Future-focused: Preparing for 2025 and beyond with iBlocks

In collaboration with iBlocks

In preparing students with the essential skills they need for the future, we have a variety of methods and digital tools to choose from. Starting with methods first is my recommendation because it helps us to focus carefully on our specific learning goals and consider the “why” behind our decisions. We should focus on the skills our students will gain from a particular method or tool and then how these skills align with what they need to be prepared for what lies ahead after they leave our classrooms.

As we look to the future, there are many unknowns when it comes to the world of work. Jobs that exist today may not exist in five years due to changes in technology and automation for example. To stay informed, a resource that I often explore is the World Economic Forum which provides a Job Skills Outlook with a list of the top ten in-demand skills by 2025. Among the top skills cited include active learning, collaboration, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility, critical thinking, problem-solving and ideation. How can we make sure our instruction is relevant to meet the growing demands in the world of work? And how can we help our students to deal with the challenges that might come from a changing world of work and be able to understand their strengths and areas that they need to improve in?

To meet the demand for these skills, we need to provide students with project-based learning (PBL) opportunities which foster the development of social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. The five core competencies of self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship building, and decision-making are necessary in our classrooms today and are needed in the world of work. To learn more about SEL, explore the many resources available through the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL.org).

Why focus on SEL in PBL?

Because research shows that by addressing the five competencies of SEL in our classrooms, we can positively impact and see an increase in student academic performance. To be successful in the future, students need opportunities that will help them to build SEL skills, especially in the areas of self-awareness and self-management.

Self-awareness: As students work independently during project-based learning, they are becoming aware of their skills and their interests as they explore topics that they are curious about. As they design their PBL focus, they learn to self-assess and evolve as learners.

Self-management: Through project-based learning, students work on setting new goals, and dealing with stress as they work through their project or perhaps problem-based learning journeys. Because PBL is an iterative process, students will see learning as a process, rather than a final product as they develop their own personalized work plan.

With the Job Skills Outlook, developing self-awareness is essential for ideation and innovation. Self-management skills will help students to become resilient, tolerate the stress they experience, and above all, be flexible in learning.

Why start with self-awareness and self-management

When it comes to engaging in PBL, or other work that is focused on student choice and is student-driven, it can be a difficult shift at first for some students. Different than doing just projects, where specific requirements are given and a defined tangible end product is created, with PBL, students have to design their learning journey. By doing this, it can lead students to experience some stress and frustration because it is so open-ended and requires an ongoing iterative process. As students are trying to solve a problem or dealing with failure, they need to be able to process emotions, set goals, and push through the challenges faced. Students will engage in trial and error, testing and re-testing, and at times, may find that they cannot find a specific solution to a problem. When this happens, being able to deal with these stressors and work through them by setting new goals will be essential for students now and in their future. This is why SEL matters and starting with a focus on self-awareness and self-management is key.

Promoting SEL through iBlocks

I recently met the folks and Teq and have been researching their iBlocks solution for PBL. I think it provides a good structure for students to work through projects and supports the development of SEL skills in some specific ways.

With iBlocks, students are working on authentic projects and with the resources provided, they will develop skills of self-awareness and self-management. Students have a student workbook that is used as they work through each module of the iBlock. What is the most helpful for students is that they have a space where they can really think through what they are learning and reflect on the experience they are having.

As they work through the research and planning phase, they can respond to the questions and capture their ideas in a space where they can reflect on them, evaluate them, set goals for themselves, and have the support of pacing. It is so beneficial for students to have that structured support available that they can use.

The right student resources

When focusing on self-awareness, students need to understand where they are in the learning process. They need to be able to process their learning and ask:

What are some of the things that they know and can do?

What are some areas that may be confusing to them?

What do they notice about how they learn?

With iBlocks, the use of the student self-assessment rubric helps students to develop their skills of self-awareness by recording and reflecting on their iBlock work. Having the space and a system in place that guides students along the way, will help them to become more aware as they learn and develop confidence in the process as well.

With self-management, being able to tackle a big project or work through a challenge are skills that students need in our classes now. And for those skills for the future, stress tolerance, dealing with frustration, and being flexible in learning are all important. By using the self-assessment in their student workbook, it takes away some of that pressure for students of having to figure it out on their own. The student workbook helps them plan how much time to devote to their work, reflect on the progress they are making, and the next steps that will lead them to be successful in completing the work.

The student materials help teachers to facilitate rather than lead the learning. The workbook helps students to stay on track and be accountable to themselves in setting goals and working through challenges. They will better understand where they are in the learning process and what next steps they need to take.

The student workbook and iBlocks modules provide students with a structure that enables them to work with complex topics but in a way that builds their skills over time and at a good pace so that they can learn as well as build those self-awareness and self-management skills.

Learning to process thoughts and emotions

As students are working through their project-based learning, they have prompts throughout their workbook (and provided by the teacher as needed) that will require them to assess their own performance. They will be accountable to themselves and have a space where they can write down any of the challenges that they are facing in the work. They can even brainstorm ideas for how to work through those challenges and overcome them. As a result, they will build resilience and be better prepared for the next PBL experience and will continue to build those skills over time.

As students work through a project, they have the space and support to reflect on their learning, to evaluate where they are in the learning process, and learn to manage their emotions as they are working through the challenges of PBL.

As educators, we should continue to ask ourselves these questions:

  • How can we create opportunities for students to drive their own learning?
  • What options will provide a more interactive and collaborative experience, regardless of where learning is taking place?
  • How do we weave SEL into our classroom and boost student engagement in learning?
  • Which methods will provide students with the right skill development?

With the different iBlocks available, students engage in purposeful learning and figure out how to solve some of the challenges being faced by people in the world. With each iBlock, teachers receive a Framework, Teacher’s Guide, Student Workbooks, and more. There are issues being faced that have been researched for many years and still are without a solution. Our students can explore any area of interest and become innovators and problem solvers. They will learn about working as part of a team, pushing through failures, and engaging in hands-on STEM learning.

With the knowledge that students will gain through their experiences, they will have developed skills that will enable them to adapt to a changing world of education and work.

To get started, there are three sample iBlocks available to download: Rube Goldberg, Design a Comic Book, and Prosthetics iBlocks.

SEL Skill

Example PBL activities to Support SEL Skill Development

iBlocks-Specific Support for this SEL Skill Development

Self-Awareness

  • Career exploration based on interests
  • Independent work
  • Student voice and choice
  • Self-assessment
  • Defined learning pathways to select from that cover real-world projects
  • Place for students to record work and reflect on the learning process
  • Student self-assessment rubric
  • Workbook sections dedicated to asking questions and revising work

Self Management

  • Students design their learning journey
  • Iterate through a learning process
  • Goal setting
  • Scaffolded questions to support personal goals within the student workbook
  • Progress tracking charts/tables to maximize learning during the allotted time
  • Peer review and other collaborative activities within lesson plans that give an opportunity for students to recognize differences in opinion and respect others’ opinions
  • Teacher tips to support students with compromising during collaborative work (i.e. collaborative brainstorming)

About the Author

Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She is the author of sevens books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World”, “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us,” “Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-person and Digital Instruction” and “Things I Wish [..] Knew.” All books are available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

Rachelle is available for in-person and virtual PD sessions for your school.

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Author

Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She is the author of sevens books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World”, “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us,” “Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-person and Digital Instruction” and “Things I Wish [..] Knew.” All books are available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

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