I just spent three awesome days working with teachers (and parents) at Taipei European School, British Primary School Section, in Taiwan, and as always, even (especially) when I’m facilitating the conversations, I’m learning so much!

This visit focused on modeling a coaching conversation with teams to help them work towards the transformation level of SAMR for an upcoming unit. I know it’s super geeky, but this is pretty much one of my all time favorite things to do. I love thinking and talking about curriculum, I love designing units and learning experiences for students (and teachers) and I love love love seeing the passions of teachers come out in these kinds of conversations. And, of course, this trip was no exception.

3 Steps to Transforming Learning in Your Classroom

Over my three days with TES, I realized there are 3 key elements (that can be phrased as questions you can ask yourself as you’re designing your unit) to transforming student learning in your classroom (SAMR-style). For those that are familiar with backwards planning or the Understanding by Design process, you will see lots of similarities here.

 Step 0: Focus on the Learning

Ask Yourself: What do you want students to know and be able to do?

I’ve included this here because although I think for many teachers it is almost too obvious to mention, it’s something that’s easy to forget when you are excited and enthusiastic about new tools or technology available to you.

However, I really do believe the most important step in designing a technology-rich unit is ensuring that you are starting with the student learning goals and outcomes for whatever content area you’re working on. A key question to ask yourself is: What do you want students to know and be able to do at the end of this unit? Or: What is the big picture understanding that you want student to take away from this learning that goes well beyond this course and this academic year.

Ensuring that you focus on the curriculum first means that content drives the use of technology, rather than the technology. Once you know what you want students to know and be able to do, then you can start thinking about the ways that technology can help students build their understanding, and/or demonstrate their learning.

Some strategies could be:

  • thinking about the big understanding that you want students to take away beyond the scope of this class, this academic year or even their school years overall
  • asking yourself “so what? Why is this important?”
  • fine tuning your learning objectives into a simple statement (or question for student inquiry) that you can share with students

Step 1: Make It Relevant

Ask Yourself: How can your students relate to this content in their daily lives or experiences?

Once you know what you want students to know and be able to do, then you can start thinking about how students can demonstrate their understanding. Often this inspires a final product that students can create to demonstrate their understanding (and usually there are lots of interesting ways to bring technology into a final product). Other times it means many smaller opportunities throughout the unit to help students build understanding or document their learning.

As you’re thinking about either a final product that students can create, or those opportunities to document learning or build understanding, a guiding idea that can inspire new ways of thinking about your unit is to ask yourself: how can my students relate to this topic in their daily lives? What about this topic is relevant to students today? How do we see this topic demonstrated in the world around us?

One of the reasons I like to think about relevance for students is because this is a great way to tap into their personal interests or passions as they are learning your content. The more real and relevant you can make your content, the more engaged students will be. This doesn’t mean that we’re always shooting for the most “trendy” topics or emulating social media stars, instead the idea is to explore how your content is relevant in today’s world so that the work you are asking students to do can potentially be work that matters or makes a difference in the world today.

Some strategies could be:

  • highlighting where your content is featured in the news
  • having students work towards solving real world challenges (like plastic waste in the oceans)
  • find an authentic problem within your local community to focus student inquiry (like wasting food in the cafeteria or liter in the local streests)
  • use real-world data to analyze content (like real climate or earthquake data in a science project)

Step 2: Real World Task

Ask Yourself: What would a professional in this field do?

As you are designing your unit and thinking about that relevant final product, or relevant documentation of student learning, it’s useful to consider how this content is shared, demonstrated or created in the world outside of school. For example, if students are learning about history, what would a historian do with this content?

Although it can sometimes be challenging to develop an age appropriate task, especially in the lower primary, that a “real professional” would engage in, the act of taking time to think about exactly how this kind of content is used in the professional world can spark some creative and innovative ideas for student work. Of course, looking at actual real world examples of your content in context is also a great way to share the relevance of your subject area with your students.

Some strategies could be:

  • reference role models in this field
  • invite experts (via Skype or Google Hangouts) into your classroom
  • model student assessment tasks after the real world work in that field, for example using text types like a risk assessments done by an insurance company, annual reports for global corporations, news reports by journalists, scientific journals, etc
  • thinking about the way you learn about this topic, for example when learning how to use your a new device in the home, you may watch a video tutorial online, rather than reading the instruction manual
  • reflect the way we learn about new content outside of school, so even if your students can’t create the actual product that a real world professional would, identify how the average person might out about this content, for example, although you might not read the original source material from a scientific journal, you might find out about nuclear waste storage in the US through a John Oliver clip on YouTube, or the use of 3D printed body part replacements through a video on Facebook.

Step 3: Authentic Audience

Ask Yourself: Who cares about this work?

At this point in your curriculum development, you will have thought of a curriculum focused, relevant to students, real-world task for your students to create. The next step in the path to transformation is to identify who is the audience for this work? Aside from the immediate class (and family) community, who else in the world would be interested in this work? Often times, when we are trying to help our students have an authentic audience, we think we can simply publish to the web (YouTube, a blog post, a Twitter feed, an Instagram account) and that automatically creates an authentic audience. But, the reality is, most of the work shared by students – unless there is a clearly identified and defined audience is rarely seen beyond their classmates, teacher and families.

Instead of just “putting their work online” can we, as teachers, help identify and find a real authentic audience who will actually be interested in the content that students are sharing. This could be a local audience within the school community, the town or the country, or it could be more global. Either way, an “audience” is not as simple as just putting the work online. It’s also important to note an authentic audience is not simply a “showcase” of student work – either in person (as is often done at the end of units), or online. The goal is to find actual people who are interested in the work that students are doing who have an authentic interest in exploring their creations.

Some strategies could be:

  • sharing student learning in an already existing space that others use to make informed decisions: book reviews on Amazon or GoodReads, recipes on recipies.com, or updates to a wikipedia page.
  • sharing student perspectives in an established forum, like submitting podcasts to NPR “Perspectives” or “Student Voices“, or written opinions to a “letter to the Editor” on an appropriate publication.
  • finding another class that studies the same content and developing a collaborative project with purposeful interactions so that students get feedback on their work both throughout the project and as a final evaluation.
  • contributing creations to a global community like Sketchup files to the 3D warehouse, writing to the many fan fiction forums, or IKEA hacks to the IKEA hackers site.
  • using tools with built in community to promote student voices, like Medium for writing, Soundcloud for audio, Flickr for photos.
  • creating a book for the iBookstore, podcasts for iTunes, or an app for the App Store or Google Play.
  • and of course, the ultimate, help students develop an audience for their thinking by developing their own personal learning network in whatever space resonates with them.

What’s Next: Making It Work

Once you have this awesome idea you want to implement in your classroom, it might seem overwhelming to bring so many different elements together: from the exciting new product you’d like students to create, to teaching and exploring the content in different ways, to the technology tools you feel like you have to master…

But don’t worry, this is going to be the subject of my next post! Structuring learning to scaffold students for success in a technology rich classroom is another favorite topic I love talking (or in this case, writing) about! Keep your eyes peeled for another post soon!

Learn More: Microcrential Cohorts Starting Soon!

If any (or all of this) sounds interesting to you, please check out our new Eduro Learning microcredentials that launch on September 28th. We have something for every teacher (check out why Microcredentials are so great here):

The Coach: if you’re facilitating or leading conversations like these with teachers, learn how to take the conversation deeper, tackle difficult conversations (like when teachers don’t know what the student learning goals are), and how to lead the development of a vision of technology for learning which prioritizes transformational learning.

The Connected Teacher: if you’re a classroom teacher that wants to connect your classroom to the world, to build in that authentic audience on a regular basis, learn how to build your personal learning network, how to structure global projects, and how to help your students build the digital literacy skills they need to be successful when the world is their audience!

The 1:1 Teacher: if you’re in a 1:1 school and you want to take advantage of all the tech your school has to offer – but still keep the focus on the learning, the content and the curriculum, learn how to design technology-rich units that truly prioritize student learning, while still highlighting new and innovative uses for all of your devices!

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