George Lucas Educational Foundation
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21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning?

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A Tale of Two Classrooms: Compare & Contrast

Just let me start off by saying that the term "21st Century Learning" still drives me crazy. If you think about it, in the last ten years have we progressed in our thoughts about what learning should look like and could be? What about in the next 50 years? Will "21st Century Learning" be the same, or will we still promote the same skills? Who knows? But I am sure that our world will continue to change significantly.

With that being said, for the sake of discussion, I will call it "21st Century Learning."

Devices Without Direction?

I had a great discussion with some educators the other day about the idea of "21st Century Schools vs. 21st Century Learning." In the last month, I have seen so many schools with AMAZING spaces that make it look as if great learning opportunities are happening, but I am not sure if the learning has changed. If a school has these fantastic spaces (such as a library which many now refer to as a media center or commons) while we are still telling kids to be quiet and having them sit alone (but on comfortable couches!), do we really have 21st Century Learning? Or do we just have something that looks good to our stakeholders? I know that amazing learning doesn't happen just because we make amazing spaces for it, but what are the goals that we are moving toward?

This has really been weighing on my mind since I started seeing a lot of iPads in schools in a 1:1 environment. I asked a group of students at one school how they were using their devices, and they told me that they now had their textbooks on the iPad. They also told me that they didn't like having the iPads because there were so many other things to do on the device that they couldn't stay focused.

Pretty crazy since they'd been given an online textbook to keep them entertained!

The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too often without conversations with educators about what learning should be happening in the classroom. This is actually frustrating many teachers that I have spoken with; it just becomes another thing being dumped on educators, not something that is going to make learning better. There is definitely some value in playing with a device and figuring out the wonderful things it can do, but should we really buy these en masse for that purpose? Shouldn't we try to figure out what the learning looks like and then discuss the device? It seems sometimes that we are doing the exact opposite.

Visions for Learning

In the Parkland School Division, we have focused a lot on where we would like to go, and our Digital Portfolio Project discusses the learning that we'd like to see. In fact, with all of the content included in the document, the iPad is not even discussed. The focus is on the learning, as it should be. Once that is somewhat clear to all (because learning continuously evolves), then we can take the next steps. Too many schools are doing it in reverse.

A question that I often ask many educators is this: can you tell me your school's vision for learning? I am worried that this is not something many schools have even talked about, let alone articulated with each other.

I really believe that some amazing learning is possible in schools stuck with the "traditional four walls" if we focus on what the learning should look like. Scroll up and take a look at the image above, via Krissy Venosdale

Could this be the way to start a discussion with staff? What is imperative? What is great? What is missing?

Let's continue to focus on the learning but really focus our time when we get together to figure out what it should look like. We can figure out the devices later.

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Jaclyn's picture
Owner of Kids Connect Preschool & Child Care Facility

Hi George,

I am in the process of opening a preschool that I've named Kids Connect. I do refer to my school as "21st Century Learning" where my philosophy is to integrate technology into the curriculum and thematic lesson plans. I also include the "4Cs" - collaboration, communication, critical thinking, & creativity as part of the philosophy because with my constructivist outlook on learning, children learn by engaging, not by the teacher delivering instruction. I understand that you are not fond of the term because the methods on teaching children are always changing so what may be sufficient for now may not be so in 50 years.

For me, "21st Century Learning" means keeping up with current research on early child education and networking with other educational professionals on facilitating meaningful experiences for children to engage in. So, at this moment we may be introduced to specific types of learning experiences, however, the research may deviate from what we are now practicing to something greater.

I think your frustration lies in that there has been technology integration and classrooms changing their structure, yet teaching methods are remaining the same. Besides saving trees by removing textbooks from the classroom, purchasing iPads are wasteful unless teachers are educated on HOW to effectively incorporate the use of an iPad (professional development day?). I have purchased 2 ipads for my school (it's a small facility) and have been researching different educational apps and their purpose. Some of them allow students to use the app to test specific skills, yet communicate with their peers while critically thinking. For example, the ScreenChomp app allows students to draw a problem and record a video as they draw and speak to explain the problem to a friend in need of a breakdown. The video can be shared multiple ways.

Bottom line is that as educators, we remain to adhere to following state standards as we prepare our children for future. We can achieve this by creating meaningful experiences where children can make connections to what they are exposed to, and utilize this information outside of the classroom. If we are informed on updated practices and the effective/ineffective methods to teaching, it is our choice to implement these methods. Every child learns differently, but children certainly learn as they collaborate, communicate, critically think, and begin to create a purposeful interpretation of the world around us. Is that not what we do as adults and within our careers?

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

Hi George, I agree re. the C21st window dressing that cool tech in the classroom provides. Without a fundamental shift in the ways our school organizations operate, I also feel all this tech could be used as expensive worksheet and text replacements.

3m, Google, IDEO and hosts of other innovative organizations highlighted in TED talks, in Chip and Dan Heath's book "Switch" treat their staff in a way that encourages innovation. We want our kids to be innovative? We have to train/encourage/support teachers to be too. How we learn and are treated trickles down to the classroom.

This is not top-down management, it's distributed leadership, it's about allowing risk-taking and experimentation with highly trained staff who are united in their goals for students. It's been and being done in expensive and hugely successful private schools. How shall we implement such a system for all kids?

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