Constructivist Teaching With Technology: 21st Century Education
Karl Fisch and Anne Smith
Arapahoe High School
Centennial, Colorado
Arapahoe High School has implemented an ongoing development program focusing on constructivism and the use of technology to create a more student-centered approach to teaching and learning. For the past three years, teachers have met approximately once every three weeks to explore learning theory (constructivism), teaching practices (pedagogy), and the use of technology to facilitate learning (21st century learning skills). This presentation will share what we have learned from our staff development efforts and focus on some of the skills, abilities and habits of mind we believe students need to be successful in the 21st century. We will also include specific examples of how instruction in classrooms has changed (and in some cases, transformed).


Karl Fisch has been a teacher for nineteen years. He has taught middle and high school math and is currently Director of Technology at Arapahoe High Schoolin Centennial, Colorado. He is the project leader of Arapahoe's Curriculum Innovation Team, leading the staff development efforts for 21st Century Learners, a group of teachers exploring constructivism and 21st century learning skills. He invites you to join the conversation at The Fischbowl.

Anne Smith has been a teacher for nine years and currently teaches Freshmen English and English World Literature. She is a member of the Curriculum Innovation Team and a participant in the first cohort of 21st Century Learners. She invites you to join the conversation at Learning and Laptops.
Please feel free to ask questions during and after presentation (we are used to being interrupted), and continue to ask questions after the presentation via blogger, email, skype, etc.

Purpose and Overview
We are here to start a conversation that we think is important one to have with our students, faculties, administrators, school boards, communities. We want to leave time at the end of our presentation for conversation so bear with us so that we can talk with you about what we have seen in our school and the changes we feel are necessary in order to prepare our students to be successful in the 21st century. This is a conversation that necessitates your participation in order to create the change that is so desperately needed in our educational system. In the 21st Century, our focus needs to change to a more student centered approach to learning where students are in charge of their own learning, they are expected to participate, to produce information representative of their understanding of the world around them- they need to be expected to have a say in their education/learning. For years, kids have done the compliant side of education completing the tasks assigned to them. It is easy for them to do exactly as they are told, to follow clear instructions. But once these students are asked to think on their own, to demonstrate their own understanding, they balk. We as teachers can easily teach compliance; what so more difficult to do is to teach independent learning, to encourage students to take charge of their own education. We as educators want our students to be passionate about their learning in order for them to become life-long, continual learners. In order to do this, we must be willing to let go some of the control of the classroom and instead empower our students with the expectation that instead of having learning done to them, they do learning.

Why we felt the need for change: About This Blog
Setup of Staff Development - how are we doing this: The Beginning

Did You Know?
Read Did You Know? for original context, then watch. (Ramifications of how this has spread for our students). More info on the wiki.

Staff Development - Setup, Implementation, Successes and Challenges
  • Curriculum Innovation Team (CIT) - planning team, cross disciplinary
    • Faculty meeting-introduce idea
    • Email to entire staff
    • Pseudo application process
    • Cohort 1 (C1) first year, then Cohort 2 (C2) second year
    • Grass roots - provide teachers purpose, time, opportunity, and hopefully resources - then trust them
  • Meetings:
    • About every three weeks, three hours
    • Year-long plan, but constantly adjusting after each session
    • Theory piece, pedagogy/classroom piece, tech piece
    • Release time: don't miss same classes, time of day varies, am and pm meetings
    • Utilize special days: in-service days, finals
      • ideally new calendar proposal would add built in time
    • Teachers need time to be reflective and collaborative
  • Growing Pains
    • Too big too fast?
    • We still think we did well but would do some things differently
      • CIT team too busy implementing to help teach
      • development of CIT team for C2
    • Mentor/mentee relationship between C1 and C2

Implementation of Staff Development - what does a typical day look like**
  • Class time:
    • Part theory, part pedagogy/classroom practice, part technology
    • Use actual examples or time to brainstorm in collaborative groupings- how would we use this in our classrooms?
    • Across the curriculum participants, different experience levels, teaching methods vary
    • Books That Influence
    • Speakers from a variety of sources: using people in our school, in our district, outside of our district
    • Teacher teaching teachers- no top down approach- grass roots efforts, multiple leaders
  • Participants participating: teachers teaching each other
    • All need to step-up and teach one another, be leaders. Best sessions are ones with least amount of direction from planning team
    • Example class syllabus: C1 Year 2, C2 Year 1
    • Year long outlook, but constantly adjusting after each session, feedback is critical

Successes and Challenges
  • Grass roots, bottom up
  • Sometimes baby steps, sometimes leaps and bounds
  • Teachers are worried about changing - read What If? for context, then watch:

  • They don't like it when they don't know what the end result will look like. Read 2020 Vision for context, then watch:

Creating a Professional Learning Environment
  • Tables, rolling chairs, discussion set-up, see all participants: need to invest in infrastructure
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Skills for the 21st Century
In a rapidly changing world, in a world of abundance, what should our students know and be able to do? How do we balance content versus skills? We're not saying content isn't important, it is. It's necessary, but not sufficient, for our students to be successful in the 21st century. We convened a panel last June of eight prominent business folks to have a discussion with the teachers in our staff development about what they thought our students needed in order to be successful both in their companies and as citizens in the 21st century. While they all agreed content was still important, they also de-emphasized it. They indicated that their employees could learn the specific content they needed while on the job, but what they needed was the ability to collaborate, to work globally with a diverse group of constantly changing co-workers, to understand different cultures - both countries and companies cultures - and to thrive while doing that. They needed critical thinking skills, presentation skills, collaboration skills, and yes, even technology skills. They needed to be flexible, be able to adapt, and be willing to constantly learn and relearn. They don't need employees that just know "content," because the content is changing too quickly.

What should "school" look like in a world where almost all factual information is literally a click away? How do we change a system that is based on an industrial age model to reflect the realities of today and the years to come? Our schools were purposefully designed on a factory model, moving our students along an assembly line like widgets, all of them being worked on for the same amount of time and all of them theoretically coming out the same at the end. Should schools in the 21st century, which not only not an industrial age, but is probably in some unnamed post-informational age (Daniel Pink calls it the Conceptual Age), utilize the same framework? We think there needs to be some serious conversations about this in our communities. What should classrooms look like when the teacher and textbook are not the sole sources of information anymore? When almost undoubtedly students have access to more information about any given topic than the teacher "knows" in their head. How do we help students develop their own personal learning networks, to take charge of their own learning and build their own capacity to be life-long, continual learners?

What does it mean to be literate in the 21st century? When most of us were growing up, being literate basically meant being able to read. We've done a lot of work in this area in schools in the last 20 or 30 years, and being literate means much more than that now - in terms of reading and understanding, writing and communicating, and also being mathematically and scientifically literate. But we still feel schools have a long way to go to understand what it truly means to be literate in the 21st century. Reading and writing, thinking and understanding, analyzing and synthesizing information is very different on the web than in traditional print; it's very different in our ever-flattening world with instantaneous global communication and collaboration - are we teaching our students this? Do we even know how to do it ourselves?

Classroom Examples

Please keep in mind that these are not all "stellar" classroom examples. We feel some of these are quite good, others are mediocre, but we share them all in the hopes of furthering the conversation.

Students as active participants in their own learning, as producers - not just consumers - of information.

Students as Collaborators

Personalized Learning/Community Based
  • Personal Learning Networks -

Math Bloggers: Darren Kuropatwa, Dan Meyer, more
**Science Bloggers**

Continue the Conversation - within your department, your school, with us, with others around the world.
Purpose is to create a conversation. Belief that we can change the world. We are taking the steps to make changes, sometimes they feel like baby steps, but we are taking steps forward. Teachers at times are worried about changing. They don't like it when they don't know what the end result will look like. However, they need to put themselves out there as well as as administrators. We all need to try. That is what we ask kids to do everyday is to try something new and different, try to improve. Why can't we ask that of our colleagues and ourselves? At times it also comes down to a struggle between content/curriculum versus knowledge and understanding. We're not saying that content knowledge isn't valuable, it is. Having content knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient, to be successful in the 21st century. The power of the technology is to transform teaching and learning as we know it. To make it more student-centered, more individualized (yet also more community-based), more relevant, more meaningful. It allows each student to connect to each other, to the world, to knowledge, to learning, in the way(s) that works best for that student. We think the skills and abilities and habits of mind that ubiquitous access to technology would help us develop in our students are ones that are really hard to measure. How do you measure creativity? Or the ability to collaborate with others, both in the same room or across the planet (or beyond)? Or the ability to take in information from an almost inexhaustible supply, synthesize it, remix it, and then produce something that is of value to others? How do you measure imagination? How do you measure the ability to function in a flat, globally interconnected, technology-enabled, rapidly changing world? How do we measure the ability to learn how to learn? To know how to adapt, to reinvent yourself over and over again to meet the needs of a world that is changing at an exponential pace? How do you measure the ability to function in a world where all of human factual knowledge will be available practically instantaneously?
Questions to ask yourself and each other
  1. Where are you in terms of 21st Century teaching and learning?
  2. Is the 21st Century a fundamentally different place for learning?
  3. Do you have a vision for where you want to be as an educator? for your department? for your school?
  4. Where do you hope for your school to be in 5 years? 10 years?
  5. What support do you need to achieve/teach these 21st Century skills?
  6. What does it mean to be literate in the 21st Century?
  7. What should “school” look like in a world where almost all factual information is literally a click away?
  8. How do we teach our students to be safe, responsible and ethical users of the Internet and other information resources?
  9. In a rapidly changing world, how do we balance content versus skills?
  10. How are you utilizing the technology to help your students learn and grow? Do you blog personally or professionally? What do you know about social bookmarking? Podcasting? Wikis? RSS Feeds? Do you use an RSS Aggregator?
  11. What kind of technology training and staff development does your school/district provide? Is it useful?
  12. What kind of "personal professional development" are you participating in using the resources on the web? Who's in your learning network?
  13. Have you heard of connectivism?
  14. Are you discussing the implications of The World is Flat, A Whole New Mind, and Did You Know? and what they mean for your students, your teaching, your school?
  15. Are you ever going to be 18 again? Are your students ever going to be your age? Should we be preparing our students for the world as it was like when we were 18, or for the world as it’s going to be when they are our age? – Our staff development blog. Please join the conversation.

Fischbowl Presentations (What If?, Did You Know?,Did You Know? Version 2.0, 2020 Vision, Student/Teacher Thoughts, 180 Days)
– Our blog exploring/documenting the use of laptop computers. Please join the conversation.