21st Century Research

A 21st century research process in a middle school classroom.

A 21st century research process in a middle school classroom.

This is the view from the beginning of my day. Our middle schools are working toward an Academic Learning Fair. We are being intentional about considering Common Core standards and making shifts to meet the needs of 21st century learners. Today Shelley Kunkle invited her students to BYOT — Bring Your Own Tech. Most took her up on the offer. The rest of them used school tablets.

There were smart phones and iPods, Kindles and iPads, and even laptops. Previously we researched in one of the computer labs in the school. It was not efficient. Today, during the share session, I said, “Your work seemed more productive today. Did you feel like you were more productive with your time?”

There was an overwhelming positive response. “Talk to someone next to you about why today was so much more productive than other days.” Chatter filled the room. When they came back together, they shared these reasons for increased productivity:

  • We know how to use our own tech. We are comfortable with it.
  • It’s faster than the computer labs. I don’t have to wait for web pages to churn and then refresh 50 times.
  •  It’s easier to stay focused when everything is working and loading quickly.
  • I have my own space in the classroom.

Shelley and I were sold. Tomorrow (and for the remainder of the unit) they are invited to bring their own tech. As I was observing their work, another significant difference I noticed was they were all keeping notes. They had a sense of not only finding information and sources, but keeping it for later use. One student said, “It’s like the more I research, the more I find I need to know.”

Their processes are interesting to watch. I had to capture the above photo. He was not the only student in the room using two devices. I couldn’t help but to confer with him.

“What’s going on?”

“I’m researching.”

“Using your phone and your computer?” I tried to keep the suspicion out of my voice.

“Yeah. This way I can get more done. I don’t like waiting for things to load so if I use both devices I never have to wait. It’s easier to stay focused.”

“How do you keep all of the information organized?”

He clicked to a different tab in his web browser on his laptop. A compose email box appeared. “I email it to myself,” he said. Tonight I”ll probably look through it and delete what I don’t need and keep what I do.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. His work habits today were effective. Yesterday they left much to be desired. Today he was engaged. Yesterday he wouldn’t stop joking around with his friends. I looked at his web site choices. They were credible. I could teach him about note taking. Instead, I chose a brilliant and strategic conferring move:

“May I take a photo?”

He grinned and said, “Sure.”

I gave him specific feedback about his process and complimented him on his productivity. Then I snapped a photo and left him alone to do his work.

Am I officially old if I can never see myself using two devices for research?