Science 21st Century Homework Assignments

Finally, technology is embedded into the structure of all we do. It’s part of how we research, how we capture information, and how we display our learning. It’s never an accessory tacked on at the end.

In my English classroom, this  looks a lot different than in my biology and chemistry classrooms (which you can read about here). My English curriculum is largely skills-based, which provides a fair amount of flexibility. Many people ask me how I have the opportunities to do what I do in my classroom. My answer? It’s all in how you look at the curriculum.


My curriculum states that I need to develop skills in 5 areas: reading, writing, viewing and representing, listening and speaking. The curriculum also suggests themes. Our grade 11 theme is childhood, but nowhere does it state whose childhood. So this year we read Patricia McCormick’s novel Sold, which chronicles the childhood, or more specifically the loss of childhood, in a young girl who is trafficked. A powerful story. This was the springboard into our unit on modern slavery and creating a social media campaign.

Whenever we begin a new inquiry unit, research is always involved. We start by sitting in a circle to talk through what we want, and need, to know about slavery in the contemporary world. From there the research begins. The first thing my students do is open a Google doc, access their Diigo or Delicious account, and sign into Symbaloo, a site that houses all of their favorite tools. We spend approximately one week on our initial research. Any more than this and students tend to become overwhelmed.

After researching, we come back together to discuss what needs to happen next. What is the best way to present our learning? What will be the most powerful? What do we want others to learn from us? Throughout this process, my students do most of the talking and leading. I tend to sit and listen, and at critical moments, draw out the nuances or similarities of what is being said. And when things aren’t working, sometimes I need to suggest a new direction.


This semester, we’ve chosen to create a social media campaign to raise awareness around modern slavery. This is the project-based part. It’s not enough for my students to learn about slavery, they need to do something with it, specifically “real world” projects that matter.

One of the most important things we can do is teach our students how to use social media wisely, and how social media can be used for social good. My students started by creating a Flickr feed, Facebook page, a YouTube account, a Tumblr blog, and a Twitter account.

They decided that visual representations of their knowledge would be the most powerful. So some of my students created photographs depicting images that they felt best represented modern trafficking. These photos were then edited in Picnik, and posted to our blog.

Teaching this way also allows me to teach real writing to my students. Before we started to create videos, my students looked at numerous YouTube videos about slavery. They focused on those they found powerful, and conversely, those that weren’t very effective. We analyzed the differences between the two. My students talked animatedly about how the powerful videos touched your emotions.

I grabbed a piece of paper and drew a triangle. On each tip I wrote one of three words: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos. When you write for an audience, you can appeal to knowledge, emotion, or ethics — the Aristotelian triad. A few years ago I tried to teach this idea to a grade 12 class when we were studying essay writing. They didn’t get it. But in the context we were using, after comparing social media content, it made perfect sense to my grade 11 students. So we designed our videos with the triad in mind.

My students decided to create Common Craft-styled videos to educate viewers about slavery. These videos took hours. First, students needed to distill all of their “fact” knowledge into a compelling story. Then they needed to write the script, create paper characters, and finally begin to practice moving their papers on the whiteboard. My students soon discovered there is only a very small area to use on the whiteboard while filming these videos, otherwise you move out of view of the camera. In the end, it took hours to coordinate movement with script, film & then edit our videos. The remarkable thing is that these videos fulfilled many objectives across all 5 strands.

Here’s one example:


As part of this project, my students have also Skyped into classrooms to teach what they have learned, so that other students can begin this enormously important discussion in their own communities. This is the connected part. My students believe that what they have learned is valuable, for themselves and for others too.  They also believe they have a role to play in teaching others.

My student are also creating a Museum Box, a project inspired by the work of Thomas Clarkson, who spent most of his adult life trying to abolish the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Clarkson carried a box to support his argument. The Museum Box site allows you to build  an argument or description of an event, person or historical period by placing items in a virtual box. Students can display anything from a text file to a movie. My students will be using this platform to argue their thesis, rather than writing a traditional essay.

For our second novel, we’re reading The Secret Life of Bees. For this unit, my students are engaged in wiki work. In pairs, my students are responsible for identifying the major themes in each chapter, and how they are developed. The first week I model this skill, and throughout the novel I coach my students as necessary. They’re also responsible for posting and responding to the discussion questions for each chapter.


My students have started designing our curriculum units. Seriously. While transitioning to our current unit, we discussed the possibilities as a class. Both Dr. Seuss & Christmas literature were mentioned as possible study topics. But one student wasn’t sold on either.

“Could we do something entirely different? Something that you haven’t done before?”

“Sure. What are you thinking?”

She thought and then said, “What about a movie unit? Could we study movies of different genres and then analyze them for themes and other different features? Is that possible?”

I explained that, with the English curriculum, we have more flexibility than with chemistry or biology. In those subjects, I’m specifically told what content I need to teach. In English, the concern is mostly around teaching skills, although the curriculum does stipulate how many novels, short stories, poems, etc. we need to include.

I further explained the five “strands” that we use in English and that there are multiple skill objectives for each strand.

“So yes, it’s possible to do something with movies.” 

I asked them to talk a little bit more about what it might look like. My students brainstormed various possibilities. Maybe dividing into groups to show clips from various genres. Each group would be responsible to facilitate the discussion around the analysis. Maybe creating a digital space to post movie critiques, and other connected classrooms could join us. And, of course, there would be writing involved too.

After hearing a number of ideas, and seeing a plan beginning to formulate, one of my students looked at me and said, “Can you help us create a unit plan for this?”

Wow. Never in a million years did I think my students would ever say those words. Another student remarked, “Yeah, I only know how to teach swimming lessons.”

I looked at him and said, “Well, it’s not that much different.” When he gets in the pool he doesn’t just splash around for 30 minutes. He knows exactly what he’s going in there to accomplish. Not only that, he knows what it looks like when someone has mastered the skill and when someone isn’t even close. He agreed.  Curriculum & teaching is pretty much that. We need to know what our outcomes are, the content we’re using to get there, and what we’re using to show our learning.

My students are always a bit surprised to see what curriculum actually looks like. They pulled out the objectives we are meeting with this unit.  They chose six genres that they will look at with films as diverse as The Princess Bride, A Time to Kill, and Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. In groups they will analyze six elements in each film: themes, writing, character development, film techniques, setting and plot development.

Once students have watched the film, they will meet with their group to discuss their findings. A group summary of their findings will be posted to the wiki.  Students will also write a short analysis rating the film, including their basis for doing so. Ratings will be published to the wiki.

The next day, there will be an in-class discussion of the movie. Each group will contribute their observations. From the list of movies chosen, students will need to write a longer critique, much like an essay.

Students are excited about this unit because they designed it around something of interest to them. I’m excited about this unit because film is the medium of the future, and our students need to be astute at critically evaluating it.


Before the technology/constructivist shift in my classsroom, I would have taught all of this quite traditionally. We’d read books, answer questions, and then address those questions in class. I’d lecture a lot, with supplemental grammar lessons here and there, and I’d include some type of artistic project to achieve viewing and representing objectives. The whole design would have been extremely teacher centered. And at the end of it all, I’d hope they learned something about writing and thinking.

Instead, inquiry and technology are a natural part of our English classes. It’s what my students have come to expect and have started to design themselves.  Instead, of saying, “hand in your assignments,” I say, “publish your assignments and send me the link.” They think about connecting and sharing their learning in the larger world.

That’s the 21st century difference.

Shelley Wright is a teacher/education blogger living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in Canada. She teaches high school English, science and technology.
This article originally appeared on Voices from the Learning Revolution.

Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.

Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: 'Our concept of what a computer is.' Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we're going to see the full fury of individualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can't wait.


The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don't need kids to 'go to school' more; we need them to 'learn' more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn't far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn't yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won't make you 'distinguished'; it'll just be a natural part of your work.

Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it's time you get over yourself.

Books were nice. In ten years' time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the 'feel' of paper. Well, in ten years' time you'll hardly tell the difference as 'paper' itself becomes digitized.

Bio scans. 'Nuff said.

A coat-check, maybe.

Ok, so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade's worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT -- software, security, and connectivity -- a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.

School buildings are going to become 'homebases' of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will be going out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.

This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modeled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.

No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN (professional learning networks) in their back pockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide professional development programs. This is already happening.

There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialized learning.

Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.

Nutrition information + handhelds + cost comparison = the end of $3.00 bowls of microwaved mac and cheese. At least, I so hope so.

You need a website/brochure/promo/etc.? Well, for goodness sake just let your kids do it. By the end of the decade -- in the best of schools -- they will be.

Within the decade, it will either become the norm to teach this course in middle school or we'll have finally woken up to the fact that there's no reason to give algebra weight over statistics and I.T. in high school for non-math majors (and they will have all taken it in middle school anyway).

In ten years' time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

Read more in the School Day of the Future series.


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