George Lucas Educational Foundation
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21st-Century Learning Creates New Roles for Students -- and Parents

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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How do you remember the classrooms where you spent your formative years? If you're picturing a teacher writing on a chalkboard while kids sit in neat rows, it's time for a refresher course. Not only is that chalkboard a relic from yesteryear, but so are many of the old-school approaches to teaching and learning. Even parents are taking on new roles in today's changing classrooms.

For good reasons, schools across the country are making the shift to 21st-century learning. If you're a parent of school-aged children, you've likely heard this phrase. Today's students need to master a new set of skills that will prepare them for the challenges and changes ahead. Being ready for college and careers means not only learning important academic content, but also knowing how to collaborate, think critically and creatively, and use technology tools to communicate.

Rote learning and memorization won't help students become nimble, creative thinkers who can work well with others. Instead, schools that embrace 21st-century learning are creating opportunities for students to practice these critical skills through technology-rich experiences. Project-based learning gives students a chance to solve real-world problems while learning what it takes for teamwork to work well.

To help parents get a better picture of what effective 21st-century learning looks like, Edutopia has just published a free guide. A Parent's Guide to 21st-Century Learning is available to download at no cost.

Along with examples of engaged learning from elementary, middle and high schools, parents will also find suggestions for new ways they can get involved in their children's learning. If you think volunteering at school means bringing cupcakes or chaperoning field trips, you may be in for a surprise!

Here are just a few examples:

  • If you're a parent who travels occasionally, arrange to Skype with your child's classroom and offer a parent-on-the-street report or tour from another part of the world. Skype is a free service that uses the Internet for voice or video conferencing. Many teachers use Skype in the Classroom to find partners for projects that extend learning beyond the school and even across time zones.
  • In schools that are involved in project-based learning, students often need to consult with outside experts. Volunteer for this role and share what you know. It's a short-term way to connect with the classroom. In the process, you'll get a better appreciation for the deep learning that takes place during challenging projects.
  • Find out if your child's school uses collaborative tools like Edmodo, Google Apps or wikis. These technology tools offer parents a window into classroom activities. Some teachers even invite parents to comment on students' blogs. Ask teachers how you can use online tools to connect with students.
  • Start a discussion group at your school to help fellow parents understand how education is changing -- and how they can help. You might plan a book talk or host a screening about a film that focuses on new ways of learning. Check the parent guide for suggested resources to help you learn more.

Finally, we hope you'll join the Edutopia community to learn more about what's new and exciting in public education. You can take part in ongoing discussions about what works in education and connect with teachers and parents from across the country. Visit Edutopia groups or visit our new Parent group on Facebook.

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Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Wanda Hopkins McClure's picture
Wanda Hopkins McClure
Elementary Grades Director/ Amana Academy a Fulton County Charter School

Great post, Suzie. The parent's guide looks like it will be very helpful. I currently consult with a private school in Texas and we are moving in this direction. Thanks for sharing.

DanaJamal's picture
High school Computer teacher

Hi Suzi,
Great post, I downloaded "A Parent's Guide to 21st-Century Learning" its a very helpful guide.I read it and I found the URLs that you added very useful . I attend to set time to explore them all . I started with the Project based learning video and it was interesting. Thanks for sharing .

HiFIKIDS's picture
HiFiKIDS Corporation

Good Post!!! is another 21st century revolutionary way of motivating kids for their own passion or anything of their interests. We encourage kids to come up and present their topic of interests (Acting, Music, Singing, Sports, Math, Space Science, Science experiment or anything they are good at) in front of the video camera by asking one single question at the end of their presentation with multiple choice answers (Remember "Who wants to be a millionaire" or "Who is smarter then 5th grader?" format but here kids act like an anchor of the's "Who is more passionate?" program) and then upload the video presentation in our Passion School. It comes for the approval to check if the contents are appropriate for that age and submitted parameters are appropriate. Once approved by the approver it then gets published for the similar age kids for the respective language and region. So the number of questions kids submit and the number of questions kids answer correctly which is submitted by another same age kids are totaled which generates passion graph. In this public level program, we encourage kids to come up with the topics they love or they know the most or they enjoy the most and can comfortably present in front of the camera. This is how our passion graph accurately shows their growing passion and by doing this over the period will help teachers /parents to know their real interests or genuine skills. We have started yearly competition for "Who is more passionate?" where we will award the kids at the end of every year 31st December.

Here are some videos to watch:

This is completely free website, however only paid members can participate in our yearly competition to receive yearly award. Yearly subscription is $15 per child per year(who is less than 18 year old).
Please contact us at for any further questions.

Louis Leibowitz's picture

Suzie--I really appreciated your post! I am very interested in 21st Century Learning, both in concept and in practice. Conceptually, we as educators are integrating technology into curriculum and teaching as tools to use for learning, including creating new and original mediums for the learning process to occur. Practically, we also have a vested interest--and arguably a professional responsibility--to teach students how to be literate and fluent with the constantly evolving stimuli they are and will continue to come into contact with in the 21st century. This includes ensuring that students are able to apply their skills to further their own learning and apply the skills and knowledge they learn in the classroom in new and improved ways. Very exciting topic. Thanks for your post.

Mary J's picture
Mary J
3rd grade teacher Williamsburg VA

This post is full of useful information. My school is preparing to use iPads in every grade level next year. The discussion group for parents sounds like a wonderful way to allay fears and educate parents without overwhelming them. I am looking forward to exploring the Parent's Guide to 21st-Century Learning.

Sue Boudreau's picture
Sue Boudreau
Seventh Grade science teacher from Orinda, California

Front-loading and online information and transparency (forgive the pun) have helped to reassure and enroll our parent community in project based learning and other 21st C curriculum initiatives. What we are doing with your children and why. It's what I want to know as a parent as well as a teacher.

Being responsive to parent input helps too. I get the occasional curmudgeon who wants textbook page homework only, but they are the tiny minority. Most parents want their children to be happy, challenged and prepared for the adult world. If they tell their parents about what's going on in class, even as sometimes surly 8th graders, that's the biggest boost any curriculum can get.

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