one or two ideas for a teacher to try this year.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to my 2019 version of “21 Things That Every Educator Should Try in the 21st Century”.  Some of these still remain from the original post, but there are also many new items centered around the latest trends. Many of the updates come from trends I’ve seen not only in education but also in the workplace like these Top 10 Skills Needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (from the World Economic Forum). Oh, and of course, check out the accompanying infographic at the bottom of the post as well…just be sure to read the full post before passing judgement.

1. Have an online debate

Something that our students (and society) desperately need is the ability to debate in a variety of ways, especially online. With the recent political climate in our country, more than ever we have to teach students how to have critical discourse online without falling prey to name-calling or inflammatory language. Using tools like Padlet or SeeSaw, you can create a “walled garden” of sorts for your students to have an online debate from topics as intense as “who has a harder job: a doctor or a lawyer” to “which is better: thin crust or thick crust pizza.”  Regardless of topic, the point is to model how to interact, make a point with facts, and concede when necessary.

2. Bring an expert voice into your classroom remotely

With so many resources and experts available, it only makes sense to bring in someone from “the real world”. This not only creates interest in the topic, it adds an air of authenticity.  Use Google Hangouts, Facetime, Zoom or Skype to reach out to a content expert to share their thoughts around a particular subject or topic. If you can, record it and post it to your class site or embed it on your blog to generate discussion at home.

3. Augment reality in an old textbook

As witness by the explosive emergence of Merge Cubes, Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming a new way to engage learners. However, buying a bunch of these may not be possible for every teacher. Luckily, on the back shelves of classrooms and libraries exist rows and rows of old textbooks, some of which are still in regular use. By using an augmented reality tool like HP Reveal, Metaverse, or ARLoopa, you can breathe fresh life into those old textbook pages. Take a graph and make it interactive or hover over an image to reveal a more in-depth video on the subject. While AR may seem like “flashy” technology, coupling its use with existing materials can be a cost-effective way to increase engagement and deeper learning.

4. Create an infographic to help review and understand information

Infographics have become a part of everyday society. People are looking for information quickly and visually. Creating an infographic to review content is a powerful way to help those students that are visual learners. Taking this one step further – have students create an infographic as a way to convey their information on a subject. There are many free online tools out there (like Canva) to help with this but my favorite is Keynote. (now with built in icons – it’s what I used to make the infographic for this post)

5. Design and deliver a presentation

This may seem like something every teacher can already do, so I’ll say that this challenge is more about working with students on the art and science of an effective presenting. Being able to communicate a point or idea effectively is becoming more and more of a lost art. The “3-legged” stool approach to balancing a presentation (content, slide design, delivery) can be an invaluable skill for all students going forward in life. To really challenge them, use a tool like PechaFlickr.net (shout out to @cogdog) to have them make up a presentation on the fly. While I prefer the use of Keynote, there are many effect tools out there that students can access to create and present from. One word of advice…take it easy on the bullet points.

6. Have a class social media account for students to post about the day’s learning

Just like the online debates (item #1), social media can be both a tool and a distraction at times. Using a class social media account (Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, etc) that is moderated by the teacher can model how to use social media to share meaningful messages. Create a “social media PR team” that consists of students capturing events happening around the school that are then reviewed and vetted before posting. Doing something like this in upper elementary grades can be an effective way for students to learn appropriate posting behaviors before they dive into the middle school world of social media. Then ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.

7. Use Stop-motion to explain a challenging concept

One of the most effective and easiest to use features on a device is the camera. With the built-in time-lapse feature, you can capture changes over time like growth of a plant or the rotation of the Earth in comparison with the Sun. Using a free stop-motion app like iMotion, allows your students to take paper, scissors, and play-doh to demonstrate their understanding of a difficult or challenging concept like this video about the digestive system.

8. Integrate more movement into your classroom

Teachers take a brain break with charades.

(Image credit: Carl Hooker)

Anyone who has seen me present or been to one of my professional learning sessions knows that I love to integrate movement into everything I do. There’s brain science that shows incorporating more movement throughout the day in your classroom can actually help with focus and engagement. Increasing oxygen levels to the brain via periodic movement helps increase attention and retention in your classroom. Make movement a regular part of your classroom routine by using brain breaks and standing discussions to wake your students’ brains.

9.  Take a Virtual Field Trip

Want to check out Machu Picchu? Maybe visit Mars? Why not take your class on a virtual field trip? The increase in ways to see virtual worlds via tools like Nearpod VR and Google’s Tour Creator, have helped bring this access to schools without the high-end cost usually associated with VR.

10. Build your own virtual world

Why just be a passive participant in a virtual world when you can build your own? With tools like CoSpacesEDU, you can code and program and interactive world for your students to visit, or better yet, have them build a world to demonstrate understanding of a concept. Don’t have time to learn all of that code or want a break from the screen? Panoform.com is a great hands-on way to have students draw their virtual worlds with paper and colors before bringing them to life digitally.

11. Bring Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the Classroom

Many teachers already do this with the use of Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. These “digital assistants” are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to A.I. and are becoming more prevalent in the homes around our country. Some questions to ask your students might include – What impact will these devices have when it comes to future learning? What happens with all the data that is captured when it listens? How might they help us in the future?

12. Fly a Drone (and discuss its impact on society)

Not all of us have access to drones, so flying one in your classroom or outside on the school grounds may not be feasible (or legal in some cases). However, there are several examples around the world now showing us how drones can help us and how they can hurt us. One thing is for certain, these are not going away anytime soon. With that said, a question for students is, what impact do drones have on our privacy rights and what legislation exists out there today around drones?

13. Produce a class audio podcast

Have students create a podcast highlighting classroom activities, projects or students. One of the schools I consult with regularly in the Chicago area does this with their middle school. The “McClure on the Mic” podcast is created and produced by students and literally puts student voice at the forefront. Getting podcasts out there can be challenging, but if you want to get it to the web quickly, post it to Soundcloud or use a tool like SoundTrap.  For the more advanced user, use a podcasting site like Podbean.com and actually get the podcast posted to iTunes.  That way mom and dad can listen to the weekly recap while going on their evening walk or driving to work.

14. Create a classroom full of student entrepreneurs

What better ways to encourage teamwork, collaboration and global thinking that to introduce students to entrepreneurism to solve real-world problems? This past year, one of the middle schools I work with did just that by wiping away the bell schedule and spending time with student teams identifying issues with the school and proposals for how to fix them. Expanding this to local, state or national level help introduce students to the design thinking and project-based learning to solve actual issues.

15. Identify fake news and internet bots

As mentioned with items #1 and #6 on this list, we live in a time where internet bots are used to sway public opinion, sometimes with false or misleading information. We need to help students identify what is real and what is not online. This goes far beyond “fake news”.  It can be something as simple as understanding the angle of a post based on its title to identifying real people versus robots on twitter. The good news (or bad news) is that there seems to be an example of this happening every day in real time.

16. Have a “FailFest” to model risk-taking and perseverance

Many students today do not know how to cope with failure. As parents and educators, we often time protect and shelter kids from failure. As a result, students spend their formative years not knowing how to mess up and recover from it. I often equate it with the analogy of training wheels on a bike. If we keep those training wheels on the bike, they will never fall down. But what if we take those training wheels off when they leave our schools and they fall down and don’t know how to get back up? The concept of a “FailFest” would take more than this paragraph to explain, but basically the idea is creating an atmosphere in your classroom where students can make mistakes, take thoughtful risks, and celebrate failure. Giving students these life skills will encourage their future growth and expand their possibilities of greater life success…a goal no educator wants to fail at.

17. Practice mindfulness in your classroom

There is a lot of hype around mindfulness in schools and an increase in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in schools.  While the impact of mindfulness on test scores may still be open to debate, there is value taking a pause and reflecting on the now. Technology can hinder some of that, but short of banning all tech, we need discover life balance in this new “instant-on” world. Give your students 1-2 minutes to stop, breathe, reflect, and simply “be present” every day. You may find it helps their learning as well as behavior on those dreaded rainy days or test-taking days.

18. Utilize robotics to tell a story

Photo array: Trashbots

(Image credit: Carl Hooker)

The fourth industrial revolution will definitely feature more and more robots in our world. Use of robotics in the classroom is currently relegated to specialized elective classes or maybe a Friday afternoon of free time in a maker space (see #19). The common misconception around these tools are that they are too pricey and one-dimensional for regular classroom use. By using low-cost robotic technology systems like Trashbots, schools can now have a wide array of materials for building robots and better yet, using them in a variety of subjects other than math and science. Why not program your robot to re-enact a moment in history? Or maybe have it tell a story?

19. Build a maker-space for hands-on learning

A maker space is not a new thing. It used to be called “shop class” when I was in school. However, unlike its 20th century relative, maker spaces today can be built into the classroom environment. They allow room for exploration, design, and iteration. And here’s the best part for schools struggling with funding – they can be almost free and require little to no technology. A trip to the local hardware store can yield some donated materials as a trip up to the attic to dig out those old childhood legos. Much like practicing mindfulness (#17), having hands-on learning activities can increase retention and help encourage creativity.

20. Become an activist for a worthy cause

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes a little creativity is all you need to awareness to a cause. Whether it’s helping the fires burning in the Amazon or finding a cure for a disease, our new connected society can be a powerful thing when galvanized for good. Participating in a global project to help gives students perspective on their own lives while helping others with their life challenges. Empathy is a powerful skill that we need to continue to nurture and grow in our students as they become adults in their new fast-paced life.

21. Let your students drive the learning

While you could do all of these challenges by yourself, the real power comes in letting students own a piece of it. I recently did a talk on “Creating and Environment of Curiosity” where I delve into the mindset of the classroom teacher needed to create an atmosphere where students question, ponder, and drive their own experiences in learning.

I realize there are a lot of tools and concepts on this list that can be intimidating to learn, but we shouldn’t feel the pressure as educators to know and understand everything. Use your students for this. They have the curiosity and the digital acumen, it’s our job as the teacher to give them instructional focus and empowerment.  We live in wonderfully connected times.  Despite all of technology’s perceived misgivings and the apocalyptic fears that we are losing ourselves as a society, why not use some of this power for good?

Just know that as a teacher in the 21st century you ultimately hold the key to unleash this creative beast.  So try something on the list this year that may force you a bit out of your comfort zone because there is no better way to learn than trying.

Just be sure to share your successes and struggles when you are finished as learning in isolation helps no one.

cross-posted at https://hookedoninnovation.com

Carl Hooker has been a part of a strong educational shift with technology integration since becoming an educator. As Director of Innovation & Digital Learning at Eanes ISD, he has helped spearhead the LEAP program, which put one-to-one iPads in the hands of all K-12 students in his 8000-student district. He is also the founder of “iPadpalooza”- a three-day “learning festival” held in Austin annually. He's also the author of the six-book series titled Mobile Learning Mindset, a guide for teachers, administrators, parents and others to support and embrace mobile learning in our schools. Read more at Hooked on Innovation.