Snapshots: 20th vs 21st century Learning

A snapshot of one of a high school class in the 20th century:

Students walk into class and take a seat in one of the rows that faces the teacher’s desk. As soon as the bell rings the students take out their spiral notebooks and listen to the teacher’s lecture.  The teacher puts a transparency on the overhead with an notes and students copy what is written.  Sometimes the teacher asks a question about the reading or material they have been studying.  The questions are recall and as long as they listened to the lecture carefully enough they can respond. They never speak to other students in class about the material and they never work in groups.   A multiple choice exam is given at the end of the unit.  Content is merely covered, not investigated.


A snapshot of a high school classroom in the 21st century:

Students walk in and take a seat with their groups.  The teacher poses a question to get them thinking about the day’s topic.  After writing a response in their notebooks, they are asked to turn and discuss with the other three students near them.  During the discussion they add any new insights to their notes.  A whole class discussion is then led, with the teacher facilitating by posing questions and probing thinking.  The questions are open-ended and require students to move beyond surface level.  Next, students work in their groups on a common Google Doc as they investigate the topic further through research conducted on the databases and on credible websites.  They write claims, support those claims with evidence, and then elaborate.  Additionally, they consider the larger picture for society and return back to the essential question posed at the beginning of class. Students post their responses on Google Classroom by the end of the period.  Homework that night includes reading and responding to what other groups have posted on Google Classroom, offering feedback and new insights to the discussion.




What is the difference between the two snapshots?  In which classroom would you place your own children?  Which teacher requires students to think critically,  communicate,  collaborate, and use creativity?  Which snapshot most closely resembles your own classroom?

We often teach the way we were taught and most of us were taught using a teacher-centered model.  However, the jobs we are preparing our students for require the four C’s outlined above and the teacher-centered model simply does not allow for developing the skills they need.  Students should be investigators in our content areas.  They need questions that pique their interests.  Ask them to be curious about our world.  My daughter’s second grade teacher asks them to put on their ‘scholar hats’ as they investigate new ideas.  As a result, she has been asking insightful questions about the way things work and how things are run.  Consider challenging yourself by building in more of the C’s into your daily lessons.   Ask your students more questions.  Craft experiences that allow them to investigate content, not merely memorize it.

Snapshots of 21st century classrooms at Hart High:

Becky Nelson -Biology

Remember building atoms with marshmallows and toothpicks?  That is soooo 20th century.  Brandon Koontz and Becky Nelson are using the interactive simulation on to help their students build atoms right on their Chromebooks.  The Chromebooks are touchscreen so students can drag protons and neutrons with their fingers.  The best part?  They receive immediate feedback and are allowed multiple opportunities to investigate and build their atoms correctly.  At the end of class the students reflect on the essential question posed and write responses. (The best part? No sticky fingers!)


Robert Tilles -U.S. History

Robert took his students on a virtual tour of Ellis Island.  Standing at the door, he welcomed them and, to make the experience authentic, he barked some orders as he hurried them along to their destinations.  Taped to the door was a sign that read “Welcome to the United States!”  Under it was a portion of the poem on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


Robert had his class analyze this poem prior to the day’s lesson,  discussing word choice such “huddled masses” “wretched”and “golden door.”  Studying the way language is crafted hits Reading Standard 4 (one of this semester’s anchor standards!) which reads: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.  Social Studies teachers have many opportunities to discuss language and how it has shaped our society, how it has been used as propaganda, and how it helps define our very identity within a culture.

The best part of the virtual tour through Ellis Island was the multi media.  Students learned first-hand what it was like to be an immigrant as they viewed pictures, listened to audio, and watched video.  Every single student was engaged in the experience, busy recording the new information learned.  Reading a textbook simply could not have given them such a rich experience, bringing history to life as they went on a virtual field trip right in the classroom.



Thank you Becky and Robert for sharing a snapshot of your teaching lives with us!









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