I have been attending the online P21 Cyber Summit for several days, continuing to October 5. P21 is short for Partnership for 21st Century Skills. This partnership consists of teachers, administrators, college educators and businesses across the nation who are working together to put 21st Century Skills into our schools. The 4 C’s of P21 are Communication, Critical thinking and problem solving, Collaboration, and Creativity. What one realizes immediately is that these 4 C’s infused into today’s traditional classroom will transform that environment to one that is project based, high level thinking, with open ended/alternative solutions allowing students room to inquire and create.
Sometimes we think that being creative applies only to art and writing. Or that project based learning is fine for social studies but certainly not for math. One of the presenters was a middle school math teacher who described his unit on area and volume. He divided his class into project teams. Their task was to devise a container for a company that wanted to market its product in a particular volume increment. The project teams were to decide which container shape and size best suited the product for packaging, shipping and display purposes. They were then to create and present the container to the class. Rubrics were used to measure both the mathematical accuracy and the 4 C’s of each individual in each group. Would it have been easier to put the formulas for area and volume on the white board, have the students memorize them and move on? What was gained in terms of engagement, real-world application and the 4 C’s by totally altering the traditional teaching method?
A humanities teacher, who team-taught with a language arts instructor, also presented. They devised a class game in which the students were assigned properties, marketable skills and varying amounts of wealth. For a week, the class operated as a democracy with each student working to accumulate as much money and property possible. For a second week, they operated under communist rules of shared wealth and redistribution of resources. Following these exercises, they shared their observations of work in relation to wealth under the two systems with surprising results.
My point in presenting these examples is that almost any lesson plan can be moved up the scale of rigor and critical thinking. Every content area can provide for collaborative, creative student experiences. Even better would be inter-disciplinary, project-based learning experiences so that our students can see that the world isn’t really divided up into language arts, biology , algebra I and II. There is no place in 21st Century education for students working the majority of the time in isolation from their peers primarily devoting time to factual recall, skill building types of activities. There must be a balance between content and cognitive. There are obviously certain facts and skills that students in a particular discipline need to know. As teachers, we have a choice in how that learning takes place in our classrooms. And we understand that the world of work wants tech savvy people who can think for themselves, work together, communicate effectively and meet problems with creative solutions. There are no multiple choice answers out there.