Random Thoughts

Replacing Skills

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I haven’t been blogging here much as my time has been spent working with teachers in their schools, Learning2 and COETAIL…which I love!

Replace is my new word of choice when talking about the skills of technology. 

replace1I have done the word dance on this blog. Going from integrate, to embed and now to replace. However, I think it’s just the progression of adoption of any new way of thinking any new skill set as we reach a new level. A level where we need to start replacing the skills we use to teach with new skills that must be taught. The standards haven’t changed….the tools and skills have and we need to make sure we’re updating the skills to match the needs of our students.

Here in Washington State our new state assessment is done on a computer. Typing has finally become more important than cursive writing. It must replace cursive writing and maybe even most writing done by students. Many schools are now complaining that students are doing poorly on the test because they don’t have the computer skills needed to even navigate the test software. So now we need to replace navigating a book with navigating a website. I wonder in how many schools these skills have been replaced?

I have been focusing my trainings on this idea. A standard is a standard I say….but the skill and tool to reach that standard has changed. Let’s look at a couple of examples.


Digital maps are replacing paper maps in our society as a whole. From your captain on an airplane to your captain of a ship. We’re relying on digital maps more and more. With pretty much everyone walking around with one in their pockets today I’m wondering why we are not replacing the paper mapping skills with digital mapping skills? The skills are different.

A paper map doesn’t zoom, a digital maps doesn’t have longitude and latitude lines.

A paper map defaults to North being at the top. A digital map can be changed to either North as being up or the way you happen to be facing.

A paper map you kind of know where you are, a digital map you know exactly where you are (within 30 feet and if you have GPS of course).

If you still want to teach the skills of a paper map….I don’t have an issue with that. But I do hope that we are introducing the skills of a digital map and we’re starting to replace the time we use to spend on paper maps with digital ones.

Reading Skills:

The new research, led by Donald J. Leu at the University of Connecticut, is appearing this month in Reading Research Quarterly. Although the study is based on a small sample, it demonstrates a general lack of online literacy among all students, indicating that schools have not yet caught up to teach the skills needed to navigate digital information. ~ NYTimes 24/09/14

This research shouldn’t surprise us. We’re spending more of our life online….outside of school anyway….and yet we are not replacing the literacy skills of reading offline with new ones of reading online. Skills such as:

When do you read a full article and then click on links?

When do you “link jump” looking for resources?

How do you quickly scan a webpage to recognize where the ads are, where the navigation links are, where the main content is located on the site? I have not heard of a single school that teachers the literacy of reading a webpage or a website.

Because an increasing number of life tasks and jobs depend on the ability to sift through boundless online information presented in various formats — text, videos, graphics and social media — the ability of a student to accurately search for and evaluate information on the web is becoming crucial to success. NYTimes 24/09/14

We know this but what are we doing about it in our schools? What are we replacing? 

The Common Core standards do contain references to digital literacy, however. “Whether you’re dealing with the readingwriting or listening standards, there’s a notion of students getting information both from print and digital sources and looking at credibility and accuracy of the sources,” said Susan Pimentel, a lead writer of the Common Core standards. NYTimes 24/09/14

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by CaptMikey9: http://flickr.com/photos/mjsciald/9142453756
creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by CaptMikey9: http://flickr.com/photos/mjsciald/9142453756

Even the new standards as schools update them are adding in…or have long ago….added in the idea of understanding digital sources. Yet I find very few schools where these new skills are replacing the old skills. Instead we send student to the computer lab once a month to learn these skills completely out of context and with no real follow up or meaning. Would love to know if some district has added “Digital Search Skills” to the report card. Yes…that means you should be assessing students search skills!

These are just a few of the skills that need replacing in our curriculum and classrooms. The standards haven’t changed that much but the tools and resources we have to teach those standards have. The skills needed to use the tools that allow us access to the information to learn those standards have changed. So we must update the skills we’re teaching students.

I’m not saying you have to 100% switch. Sure…still teach paper mapping skills…but teach them 30% of the time and digital mapping skills 70% of the time. Talk about the benefits and drawbacks to the different types of maps. When should you use one over the other? How do you download a digital map so you have it on your device without a data signal?

These are all great questions to explore in the classroom just around maps! Just this one standard alone needs it’s skills replaced in order to stay relevant today. Want students to create that oh so popular map to their house…no problem…but let’s do it digitally on Google My Maps.

Nothing makes me smile more than running into a tourist in downtown Seattle who is looking at a paper map trying to figure out which way to go. They’ll ask me if I can help them……”Sure!” I say…….and then I ask to see their phone.

What other skills do you see needed to be updated or replaced in the classroom?

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.

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