The Knewton Blog

Our monthly newsletter features edtech and product updates, with a healthy dose of fun Knerd news.

Teacher Feature: John Stevens on 21st Century Education

Posted in Ed Tech on August 6, 2014 by

 At Knewton, we have a lot to learn from teachers. Our goal is to create technology that helps them create more effective lessons and help teachers better support students. We’re always interested in hearing about teachers’ perspectives on the future of education and educational technology. Below we’re sharing some recent insights we’ve heard from teachers across the country.

Teacher: John Stevens

Location: Upland, CA

Grades: High school

Subject: Mathematics/Engineering



There’s a lot of debate about what skills students will need to thrive as professionals and human beings in the 21st century–where privacy, media literacy, and employment will be fraught with most of the major issues/tensions of our time. What do you think is the most important skill(s) for students to master in the 21st century? Why?

Communication, hands down. There are all kinds of technologies and tools that are available, but the lack of communication in any century will lead to a lack of productivity. If I can communicate appropriately, based on the audience I am surrounded by, I can convince others, learn more, and grow faster personally and professionally. Once I have communication down, that leads to better collaboration, better productivity, and the opportunities for a more rewarding life experience.

What tools (if you could imagine anything) would enable you to teach the classroom of your dreams?

A bulldozer. Seriously. I want to take a bulldozer and knock down the walls of the classrooms as we know them that separate math from science from english from history and hold out the arts. In my ideal classroom, kids come in and complete a challenge, not a standard or a fine scope of a subject. I want to push away old school desks that are literally designed to encourage childhood obesity, just to make it laughable when they achieve such a dangerous feat. I want to clear out the old way of doing school and redefine it to meet the needs of what we are pretending is a 21st century student. See, ever since we modernized our society, it’s been in demand but so far out of reach that we couldn’t do it. Now we can. I know this is a lofty goal, but that’s what I would do.

What do you think will change about the teaching of mathematics in the age of digital instruction?

Isolation and redundancy. Because of the connections I’ve made online, I’ve been exposed to a myriad of incredible resources. I’ve started because of a conversation that started on Twitter. People are creating 3-Act math tasks that are rich and powerful and there’s no chance I would’ve done something like that if I didn’t have those connections. In digital instruction, as long as it’s still about the students and the interactions that they have with one another, it will be incredible to watch as students gain access to these tools that they otherwise would not have seen. They can now see how math blends into beauty all around us and explore their own mathematical curiosities from the comfort of their screen.

Given the proliferation of multimedia learning environments in the digital age, there’s been a lot of discussion about gamification–what it can offer education and what its particular pitfalls might be. What do you think is the ideal way to motivate students in the classroom? Do you have any thoughts about gamification?

Let them know that they matter and that they are going to be pushed, cared for, and supported. I tried very hard the first few weeks, and throughout the entire year, of each class to let students know that I will do anything I can to help them succeed. I attended their sporting events, musical events, even a martial arts performance, just to show them that my job isn’t 54 minutes long, 5 times a day for 180 days. Personally, I feel far more inclined to trust someone that invests in me, so I do the same with my students.

In regards to gamification, I was very strongly opposed to it until I met Michael Matera at ISTE2014 this year. He was talking to me about how he gamified his class and it opened my eyes to the possibility. I’m still not sure if it would work with my style, but I see the benefit of it. However, just like any new teaching style or strategy, a few bad examples can ruin it for the group. I’ve seen some questionable examples in which kids played games all day to earn points that tied to their grade. If that’s gamification, I don’t buy into it.