As educators, we have had to adjust our methods and choices in digital tools throughout our careers for many reasons. Besides what we have experienced in the past few years, there is increased access to devices, more apps and tools available for classroom use, and students who rely on their devices so much. All of this is impacting the learning in our classrooms.
“Generation Z” students are learning differently. We need strategies that help them to build essential SEL skills, promote student agency and spark curiosity for learning. Many students spend a lot of time on their devices and are used to frequent interaction and instant access to information. How can we use this to meet our students’ needs? Which methods and tools will keep them engaged and best prepare them?
To amplify learning for students today, we need experiences that will embrace new learning models that promote student agency and spark curiosity for learning. We know that digital tools can promote collaboration, communication, creativity, and many more essential skills, however, we always need to focus on the why. Choose a method or focus area that will best prepare these students and then explore some tools that will help to facilitate the method or to amplify the learning potential and build the students’ skills.
Here are three key focus areas to start with to provide more enhanced learning experiences for students that will prepare them with the essential skills they need.
3 Future-Ready Skills to Focus On In the Classroom:
Collaboration - Students need to learn how to collaborate whether they are in the classroom or working asynchronously. We have all seen how no matter what area of work you are in, in the last couple of years, we've had to learn how to collaborate using technology. There is so much power when it comes to leveraging different digital tools to help students to collaborate in and outside of the classroom with classmates and even global peers. Teamwork is one of the main skills in demand by employers and students need as many opportunities as they can get while they're in our classrooms to develop these skills. Not only are they beneficial for learning and having a supportive network, but they are also essential for preparing for the future.
There are some great methods to use like STEM challenges and having students work together to solve a challenge. Or leveraging some tools to have students create a representation of their learning. For example, with Book Creator, students can collaborate on a book that includes audio, video, text, images and can now comment on each other’s books. Using digital whiteboard spaces or collaborative boards like Padlet or Google Jamboard, helps students to work together on a project or brainstorm ideas, even when not in the same physical space. I also recommend checking out the 25 ideas from BookWidgets for more interactive learning for students on a variety of STEM topics.
Creativity - Students need choices in how to show what they are learning and these choices should meet their interests and needs. Providing an overview of a project's requirements but leaving it open to students to decide what they will create leads to more meaningful learning and student engagement. Some students might want to create a podcast or make a video and learn how to edit. Using some tools such as WeVideo provides students with many ways to share learning and to learn vital technology skills in the process. Creating a video or perhaps, setting up their own YouTube Channel as part of their class can also be beneficial. Depending on the age of students, leveraging some social media networks like TikTok or Instagram, where students can make short videos that express what they have learned, while also building digital citizenship can be another good option. Today’s learners are interested in these spaces and rather than steer them away from using them, we can help them to learn the responsible use of them and the power for sharing information.
Risk-taking - We know that the types of technology used in the world is increasing. There are emerging trends like artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, coding, and other STEM-related concepts. Not all teachers may feel comfortable with bringing these technologies into the classroom, but we have to so that we can model risk-taking, failures, reflections, and goal setting for students. Find some ways to offer students the chance to explore emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality or use coding to design something innovative. For my STEAM students who participate in genius hour, they choose topics like coding and artificial intelligence and then explore platforms like AutoAuto AI or Blackbird Code. While I may not know all of the answers to their questions, they explore it together and then find a way to share what they have learned.
Today’s learners, the Gen Z, need to connect students with real-world learning that develops their social awareness. There are many skills that are fostered through these methods which are in demand, according to the Job Skills Outlook from the World Economic Forum. Choose the method first, then find some tools to bring in to facilitate those methods. With so many emerging topics like AI, AR/VR, the Metaverse and more, finding the right resources to help students explore these concepts and build their interest and skills in these areas is important.
Things to Consider
Whether through technology and the many tools available that facilitate collaboration, creativity, risk-taking or using traditional methods, it is important to offer choices to our students. When we can provide options that promote agency in learning, it leads to more meaningful experiences that promote the development of essential skills for the future and empower students through self-driven learning. We also want to consider opportunities such as service-learning and work-based learning, that offer students more authentic experiences. For schools, having resources like x2VOL for tracking hours helps students to see their work and reflect on these experiences.
As we prepare students for the future, creating unique and authentic experiences will make the difference. Whether through PBL or STEM activities, or research done in class, individually or with peers, students will develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, learn to communicate their ideas more effectively, and build essential SEL skills. Offering more choices helps us to better meet specific student interests and needs while also preparing them for the careers of the future.
About the Author:
Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.