Skill + Will = Success

A recent New York Times article has stirred up some good conversation within the Lower and Middle Schools.

After thinking about this article a bit I thought that it would be within our best interest to get some expert insight on this topic.  So I reached out to a FaceBook friend who also presented here at USM to our faculty last summer to field a reaction from her.

Lainie Rowell is an independent professional developer and consultant. Her client list includes AppleNovember LearningCUE and EdTechTeam. She is also the Program Coordinator for Leading Edge Certification.  Here are Lainie’s thoughts on the article.

I would absolutely agree that technology is changing the way students learn. They are growing up in a different world than we did so naturally they have a different way of learning. The problem arises when we don’t change the way we teach or what we teach to reflect 21st century skills (

Our kids have more access to information and more people to learn from than any other generation. They are very aware that we don’t always teach things that have a real-world purpose. For example, the English teacher’s observation about depth and analysis of their written work… Are her students writing for an authentic audience? Do they have real purpose in their writing?

Here is Sir Ken Robinson doing a better job than I could making us think about what we have done in the past and the attention span issue…

USMs Third Grade Teacher Britta Willis’ view on this article.

This is definitely a buzz topic across the country right now, and it will be for the next couple of years.

First, to address the issue of perseverance, I believe that the students in our classrooms are pushed to persevere on a daily basis. Personally, I set high expectations in my classroom and expect that students consistently meet these expectations. This requires students to persevere.

Additionally, I do not believe that perseverance and technology are mutually exclusive. Technology can definitely build perseverance when the technology is used in the correct way.

In the beginning of the year, students did feel a sense of passion for their iPads. They enjoyed using them, and their eyes lit up when the word iPad was mentioned. Now, I have observed a shift in attitude and behavior, and students do understand that, at school, the iPad is a learning tool that can provide extraordinary opportunities for them to share, expand, and collaborate. They do not ask to use their gaming applications in the classroom anymore, and I am always thrilled when I receive a student’s at-home educational iPad creation. There is a strong difference between the student who was first introduced to their iPad as a gaming device compared with a student who first starting using it in the classroom solely as a learning tool. However, whichever way your child was introduced to the iPad, I believe there are ways to grow, shift, and change student behaviors and attitudes toward their device.

One step to developing a student’s perseverance is allowing them to experience failure. As technology grows and expands, problems do arise. Recently, the Educreations app was deleting student projects if they were not completed within the day. When a student’s project disappeared, my role was not to excuse the student from the assignment due to “technological errors,” but to use the experience as a teachable moment for problem solving, solution generating, and ultimately, fostering perseverance.

It is important that the same steps are taken at home when students are completing homework, with or without technology. When a problem arises, a question is unknown, or a technological error occurs, I encourage classroom parents to use it as a time to foster their child’s perseverance. A teacher will appreciate the initiative and problem solving skills from the child. If the first reaction of a parent is to email the child’s teacher or excuse the child from the assignment, they are missing the opportunity to foster this perseverance and are enabling the child to become dependent as well.

As the year progresses, classroom projects will certainly teach and foster perseverance. Some of these projects will include technology and others may not. For example, next week, third grade students will be starting The Pilgrim Simulation. During this simulation, students will work in groups of 3 or 4 to see how they would fare as Pilgrims entering the New World. They will depend on each other as a team for survival. At times, specific activities will require significant effort and perseverance. For example, to simulate the space Pilgrims had on the ship, students will be required to work with their team in a 6’ x 3’ block of the room. Additionally, this project is heavy in writing, and the expectations for their writing are very high. Students are required to edit, revise, and push to create a better, more thorough product for each of nine phases of the simulation.

Later in the year, students will be using their iPads and the Google Drive App to collaboratively write a nonfiction research paper. Again, students will be in groups of 3 or 4 students. Together, students will research, draft, edit, and revise a paper. As adults know, it takes effort and perseverance to work with a randomly chosen group of people to complete a task together. Group roles will have to be chosen and divided, writing styles come together as one, and each student’s opinions have to be shared and compromised in the process.

On a daily basis, math problems have to be completed in a given time period. In my classroom, students are required to orally share their thinking process with a partner for three problems each day. Students are expected to prioritize and choose during The Daily Five, and individual and small group attention gives the teacher the opportunity to build each student’s perseverance in a way that will lead them to persevere and grow according to their specific skills, talents, and potential.

With anything, the future is unknown. As an educator, I do my best to ensure that the assignments or projects I am introducing are ones that enable students to grow and persevere. I research and look at best practices from other schools that both use technology and do not. While the future is unknown, one thing is almost certain; technology isn’t going to stop anytime soon.  It’s only going to grow and become more advanced. When I look into the future, I see paperless college students, advanced technology in medicine and business, and creation and exploration like never before. When I look into the future, I see my students leading the way, because they had the opportunity to experience technology, accept and learn from failure, and ultimately, persevere.

I have recently purchased and started reading the book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough. Additionally, I encourage you to read The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner if you haven’t already. He talks about the seven survival skills of problem solving and critical thinking, collaboration across networks, adaptability, initiative, effective oral and written communication, analyzing information, and developing curiosity and imagination; these are definitely fostered by the iPad.

After spending a week at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, it has never been more clear to the Academic Technology Team that the seven survival skills are pertinent to the work our students do. They include:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving, or asking the right questions
  • Collaboration along networks and leading by influence
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurialship
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Curiosity and imagination

These skills are not new to USM in many ways because they are woven into the work students do in USM’s classrooms. The tools to accomplish such endeavors continue to change, but the outcomes are essentially the same. Be it an iPad, pencils, crayolas, laptops, paper, the ability to engage students in ways that develop skill and will, are vital to their future success.


One thought on “Skill + Will = Success

  1. Kristie Jochmann November 12, 2012 at 10:15 am Reply

    It is important to be clear and understand that digital learning and 21st century skills are not linked unless you make a specific effort to link them. There are plenty of digital learning activities that have nothing to do with 21st century skills and in fact, fly in the face of them. 21st century skills can be worked with and without technology.


    Doing flash cards on the iPad- NOT 21st century
    Doing daily language exercises on iPad- NOT 21st century
    Playing angry birds on iPad- NOT 21st century
    Making educreation on ipad showing your understanding of photsynthesis- 21st century
    Comparing your plant growth data with a class in Japan via SKYPE- 21st century

    Math sheets at desk- NOT 21st century (but perhaps necessary nonetheless)
    Leaf experiment at desk (working with a partner to figure out how much weight can be loaded onto a leaf before a nail will puncture through it)- SO 21st century and nothing to do with computers/ipads

    I think most parents have seen that computers/ipads are particularly magnetic to their children and we have to ask why? Is it the ability to pull tons of output with very little input? Is it just a place to veg and get away from the world? Do your kids assign an overwhelming importance to these devices?

    The other question we need to ask is what our kids are giving up by spending time on the iPad/computer? What are the opportunity costs? Are they not playing outside? Not engaged in family dinner conversation? Not relating to siblings or talking about their day? Not putting effort into other activities that could be even more enriching?

    Don’t be fooled into believing that if your kid is on a computer (in class or out of class) that they are learning or exercising important 21st century skills. The best learning opportunities for kids are all around them and they access them by paying attention to the world, playing and participating in family conversations about the world, news, current events. The single most important 21st century skill is the ability to ask good questions. How often is your kid exercising that skill while they are on the computer or iPad?

    In my opinion, the focus at USM and everywhere should be that there is one main piece of equipment needed for 21st century learning and that is your brain!

    Let’s double down on minds on learning in computer assisted and non computer assisted ways.

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