Teaching in a 21st Century Classroom

| By Meryl Rubin

This summer, the DigitalJLearning Network had the pleasure of taking 15 Jewish Day School educators to the 2015 ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, PA. We asked the participants to share what they learned and how the conference inspired them to take action in their schools. Meryl Rubin, Third Grade Teacher at Yavneh Academy, shares her thoughts in the seventh installment in this new blog series.


Meryl RubinAt the end of June I, along with 15 other DJLN educators, had the pleasure of attending the ISTE conference in Philadelphia. From the minute I arrived, I kept on hearing that technology “is not the be all to end all.” What was going on? How could this be? Wasn’t this a technology conference?! If this was true, what WAS the key to creating a 21st century third grade classroom?

I attended many workshops on various topics but the two that stood out the most were "Blending & Flipping the Elementary Classroom" and "What Works in Supporting ALL Students in Blended & Personalized Learning." Both emphasized the importance of empowering students to take ownership of their learning, the need to keep students at the center of learning, and finally, using technology as a tool to support (not replace!) thoughtful instruction...The main theme was not technology itself, but the idea that if children feel part of the learning process, they better internalize the information, which leads to better understanding.

Classroom setup was also emphasized by many workshops. What does a 21st century class LOOK like? Designing a more modular classroom allows for more collaborative work between students and teachers. No longer is the norm just students sitting in rows facing the board. Students now sit in clusters or at tables so that they can talk to each other and help one another. I am hoping to have my students’ seating become more flexible, sitting in different clusters depending on the subject. I also need to set aside a flexible place where I can meet with smaller groups of students throughout the day to enable differentiation.

Blended learning is being able to seamlessly mix traditional learning and learning with technology. The more workshops I went to, the more ideas I came up with for the upcoming school year. For example, when I teach multiplication, I will first introduce the basic concepts to the entire class in a traditional format. Those children who readily grasp the concept can then work at their own pace using teacher-designated websites and materials, including online activities and videos for reinforcement. This will allow me to then provide more individualized attention to those students who require additional support. To support constant assessment of the students I could potentially also use quick, fun assessment tools like Kahoot! and Nearpod.

For reading lessons, some student might prefer to read from an ebook, or listen to a book on tape instead of reading from a regular book. During reading time, children can also read at their own pace rather than all together. Assessment might be in the form of an Aurasma (an augmented reality app), a PicCollage (an app which allows children to demonstrate understanding of a text through pictures and words), or Google Slides (students can create a slideshow about what they have read). Not everything has to be in essay or presentation form as before. And how cool would it be for students studying the rainforest to actually “go” to the rainforest using Skype?

This coming school year, I see my third grade class metamorphosing into a very exciting environment. I envision my class no longer being that "quiet" classroom, but rather a vibrant, vocal, and vivacious class, where children are talking, collaborating, and helping one another - a space where I, the teacher, am there to not only facilitate their learning but to guide them on their paths to becoming critical thinkers. My main takeaway from ISTE is that technology needs to be really integrated into the curriculum wisely and not simply stand alone. I look forward to creating a truly 21st century classroom!


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