Tag Archives: making

21st Century Learning

by Public Domain Photos - Pixabay - CC0
Public Domain PhotosPixabayCC0

Read enough about education, and you’ll quickly find a plethora of posts, posters, and more about “21st Century Education.” ICS is including this language in much of its guiding documents. The school’s mission statement includes the phrase. The Board of Governors includes a “statement of understanding” about 21st Century Learning. Our Head of School writes about it in his weekly news column. It’s a phrase often used in describing school programs.

What does “21st Century Education” really mean? Why is it being discussed and promoted so much? What does it mean for parents and students? I’ll be writing a series of blog posts about this concept and how it’s being put in place at ICS over the next few weeks. (Please post questions and comments!) In this post, I’d like to explore a bit of the background and explain what it’s all about.

What is 21st Century Education?

There are many ways people define 21st Century Education, and various groups and initiatives which promote it – all of whom describe and define it in different ways. In general, the phrase refers to the fact that education is changing and must change to meet the needs of today’s learners and today’s society. In order to produce individuals who can succeed in today’s world, schools need to teach and reinforce different skills. Students must be more adaptable, more independent, and more technologically savvy.

To accomplish this, schools and educators are shifting their emphasis away from content knowledge to more skills-based learning. In the age of Google and Wikipedia, knowing something is less important than knowing how to find things out or how to accomplish things.

An excellent and simple framework for this is the “4 C’s” – championed by the Partnership for 21st Century Education. The 4 C’s are skills, offered as counterpoints to the traditional “3 R’s” of Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. (Yes, I know.) The 4 C’s have been identified as skills that will help students be successful in today’s changing world. They are:

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

Now, do understand that these do not replace content knowledge. But they are a different emphasis.

Why is it important for our students?

In the information age, it is not sufficient to only be knowledgeable. Traditional education emphasized mastery of subjects by gaining information. Students read textbooks, listened to teacher lectures, passed knowledge-based tests. Now, a smartphone in your pocket can give anyone immediate access to a vast wealth of information. When you can carry Wikipedia around in your pocket, how vitally important is it to know the dates and outcomes of the Battle of Hastings?

This is not to say that it’s not important to know things. Students must always have a good background knowledge of history, science, etc. However, with access to all that knowledge, it becomes more valuable to students to be able to process information instead of remembering it. How do you find that information? In what way do you phrase your research question? What key words do you use? And how do you identify valuable sources of information?

And with the fast pace of change in business, science and society, the flexibility that one gains from good critical thinking and creativity skills will help our students navigate their future world.

What technology is needed?

Despite the title of this blog, 21st century education really isn’t all about the technology: it’s about the learning. Sure, we use modern tools. Computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. all have a part to play in students creating things, communicating with others, collaborating with people near and far …but that’s not the heart of the matter. The key is the type of learning. Instead of listening to a lecture, or writing a research paper, etc. students are discussing things in online forums with students (and adults) around the world. They are writing blog posts and posting online videos that others can comment on and share. They’re remixing other people’s creations to build new ways of looking at things. Technology makes this possible, but it doesn’t force it.

So what’s going on at ICS?

In a word, plenty. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be profiling some of the great things happening at ICS …and looking at ways we’re changing to promote 21st century education even more.

Welcome to the 21st century!

Deconstructing Learning

Can I try?

Quite possibly the greatest words a teacher can hear – this time they scared me silly.

It was about three-quarters the way through the lesson. I was working with just the 9th graders in class – the 10th graders were out doing some practice college entrance exam – and we were extending the work they’d done the week before. I had been away at the Learning 2.0 conference in Singapore, getting some fantastic professional development, and the students had disassembled and reassembled desktop PC’s, identifying and  researching the various components of a PC. Today, we were looking inside a (broken) hard drive and talking about storage and the difference between magnetic and sold-state drives.

The conversation strayed into the difference between computers and other electronic gadgets, particularly mobile phones. We talked about the similarities and differences, and students brought their phones out to examine them. Some asked about opening their iPhones and we talked about iOS vs. Android, Apple vs. other manufacturers, and the maker manifesto, “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”

That’s when Maxine asked if she could open her phone. I was hesitant but she was eager – it was an older Samsung phone (she also had an iPhone) and she was determined. I had visions of receiving a call from her parents complaining that I’d caused her to break her own phone …but it was a great learning moment. I would just have to cope with parental anger! So I sent her off to the Help Desk to get some screwdrivers and she came back a few minutes later, full of excitement.

The class all gathered around her desk as she started in. One boy brought out his phone to take some photographs. There was a noticeable buzz in the room as everyone was thrilled by her doing surgery on her working phone.  She got the screws out but was having difficulty getting the plastic backing off. The buzz started fading.

That’s when I really got over the fear that damage might be done. I took out my Android phone and handed it to Maxine. “Here, Maxine. Take mine apart.” The look in her eyes – and the amazement of the others – was literally priceless. Certainly it was more than the cost of the phone.  They were all excitedly chatting and the camerman switched to video. I laughed. “You all think that Maxine is going to break my phone, don’t you?” I asked. Maxine looked up at me, fear in her eyes. “Relax, Maxine. I trust you. You’ll do fine.”

Everyone was thoroughly engaged as Maxine took the screws out and then carefully prised off the plastic case. (She handed it to me when it got a little difficult.) We all examined the insides of the phone, identifying the powersupply (battery housing), storage (flash card slot), input (camera) and outpout (speaker). We talked about what else we couldn’t see, how we might take the screen off, etc. Kids were saying, “I’m going to do this at home!” (I urged caution! I told them of my fears of getting calls from their parents.) They were

That’s when I had my moonshot moment.

I looked at the students and asked them, “If we had a class or activity where you could take apart a toaster and find out how it works, build a lamp, change the plug on an appliance, explore how a car engine works, etc. would you want to do it.” All of them – especially (and most gratifyingly for this father of a 9 year old girl) the girls – all eagerly said, “Yes!” They were all buzzed about the idea and they were chatting about it as they filed out of class. (Maxine carefully reassembled my phone!) One boy came and talked with me about jailbreaking his phone.

So there’s my mission: build a makerspace for our students. I’ve got no budget, no space, no equipment. It will have to start slowly – maybe with an afterschool activity with some limited initiatives. But we can then build a space, get some tools and help students learn to dismantle, reassemble, fix, build, make, create.

It’ll be a challenge, but also fun. As a great man once said, “We choose to do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.”

10… 9… 8…