“The students walking out of our doors each year are not just entering the future. They are the ones creating it for us all.” – Ormiston 157

During the first summer of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time thinking and preparing to manage remote learning and one-to-one education in the middle of a crisis. There was so much to learn in a minuscule amount of time. 

I hated the idea of giving up quality instruction to the pandemic. Students have already lost so much, including time with their friends and family. 

Luckily, I had the opportunity to get some training from a neighboring school district that hosted author Meg Ormiston, an educational consultant who focuses on 21st-century learning. The training helped me — and several of my colleagues — learn how to help our students learn best with technology, whether in person or remotely, without losing the quality of instruction.

Many ideas Ormiston presents in her book NOW Classrooms Grades 9-12: Lessons for Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Technology were gold even before the pandemic. However, diving deeper into how we can use technology to facilitate higher-level thinking in students was just what I needed to get my creative juices flowing in preparation for my first full year of teaching both in-person and remotely. 

The crux of NOW Classrooms focuses on “The Four Cs and Super Skills of the 21st Century”:

Four CsSuper Skills
CommunicationSharing thoughts, questions, ideas and solutions
CollaborationWorking together to reach a goal — putting talent, expertise, and smarts to work
Critical ThinkingLooking at problems in a new way, linking learning across subjects and disciplines
CreativityTrying new approaches to get things done, which equals innovation and invention (Ormiston 3)

Ormiston notes that these skills are imperative for students to cultivate in school to prepare for college and careers.

“These skills are more important than in the past because we are preparing students for a global world of work, one filled with jobs we hadn’t identified yet.”

Ormiston 3

One of the main themes across Ormiston’s series is “student voice and choice” (4). Not only does this heighten student engagement, but it made my job of staying flexible for remote learners or students coping with the new normal a priority. 

Even though teachers need to learn how to use technology, learning concepts and content is always the priority. We don’t necessarily have to teach students how to use applications, but we need to provide them with access to various applications to enhance their thinking and learning.

“We don’t teach the app; we teach the classroom process.”

Ormiston 8

NOW Classrooms is a handbook that provides teachers with lesson plans at the “novice,” “operational,” and “WOW!” levels so that they can slowly incorporate these ideas into their lessons with actionable steps. 

Each section comes with learning goals, teaching tips, and different ideas of integrating these lesson ideas into the various content areas of ELA, math, science, social studies, etc. 

Something that technology allows students to do at school is embrace their creativity. To that end, Ormiston provides lessons regarding “using digital images in projects,” “creating videos to demonstrate their learning,” “using audio to enhance understanding,” and “combining multimedia elements to create effective presentations.”

“When students can use appropriate images to display their understanding of material, they deepen their understanding of that material.”

Ormiston 15-6

“making videos often brings out a creative side in students that other media do not.”

Ormiston 22

“Students who can successfully solve problems know how to think about what they do and describe why they do it. Having the ability to verbally explain their thought processes also promotes students’ organizational and speaking skills, which leads to deeper understanding of classroom material.”

Ormiston 29

Asking students to do this not only activates their creativity but it provides them with an opportunity to

“enforce with students the importance of respecting copyright.”

Ormiston 16

The ELA teacher in me loves any opportunity to make sure students are cultivating their digital and writerly citizenship! But, to be honest, it never occurred to me to give more students practice with those skills in these different ways; I can’t wait to try them out!

Ormiston not only suggests the process of using new applications in the classroom but equips teachers and students with suggestions of the best applications to use and how to use them. This is incredibly helpful since there are so many options and fear of more options (FOMO) is a real thing teachers experience when planning lessons and content for their students.

I’ve especially loved how technology changed the game for communication and collaboration for teachers and students. The group project looks different than it did ten years ago, and — I think — this is for the better. Managing a group project was challenging to make accessible for busy young adults who also have athletic, extracurricular, and professional commitments. But, teachers always tried assigning them anyway because we know how important it is to a student’s education.

“Communication and collaboration lie at the heart of learning.”

Ormiston 43

The apps and websites we use now, too, help students share their knowledge and talents in ways they never did before. This revs up their engagement in their learning and builds their confidence.

“When students create content, having them make that content available online for outside audiences to view helps you deliver more in-depth instruction that improves students’ critiquing, analyzing, and synthesizing skills. This interaction with an authentic audience allows the learners to build their knowledge, experience, and interests in the content they created. This also provides the students to opportunity to contribute to globalization and experience other cultures’ perspectives.”

Ormiston 44

To this end, Ormiston presents lessons that encourage students to use “flipped video to communicate and enhance learning,” “social networking to work as a group,” and “collaborating online using live communications.” As a result, teachers provide space and resources for students to become master communicators and team members, valuable life and career skills!

Integrating these lessons into our curriculum also provides teachers a moment to address digital citizenship and social media, something students desperately need! We can’t put technology in students’ hands and expect them to figure out how to use it constructively on their own; and, we certainly don’t want them to fall into the various traps on the Internet. We have to guide them,

“Students need to understand that the digital footprint they are making now will follow them the rest of their life. Many companies now look at what material a candidate puts out on social media before even getting to the point of conducting interviews. For this reason, we must give students the tools to make good choices.”

Ormiston 52

There is an entire chapter on responsible digital citizenship with strategies for incorporating these imperative skills into all content areas. The goal is to help students learn how to “protect [. . . ] oneself and others online” and “engage in legal and ethical behaviors.” 

“students who present themselves online as hostile, racist, or difficult to work with can easily jeopardize their ability to enter college. For example, in 2017, Harvard rescinded acceptance offers to ten students after the university discovered racist posts the students wrote on Facebook (Heilweil, 2017). For this reason, high school students should stay aware of and take control of the persona they create their use of social media and other public facing online content, such as blogs.”

Ormiston 116

On the flip side, technology and the Internet have done much to revolutionize the way we research, and it’s ever-changing! That’s why I appreciate Ormiston’s lessons on “gathering information” and “evaluating information.” I remember research being tedious and drudgerous when I was in high school. I hated it. It wasn’t until college that I learned how to “hack” all the different resources available for research. And then, my curiosity lit on fire! I loved learning new things, organizing notes, ideas, and information.

“You should expect high school students to be able to identify the differences between scholarly information and other information they find online, asking themselves who benefits from their reading of a source; what additional research supports the information found in the article; whether the purpose of the source is to inform, persuade, advertise, and so on; and what might draw a reader to this particular source.”

Ormiston 81

“It is no longer acceptable to send students on search-and-find missions only to regurgitate the information they find . . . . promote students’ ability to think critically about the information they gather, evaluating not only its reliability but also its usefulness and scholarliness.”

Ormiston 83

One of the reasons I like keeping this blog is to model for students how to create content that allows them to express themselves in a way that won’t jeopardize their futures.

Rather than imprisoning students in tasks that promote only lower-level thinking, NOW Classrooms provides resources that encourage planning lesson that asks students to think critically and solve problems. There are lessons about “identifying and defining tasks for investigation,” “planning and managing projects,” and “collecting, analyzing, and presenting data.” 

“We need to teach students that the process matters. They need to know how to appropriately set themselves up for success on a project from start to finish, whether they work independently or in a group.”

Ormiston 94

“The world needs broad thinkers who can analyze situations from multiple perspectives and understand when a problem has more than one solution. . . . Society needs people to take information analysis one step further by analyzing that information based on who gathered it and the point that he or she was trying to make. People need these skills because data driven decision making isn’t always the best way to make a decision — blindly accepting data could mean you make a decision based on skewed and biased data, rather than on results that accurately reflect their subject.”

Ormiston 101

Flush with applications and strategies to help students pivot to this mindset, Ormiston and the authors also note that these lessons help students manage the greatest commodity — time!

“Grades 9-12 students are just beginning to see that time is a limited resource, so learning to better manage their time helps increase their productivity while still allowing them the flexibility to do activities they enjoy.”

Ormiston 85-6

Technology and coding concepts won’t disappear; in fact, there will be more demand for employees with technology and coding skills with each passing year. 

“Students live in a dynamic, interactive, and virtual world. This reality makes it important that grades 9-12 students build strong digital portfolios to showcase what they know and can do.”

Ormiston 132

Ormiston addresses this need for students to hone their technical skills in the sixth chapter. She encourages teachers to carve out space for students to “showcase […] work online,” “manage and troubleshoot devices,” try their hands at “coding and developing applications.”

“The gig economy is one in which full-time jobs are becoming scarcer, while contract and freelance work, temporary work, and self-employment become more commonplace. . . . marketing one’s professional capabilities online is a part of our students’ future.”

Ormiston 132

“The reality of living in a digital world is that students must know how to deal with devices that malfunction, when to switch between different types of devices to achieve better outcomes, and how to connect different devices to accomplish tasks.”

Ormiston 140

To be honest, there’s more than I could ever master in this book. Making technology and professional skill an integral part of one’s classroom is no small feat. 

“make these skills part of core classroom instruction, connected to relevant learning topics, and not just part of a separate computer lab that doesn’t connect with academic learning goals.”

Ormiston 155

Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Sometimes you have no idea where to start. NOW Classrooms is an enjoyable place to start. The authors of this book — teachers themselves — understand this and write directly for teachers trying to meet the needs of their 21-century students in a holistic way. 

“as a teacher, you do not have to become an expert in computer programming to help your students . . . .You only need to act as a supporter and facilitator who encourages students to persevere through programming challenges.”

Ormiston 149

Here is a list that I organized of the applications and resources Ormiston and the authors recommend. Still, reading the book and the processes along with these resources are great ways to start morphing the classroom to fit the needs of our students.

Support local bookshops by getting your copy of Ormiston’s NOW Classrooms Grades 9-12: Lessons for Enhancing Teaching Learning Through Technology, or you can get it on Bookshop.org, and part of the proceeds will go to independent bookstores across the country. That’s totally awesome! Check out why supporting local businesses (just like supporting technology in the classroom!) ensures a brighter future for all of us.

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