conferring · research

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?

11 thoughts on “21st Century Research

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. In our school we have carts of laptops shared by two classrooms, so have felt lucky to always have tech on hand. On the other hand… your experience addresses issues we still deal with. It takes time to get the laptops out (notable in a 45 min class), the log on to the network slowly and we occasionally have issues with lost work or other student efficiency issues — each of which were improved in your students’ brief experience of using their own resources. It is something to consider — although, like most things, not foolproof. In a recent persuasive project where our 8th graders met at home to film & compile a video ad, the portion of time that might normally have been spent logging on was now spent addressing conversion issues: video files on Macs that had to be uploaded to a youtube account (that I had to create, for security’s sake) in order to play on PCs. This included pulling our school IT guy upstairs twice to discuss trouble one student was having with the software he’d used at home: I couldn’t take ten minutes out of class to try to figure out what he had done and it took our IT guy 2 visits to realize the student had selected the wrong option for saving. Another team couldn’t get theirs to play on anything but their laptop, so suffered poor display options when they tried projecting the laptop image larger using a doc camera. Sometimes these hurdles are source for inventive solutions; this was not that kind of occasion. But that is why it helps so much to share experiences — we all sense there is a good solution in here, to help remove resistance so kids can maximize these 21st century options, and thinking it through and sharing successes and pitfalls helps us all be more confident to do it. So thank you so much for the post!


  2. LOVE THIS! I am late to read this and respond–busy week, but I recognized Shelley’s room right away, and it made me smile. The best part of this post is the best part of teaching: that is all about listening to and learning from students while facilitating learning experiences for them. Simply beautiful teaching!


  3. All I know, is I definitely need to wear my ‘cheaters’ all day long these days. I do relax with tech and those of us that were bitten early with the research bug is all rolled up in the word incredible! I’m a person that remembers Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine and always wanted a phone where I could see someones face as I talked. I remember when we didn’t have color …dare I say it, TV ? Yep, I am showing it…age ! Ruth, you aren’t even close. School like this is my dream. XO


  4. This reminds me of a comment (coming from the opposite direction) from one of my students today who asked, “How are we learning if we are on computers so much?” She prefaced it with telling me a friend asked. I reminded her of how much writing and reading we did on computers. That’s how we learn, I reassured her. I wonder how the friend would respond to using multiple devices for learning.


  5. I can so relate, Ruth! At the last TC workshop I attended, mary Ehrenworth talked abiout letting kids use their smartphones in class for researching, I was dubious until I tried this. Unbelievable. We can’t access ipads in our school for reasons I have yet to get a straight answer to, but smartphones work. My kids are so adept at working with a number of devices, and our time was very productive. It was a revelation to me, and to them.


  6. My phone is faster than my computer, even in my own home with the same wireless, so I compose the e-mails & send the links to myself per the teachers I work with. As for school, ours is open, but the tech person has many security worries that the kids will bring in a virus over our wireless network. It’s a challenge that will keep happening I guess. No, you’re not old Ruth, just in a different place. Thanks for telling about this. I’d love to see our students work with their own devices.


  7. I understand what you are saying Mary G… I have the same issues in my building.. plus my principal is not tech savvy so he sees it as a BIG problem waiting to happen.. no foresight frustrating when my head is swarming with ideas..I know my kids (6th graders) can handle it!!


  8. This is my dream! Instead, electronics are banned in my school unless they are the school’s because “who knows what they could have already downloaded on their devices.” Wake up to the 21st century and teach them these things…and consequences….


  9. You’re not old, you just haven’t tried it. I have kids who do it. And, truthfully, I’ve done it a time or two, for the same reasons he gave you (and I’m waaaay older than you.)


  10. It has nothing to do with age. It has to do with willingness. Given the challenge I am pretty certain that you would be able to do it, but you are probably multi-tasking in ways that no middle schooler could even fathom.


  11. Such as SCARY, new world of learning….and yet SO EXCITING and so FULL of POTENTIAL it is at the same time. I so worry about students getting lost in technology and its “bells and whistles of fun” and yet I know that the computer shapes my own evenings and is where I turn for growth and learning as well as relaxation these days!


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