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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

ISTE NETS*T Part 1: Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity

I recently completed a series of articles on the NETS*S (National Educational Technology Standards for Students) from ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education).  As a technology teacher, I appreciate how these standards highlight the goals we have for our students and their use of technology.  But we teachers need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are modeling appropriate uses and attitudes regarding technology as well.  My next series of articles, therefore, focuses on the NETS*T – ISTE’s standards for teachers.

There are five such standards, and the first is “Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity.” 

Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity

Teachers use their knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments. Teachers:

  1. promote, support, and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness.
  2. engage students in exploring real-world issues and solving authentic problems using digital tools and resources.
  3. promote student reflection using collaborative tools to reveal and clarify students ‘ conceptual understanding and thinking, planning, and creative processes.
  4. model collaborative knowledge construction by engaging in learning with students, colleagues, and others in face-to-face and virtual environments.

(excerpted from

I am Here for the Learning RevolutionOn the one hand, we think about our work and say, “Yes, this is my job, and I do this sort of thing all the time.”  But on the other hand, we re-read this list and think, “Wow, this is a huge task, and I may not be able to do this all the time.”  My advice: start small.

When you have to come up with a solution to a problem, demonstrate that for your students.  Talk aloud through the thinking process, modeling the brainstorming, considering of options, narrowing down of choices, and changing course when things don’t seem to be working out.  The biggest challenge facing today’s teachers in doing this is the very structure of school as we know it.  There are standardized tests, benchmarks, and pacing guides.  There are people making decisions about where your students should be in the curriculum – people who have never met you or your kids, and who may not have set foot in a classroom in the past decade.  These are, indeed, massive hurdles to overcome.  So start with what you can do, keep practicing, and you will find yourself doing this modeling and sharing more and more.

In addition to displaying the thinking process for our students, we can also model the confidence and independence young people require.  When a student asks me for help with something, I do my best not to answer.  I know, I am a teacher, and it sounds as though I may not be doing my job.  But if a first grader asks me how to spell a word, or a middle schooler asks me how to change a setting in a website, I am not going to just tell them the answer.  I start my response with a question.  It often sounds like, “What do you have so far?” or “What have you tried already?”  We want to have creative students, but we force them to work within a system that tells them exactly what to think.  The learned helplessness I see in my line of work is shocking.  If we never let kids do, try, and fail, they will never learn to succeed without us.

Sometimes the key is in the boundaries we set.  I try not to impose upper limits, but I set some bottom-level limits to motivate my kids to excel.  If a student wants to try something totally new and different, I am likely to allow it, as long as we talk it through first and I think it’s something that can be done.  However, if a student wants to settle for “good enough to get all the points,” I may impose some minimum expectations.  We recently had seventh graders presenting to all the younger students at my school.  Classes in pre-kindergarten through grade five would be their audiences as they shared about a habitat during our Ocean Week Habitat Parade.  As always, there was a very slow start.  I told them they needed to present.  I told them to have visuals to engage the kids.  I told them to limit the words their audiences would need to read and to try to make their ten minutes with the kids as fun and educational as possible.  Then I stopped talking.

Since I didn’t tell them exactly what product to create as a vehicle for their presentations, many groups got stuck after finding all the information and images they needed.  They would have just kept looking online for pictures if I didn’t start a fire under some of them.  They seemed to be waiting around for me to tell them what software to use, or how many slides they needed to have.  In fact, I got that question a lot: “How many slides do we have to have?”  Who said you had to create a slide show?  (This got me a lot of  “Wait, what?!?!” looks from my students.)

Scrappy CatThey had thought back to their past years of Habitat Parading, when they were the audience members, and they remembered slideshows and games.  They just assumed they had to make slideshows and come up with game ideas.  Many groups did.  That was fine.  One group chose only to make some posters and items that could be passed around for kids to look at up-close.  When we had the practice run a few days before, that group was initially heckled by their peers for being low-tech.  When projectors and laptops started acting flakey and bandwidth became an issue at one point, suddenly that team was admired for their simplicity.  They did a fantastic job too.

Whenever my students work in groups like this, they do all their planning and information gathering on a PBworks wiki.  The group members are not always in my class together, so they need a central place to communicate.  We also use Google Apps to facilitate this kind of collaboration.  The only thing that is going to make kids understand that these tools exist for collaborative problem solving is to keep requiring them to work together to solve problems.  During and after each group project, I have the students evaluate themselves and the other members of their teams on certain criteria of collaborative group work.  I have seen a general improvement over the years, both as students mature and as they gain more experience being part of a team.  They have to experience failure – in the form of mistakes, poor judgment, wasted time, and bad decisions – before we can expect them to function as effective team members.  If we don’t put them through this in elementary and middle school, when will we start this process?

Personally, I am very interested in taking this further.  And farther.  I want to have my students start working in such collaborative problem-solving groups with people who are NOT at our school.  We have the technology, with our wikis, cloud computing, and videoconferencing tools.  We just need to plan, find partner classes, and make it happen.  My school is in Silicon Valley.  If my students plan to stay in this area when they grow up, they’ll need practice at thinking and working globally.  And I believe it’s never too early to start.

Image “I am Here for the Learning Revolution” is from Flickr user Wesley Fryer, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.
Image of “Scrappy Cat” is from Flickr user Urban Woodswalker, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.


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