When I became a ToSA for 21st-Century Instruction, the first question people asked me, of course, was “What is 21st-century instruction?” Some asked from a sense of irony: “I teach in the 21st century, so by definition everything I do is 21st-century instruction. Har.” Some asked from a sense of confusion: “Oh, OK. But what do you DO all day?” But most asked from a genuine desire to teach in an authentic and effective way for their 21st-century students: “Great! How do I do that? Give me a checklist, and I’ll mark off all the items. Then I’ll be a 21st-century educator.”
Needless to say, I had a certain amount of difficulty with a concise “elevator speech” to answer “What is 21st-century instruction?” I stuttered some things about meeting students where they are, and allowing students voice and choice, and having students produce authentic products, but none of these really answered the question. I had a shorter, preliminary version of the “21 shifts” that I showed to groups of teachers and administrators; they said they really liked the list, but it still was a collection of examples, not an overarching answer. I started to think about what was at the core of learning for our students: what fundamental skills did they need to be successful in a future that we couldn’t predict?
I was interrupted by a phone call from a teacher. “Have you heard anything about the Zambinify* app? It’s supposed to be the latest and greatest app to renobulate** our teaching, and I want to know if it would be good to use in my classroom.” I had never heard of this app, and knew nothing about it, but I promised the teacher I would do some research and get back to her.
The first thing I did was to open Google and search for Zambinify. I found a whole bunch of different resources, including reviews, screenshots, videos, descriptions, and revenue projections. I combed through them, identifying the ones that I thought were relevant, discarding the ones that weren’t. Several of the reviews contained information that conflicted with each other. I had to sort out the contradictions, deciding what was the real story, based on my reading as well as my understanding of the broader context. Once I did that, I had to figure out how well Zambinify would work in classrooms in our district, given the demographics, the technology in our community and in our classrooms, the abilities and preferences of our teachers, and the support of the technology department and of site administrators. Finally, I put it all in a brief email, including annotated screenshots, that explained the app and my recommendations for teachers, students, and administrators.
With that minor digression out of the way, I went back to considering 21st-century instruction.
*Not its real name. Apps have had their names changed to protect their privacy. -Ed.
**Not a real word. I have no idea what Fairchild is doing here. -Ed.