Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NextLesson - A Recommended Resource for 21st Century Learning

Current trends in education support the development of collaboration, critical thinking, inquiry and acquisition of 21st century skills.  While there is huge cache of lessons, materials, poster and memes available, in many cases, educators may find it difficult to imagine what this would look like in the classroom.  The challenge for educators is weaning themselves away from the textbooks and worksheets and substitute quality activities to their students without a great expenditure of time and frustration. 

NextLesson (http://www.nextlesson.org/) is a great resource for educators committed to trying these new approaches - whether they are early adapters or newly on board.  NextLesson is a resource that supports teachers trying to engage students.  Website based, NextLesson provides a vast database of projects, lessons and performance tasks, all of which is searchable by subject, grade level and 21st century skills.  (I like being able to search using criteria such as collaboration or self-monitoring.)

A few years ago I had the very great pleasure of attending a Keynote Speech given by Dan Meyers, a noted mathematics educator.  His advice was to encourage inquiry, collaboration and critical thinking through math instruction and activity.  I was thrilled to find many of the lessons available on NextLesson are adapted from Meyer’s 3 Act Math activities - providing the inquiry questions, resources and guidance for the activity. 

NextLesson’s newest offering are their Performance Tasks & 21st Century Math.  The idea is to provide real life scenarios with real data and real challenges.  The lessons are ready to go and require little or no preparation on the part of the teacher.  A good example is the Spoonful of Sugar series for Grade 6 Math.  Students are given the assignment from the point of view of a nutritionist interested in raising awareness of the sugar consumption in children.  Students do the math - complete charts, compare rates and rations and graph the result.  They are challenged to apply critical thinking to analyze the results,  They are given a final challenge that involves research and critical thinking, exposed to a glossary that includes diabetes and given job background information on nutritionists including salary, training and job outlook - a nice comeback for that “Why do we need to learn this?” question.   I like that many of these performance tasks involve students in cross curricular activities.  Some even require that students have read a book….a great way to connect literacy and numeracy  

Another great resource is the lesson The Box Project:  What can you make with a cardboard box?   As someone whose students participate in the Cardboard Challenge, Genius Hour and other design activities, this introduction to project based learning is a great jumping off point for inspiring students to use boxes for something completely different.  This lesson includes a supply list, step by step guides, resources, planning and reflecting sheets and more.  These can be adapted to any other theme including projects for Genius Hour.  

The downside of NextLesson is that while many of the resources are free, to get full access there is a monthly fee.  Despite that, there are many free options available - using data from the Android App Store, Minecraft, CSI Investigations, NBA, NFL and the Cost of Smoking.  Why do we need a resource like this?  It is because educators are being asked to re-create the classroom, often with little or no support.   This is the replacement for the binder handed to you by an experienced teacher and well worth checking out.  I strongly urge every educator to check out the website and try a performance task with your class.