Moving learning into the 21st century…

We had a great time in our collaborative planning session this week, moving one of our Year 5 inquiry units into the 21st century. It’s an exploration of plants and how they grow, in conjunction with hands-on work in our school kitchen-garden, and an inquiry into the environmental conditions that affect plant growth.

What’s changed?

21st century

They used to… do leaf rubbings with paper and pencil to see what leaves look like.

Now they will use an iPad magnifier app to look at leaves up close.

They used to… draw diagrams and label the parts of a plant.

Now they will choose their own species, research it themselves and create an animated slideshow of its parts.

They used to…. grow bean plants and watch them grow.

Now they will take a photo of their beans every day and create a stop motion video showing the growth process.

They used to… do experiments related to plant growth and write scientific reports for the teacher.

Now they will film their experiments and upload them to their class blogs with their reports, to enable comments from the wider community.

They used to… read about different kinds of plants that grow in other places and how they adapt to their environment.

Now they will message people around the world to send a photo of a plant that grows where they live, so that they can discuss and analyse their findings.

In each case, it is the learning that drives the technology. In each case, the students will be more engaged. In each case, the learning will be richer and deeper.

Let me know if you are willing to send a photo next month, especially if you live in an environment different from ours here in Melbourne!

28 thoughts on “Moving learning into the 21st century…

  1. Edna, it sounds like your teachers will lead their students through a learning journey of connection and empowerment. The plan looks like the students will bring their own knowledge and experiences to the Inquiry, and are never considered ‘blank slates’. The ICT tools will be used to connect with other thinkers like themselves, who notice what’s going on in their own backyard. The online publishing/posting will be more than ‘show and tell’ blogging when the students explain the process of their own learning and change in thinking – how exciting!
    Will the students choose their own method of research and presenting with their own preferred ICT tools and learning styles? How difficult is this for the classroom teacher to manage?
    As always, thanks for the opportunity to think and contribute.


    1. Hi Brette

      These were all ideas generated in the planning session. There will be more to the unit than this, depending on what directions the student questions take the inquiries. As far as choice is concerned, we recently ran a session showing the Year 5s a range of presentation tools and gave them time to explore in pairs how they work. Gradually building up a toolbox to allow the learners more choice in how they do things.
      The ICT facilitator and teacher librarian (ours is much more than that) were in the session and they know what support is required. They both work on flexible timetables, meaning teachers can invite and book them to work with whole class or small groups, as required. (Or even one on one with teachers themselves).
      Thanks for the support and conversation, as always.


  2. Hi Edna,
    I read your post with awe! Well it’s the natural progression of modernity isn’t it? -what USED to be and what is NOW!

    I could send you a photo of a large peppermint eucalypt gum from Badger Creek,(Yarra Valley, 65km east of Melb!) they are awesome, and then in another 100 years someone else who reads this post can send a photo of it’s slow growth!! Ha! That is time management.
    Thanks (always) for the read of your posts.


  3. Wow! I would love to be a student in that class! What a great evolution of the inquiry process. When you look at all of your “used to’s” they are also great examples of inquiry but you have just moved them forward and integrated the new technology available. Very inspiring and motivating – for both the students and teachers! (And those of us reading this post :-0 )


    1. Thanks, Pam. There are 4 classes and I am sure it will look different in each class. I wonder if all the teachers will decide to incorporate all those ideas. I really hope they do and they can get as much support as they need. We have come so far in the past year or so, just by taking one small step at a time.


  4. I am also really impressed. I am trying to take baby steps in incorporating ICT tools in my classes, but I feel so much curriculum pressure (I am teaching mainly 10th grade), so it is really baby steps. I would love to send your students pictures from Norway, but in a month there might not be very much green to take a picture of here – a great opportunity to learn about our beautiful globe!


  5. One of the students at Anastasis Academy was showing me a great iPad app they have been using in their inquiry unit. It’s called Leaf Snap. And my 3rd-5th graders would love to send a picture (or pictures) of plants here. We just went on a field trip to the mountains and gathered specimens and took pictures! 🙂


  6. This has really made me think about the way I teach scientific enquiry. In fact, I think I’ll start again. This week, I have taught about floating and sinking in exactly the way you described the way it ‘used to’ be taught.

    I need a complete rethink. I am a teaching headteacher in a small school and, when stretched, I revert to my ‘default’ position which is the way I was taught.

    Does anyone else have any other advice for how to drag myself, and my teaching, into the 21st century?


  7. Hi! We’re actually doing our Year 5 Exhibition on plants (this week actually!!) – and I just read all of your ideas and got really excited for our planning in two years time! We don’t have any ipads in our school but I have one myself and I’m part of the ICT committee and trying to encourage some headway with introducing more technology into our Units of Inquiry. I really enjoy reading about what other teachers do with their units – I’m only in my second year of teaching in an IB school and I haven’t had much of a chance to do much T&D so I really enjoy your site!


  8. I think this is probably the clearest example I have seen about how education had changed for our kids. Thank you for putting this out there in such clear laguage.

    I would love to help you out. In about a month our leaves will be changing color so I can definitely share some photos with you!


  9. I’ll send photos of the plants in Switzerland next month – it will be autumn and the leaves will be changing colour on some trees but not on others. This may provoke some questions about how some plants adapt to the changing seasons.


  10. This is great, and of course the tech opens up a host of new opportunities for doing things with learners that breaks out of the old routine. I just want to suggest that we also need to provide what Schiller called an aesthetic education – one that sensitises children to the world beyond technology and the world beyond chatter. With every class we do things like planting trees once a year and afterwards I get the kids to switch off all their mobile devices, take out their earphones, and sit down in silence for two minutes just to listen to the sound of the wind blowing through the pine needles. It is a unique sound (and impossible to record on a mobile phone). I also insist that once a year we meet up at night on the hillside and lie down in silence to watch the stars (again, impossible to photograph or digitally record the experience). I say nothing about the point of the exercises. I just hope they (or some of them) get a sense of truths beyond tech, beyond photographs and beyond words.


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