Education Trends

12 Nuggets of 21st-Century Learning

June 25, 2014
Photo credit: Thinkstock

Earlier this year as I was preparing for a series of presentations at annual school leaders and administrators events, several of my fellow EdLeader21 members suggested that I compile a list of my favorite 21st century resources -- tools and practices that introduce and encourage the 4Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) in our schools. It was great fun pulling this list together, and I'd like to share it with you.

Nugget #1: The Plate

I often tell the story of the Upper Arlington plate. It was a way for this Ohio district to talk about the core educational constructs "on" and "off" their 21st century "plate." Feel free to steal this idea. Turn the model for your 21st century strategy into a decal, put it on plates, and distribute them to your teachers and administrative team.

Nugget #2: The Poster

Like so many of our schools and districts, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (Georgia) has created their own version of 21st century outcomes: the Mount Vernon Mind. In this visually engaging poster, each Mind is represented by an icon. Every classroom showcases the poster, and students at all grade levels benefit from the constant reminder and illustration of each Mind. This is a great way to reinforce the importance of your 21st century work school-wide.

Nugget #3: The Murals

The Katherine Smith Elementary School in the Evergreen (California) USD has embraced the 4Cs and adopted a particularly colorful way to reinforce them -- a local artist came in and adorned the campus with murals.

Nugget #4: The Best Guide for Teachers

Many teachers in our schools and districts have asked for general materials on the 4Cs. We had the good fortune to help design An Educator's Guide to the 4Cs, and we think it came out great. This guide has the added benefit of being prepared by the NEA. Many districts are surprised to learn how supportive of the 4Cs the NEA has been. Consider sharing this report with your teacher union representatives.

Nugget #5: The Rubrics

You may have heard about our EdLeader 21 Rubrics, but did you know that they're now available for individual schools? Consider suggesting these excellent rubrics, developed and tested by our members, to your colleagues and friends who are advancing 21st century education in their schools and districts.

Nugget #6 (Special Double Nugget): The International Benchmark

We had 25 high schools participate in the pilot administration of the OECD Test for Schools (based on PISA). That's when we finally saw how rich a report (160 pages!) each school would receive on its performance. If you haven't seen one of the reports, download a sample. You will be blown away by how comprehensive they are and how greatly they can inform your program development. Along with academic proficiency data, schools also receive fascinating and useful survey data about their views and attitudes on classroom discipline, relationships with teachers, self-efficacy, and motivation.

Here's a second nugget -- the OECD Test for Schools Implementation Toolkit, funded in part by the Hewlett Foundation. This toolkit provides useful guidance and an array of resources to make it a platform for transformation in your high school or district.

Nugget #7: The PLC Focused on Critical Thinking

Most of us concur that critical thinking may be the most important of the 4Cs, so we need strategies that help teachers improve their pedagogy around critical thinking. Many schools and districts have formed PLCs, but too often they've only focused on traditional content approaches. That's why the Center for Authentic Intellectual Work (CAIW) helps teachers in PLCs work together and challenge each other toward practices aligned with higher-order thinking. Several of our districts are now working with CAIW on these PLC critical thinking strategies.

Nugget #8: The Best Student Work Resource

Most of us think that schools and districts focus too much on tests and not enough on student work. No one has focused better on student work than Ron Berger, Expeditionary Learning's Chief Academic Officer. In EdLeader21 circles, Ron is best known for Austin's Butterfly, a wonderful example of truly different pedagogy fostering collaboration and creativity.

Nugget #9 (Another Double Nugget): The Best PBL Resources

There's a growing understanding of how much project-based learning can help as a strategy to implement the 4Cs. The "go to" website for PBL is the Buck Institute for Education.

While you're there, check out another nugget: Suzie Boss and John Larmer's book PBL for 21st Century Success: Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity, which specifically links PBL to the 4Cs.

Nugget #10: The Best Systems Thinking Resource

Several of our districts have focused on systems thinking as an essential element of critical thinking and are teaching it to their students. They also use systems thinking to analyze and improve the processes of transformation in their district. The best resource on systems thinking is the Waters Foundation.

Nugget #11: The Best Design Thinking Resources

Another helpful curricular and instructional strategy for 21st century educational transformation is design thinking. This approach focuses relentlessly on the customer -- in our case, the student. Several of our schools and districts have found the principles of design thinking to be most helpful in moving their 21st century education efforts forward, ensuring that the work really meets the needs of 21st century students. There are two "go to" sites on design thinking in K-12 education -- the Stanford Design School's K12 Lab Network and IDEO's Design Thinking for Educators.

Nugget #12 (Last Double Nugget): The Exemplar of Continuous Improvement

At the end of the day, the quality of school and district culture plays a critical role in our ability to accomplish our objectives for 21st century classrooms and schools. We have found the culture of High Tech High to be an exemplar, in both their staffing and their use of continuous improvement tools like protocols.

Most recently, High Tech High has helped pull together numerous useful resources around 21st century deeper learning in the Deeper Learning MOOC. You'll find great information, including specific suggestions on how to use protocols.

I hope to compile a more complete list of 21st century learning nuggets later this year. In the comments section below, please let me know what I've missed.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Education Trends
  • Administration & Leadership
  • Professional Learning
  • Technology Integration

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.