The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write,
but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler

Thursday, September 23, 2010

P21 Can Transform Classrooms

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.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What I Learned in School This Week

If we were to ask each of our students to blog “what I learned in school this past week,” it would be interesting to see what we would get. I am asking myself that same question at the end of week 2, 2010. The highlight of my week came on Wednesday, in a challenge by Iowa Qwest President Max Phillips to our AEA superintendent group to: 1. Take risks and be willing to absorb failure; 2. Do more with less as a strategic direction; 3. Act as if I am the founder of my school, not just the superintendent; and 4. Work on a vision that creates new categories—challenges and changes the status quo.

I believe that we are risk takers at MNW. We are willing to try new things, to make ourselves visible and always attempt to better ourselves and our programs. But there are a number of limbs yet to climb out on. Phillips mentioned areas that have always been on my mind as well—the extended school year, competency-based instruction and advancement, and virtual learning. These, he said, are the game changers in education. And I believe that they are inevitable in the relatively short term. In Florida, right now, you can take your high school courses virtually from the state’s online school--anytime, anywhere, and you can get your diploma from the Florida Virtual High School. In Iowa we are still quarreling over the start date relative to the Iowa State Fair.

Create your own consolidation and sharing strategies, Max advised. We have already begun talks with Southeast Webster Grand and Prairie Valley Schools on how we might share courses and resources without the traditional busing of students for long distances.

So, in many ways, Max Phillips validated many of the initiatives already begun here at Manson Northwest Webster. We must not ever become so fixated on the day-to-day events of school that we forget about the bigger picture of where we are going. As Max put it, we are not trying to create Schools, we are trying to create World-class Learners.