Today I met all of my 123 new Spanish II students. After a summer of planning, tweeting, writing, networking and attending tech conferences it all finally came together. What a monumental day for all of us! Upon entering my classroom, many students were
happy to see that the seats were arranged in groups. Just about every teacher in my building had them in straight rows, for the first day at least. But I thought that in order for my students to understand how my 21st Century classroom will function, it was best to let them experience it from day one.
After discussing the syllabus, I told my students to take out their smartphones and to go on our class website. Some were suspicious of this request and asked if I was going to take up their phones. I suppose my fame precedes me. I imagine they had been clearly told by the rest of their teachers that under no circumstances were they to have their phones out or the phones would be taken to the assistant principal for the remainder of the school day. The few students who did not have smartphones were assigned one of the five Android tablets in my room. Hesitatingly, they managed to get on the class website, where I had posted a couple of videos for them to view. The first one was an animated video created on http://goanimate.com in which two students discuss the new Spanish teacher. The animated characters discussed the “Spanish Button,” which requires the exclusive use of Spanish in the classroom. The second video contained constructive advice from last year’s honor/dual enrollment class to the new crop of Spanish students. They were quite delighted by this personal message for them. I then had them complete a poll question on how they feel about their new class. Sadly, they did not all choose, “I am excited about the class and can’t wait to get started.” Apparently, not all of them share my excitement.
We finally went to our new e-textbook, a Spanish course that is entirely online. After receiving their User ID, my students were able to log on to the first chapter. I explained to my surprised and literally speechless classes that I would only spend a minimal amount of time in front of them explaining concepts on the Promethean Board. Rather than participating in the usual drill and repeat sessions, they would now work in their groups on the e-textbook site and complete the work on their electronic devices. My role would be more that of a facilitator rather than the usual drill sergeant, as I would move from group to group to assist them in their learning.
The 21st Century classroom finally has arrived in my Spanish class in the small town of Sweetwater, Tennessee. It truly matters not where one lives. It is entirely possible to change the traditional classroom to an inviting learning environment that encourages inquiry, discovery and self-reliance. There are undoubtedly a few hurdles to overcome as not every single student will have his or her own electronic device, and the WIFI will certainly not be functional every single day of the school year. I have been in public education for 27 years now, but this will by far be the most progressive year of my career. It is entirely possible to move from theory to practice. “Let’s stop dreaming and start doing,” as the Home Depot commercial suggests.