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I'm sure you can agree with me that one of the scariest dreams a teacher can have is losing control of your classroom. Have you experienced this type of dream? When all of the students act crazy and completely defy you when you are trying to lead a lesson. The classroom is just...out of control. I usually have about 2 of these dreams a year, and while this has never really happened in my own classroom, the dream still makes me short of breath when I wake up and think...thank God that was just a dream...

Control. Something teachers need - but also need to let go of - in the classroom. Our society continually tells us that our students must be future ready and to do so by incorporating the 4C's - Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity - into our classrooms on a daily basis. In order to help our students take ownership of their learning and become problem identifiers/solvers, we must put control into their hands and help facilitate their learning. This week, I am visiting the business department, and it is clear why so many students adore this department and the classes offered. Students were engaged, enthusiastic, and productive in each classroom I visited. The teachers led, facilitated, and modeled different activities that sparked the students' curiosity, and they then let the students take control by critically thinking and applying what they learned. Here are some instructional examples to consider as you work to transform your classroom into a student-centered environment: 

How do we teach our students to communicate with others? How do we teach them to communicate in our society and in the working world? Emails, social media, global connections, and more will take over their lives when they enter the workforce. We need to prepare our students to be more communicative on various platforms. The VEI classes at Neuqua provide an awesome opportunity for students to simulate a virtual business. When I walked into Mr. Hanson's classroom (VEI - Affinity), I was welcomed by the students, and they explained to me what they were doing, the business model behind their product, and their future plans. Our students need to be able to communicate, and VEI provides real-world opportunities for our students in order to prepare them for what's next. Talk about Future Ready!

In Ms. Jen Yavorski's advertising class, the students are communicating with each other via Google Docs in order to evaluate marketing plans. As the students communicated using the Google Doc's commenting feature, Jen coached the students on how they should be communicating in order to provide clear feedback to their peers.

1, 2, 3...TEAM! Collaboration is ultimately working as a team in order to complete a task. We need to provide opportunities for students to talk, listen, and learn from one another. Technology makes it easy for people to collaborate on a task, even when they are not in the same room. With this, students can collaborate not only with their own class but with classes around the building, community, country, and even the world. Boom! In Ms. Erica Pavlik's Intro to Education class, the students collaborated on a lesson they would eventually teach the rest of the class. As a group, they had to read, plan, create, and present an effective overview of a piece of education. Erica put the control in the students' hands and gave them a real-life teaching situation they had to properly prepare for and execute.

Similarly, in Mr. Hanson and Ms. Amanda Dunham's VEI classes, the students are put into different departments and have to constantly collaborate with their department members and then with other departments in their virtual business. They are multiple platforms to use to complete this process, but it is a constant part of their classroom environment.

Critically Thinking
We live in a world where people struggle to identify and solve problems on their own. How can we teach this to a group of students who have Google and Youtube at their fingertips? Well, in my opinion, teaching students how to utilize the resources available to them in order to identify and solve problems is a great way enable critical thinking. We need to provide a learning environment that allows students to take risks and fail. In addition, we need to give them opportunities to think through a situation, activity, or lesson and then take control of where it goes in the future. This is how we foster an environment for critical thinking - provide situations and coach them through the process. For example, in Ms. Beth Knuth's coding class, the students are constantly trying to learn, write, and edit code in order to complete the task at hand. The resources available to them like and Code High School can help them while they are actively coding by providing suggestions and pointing out errors in their codes. Ms. Knuth teaches them the process and then lets them take control of how they go about learning the coding skill at hand. She then walks around and helps as needed, coaching them as they solve their coding problems. She sets up the environment knowing that students will make mistakes and teaches them how to go about solving those problems and learning from their mistakes.

In Mr. Todd Mertz and Ms. Erica Pavilik's Consumer Economics class, the students complete a Budget project throughout the semester - a different part of it during each unit - that asks the students to use what they learn during class and apply it to their life after high school. They use a Google sheet template that takes them through the process, and it is their job to figure out if they can survive in the real world. I wish I would have done this in high school! The real world is no joke, and our students are getting the opportunity to identify future problems, be exposed to the harsh realities of budgeting, and figure out how they can find balance.  

One of the biggest ways to create a future-ready environment is to make the students actually create something to demonstrate their learning. The process of creation is a perfect time for the teacher to observe what his/her students have learned and actually watch it in action. In addition, it forces the students to think critically and produce something connected to their learning. In every business class I visited, the students were creating something and in turn, taking control of what they learned and demonstrating it through a task. In Ms. Caitie Adams' Visual Media class, they were creating animals in order to learn how to use 4 areas of segmentation to create a collage of a particular market. Instead of just hearing about it and seeing different examples, the students had to work through the process themselves in order to fully grasp it. Again, what can we ask our students to create in order to demonstrate learning? Taking it one step further...what can we have them do with these creations during and after the process in order to provide another level of learning? A perfect task to brainstorm with your PLC!

Did you notice some commonalities between the lessons and activities? I'm sure that you can agree with me that all of the classroom examples I shared easily incorporate one or more of C's. They are interchangeable, and based on what I witness in classrooms, the key ingredients to an engaging, thought-provoking lesson. The other key to this level of engagement...put the students in the driver's seat and make them take control of their learning. #whatsup

"The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see." Alexandra K. Trefnor 

Google Classroom, Twitter, Google +, Padlet, and FlipGrid are just a few resources that you might want to check out in order to have the students take control of their learning.