21st century learning cofod 2011_09_27


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21st century learning cofod 2011_09_27

  1. 1. Town School for Boys 21st Century Learning – Cofod PresentationBoard Retreat Presentation 9/9/2011As a school, how are we relevant and flexible?How can we teach to our students’ future and not to our past?How do we better focus teaching and learning on process, perspective, experimental,self-directed learning and critical thinking?How should technology play a part in school?How do we promote interdisciplinary learning?How do we as global educators help students understand communities, cultures,counties, and countries?How do we celebrate all boys and make them feel known?You may recognize these questions as some of the so called “9 Points.” In the Spring of2010 a series of off site retreats was held involving all faculty and admnistration. Ourtask was to envision what Town School needs to become to serve the needs of 21stcentury learners. We have a very strong teaching staff, and our goal was to allow them tohelp create a vision for Town. Last fall, we refined these ideas into nine guidingquestions. These represent nine lines of inquiry to guide our transformation as a school.The documentation of the process that generated the 9 Points represents a vision ofwhat Town School will look like in the near and more distant future.Our process over the course of the last year involved a number of strands. First weworked with faculty to create a CAIS action plan that maps out some structures wewould like to build and changes that we would like to see over the next several years.Second, we worked with MKThink to look at how building changes at Town School cansupport new approaches to teaching, collaboration, and interdisciplinary learning.Finally the school has engaged in multi-faceted professional development related to ourvision. Consultants from Lime Design have been teaching us the design thinking processboth as a way to help us innovate as well as a way to teach students innovation andcreativity. They did a workshop with us last spring and another workshop two weeks agoin which we were asked to design the ideal 21st century classroom. The Lime Designinstructors, some of whom are associated with the Design School at Stanford, were verywell received by teachers. A few faculty attended an additional design thinkingworkshop this summer as well. A number of faculty attended responsive classroom anddevelopmental designs workshops to teach social emotional skills and build communityat the elementary and middle levels respectively. These programs, well establisthed inthe lower school are now moving into the upper school. A group of six, including me,attended the Project Zero workshop at the Harvard Graduate School of Education thissummer. We put on a workshop about Project Zero for faculty before school began. Ourall-faculty summer reading consisted of two books: The Project-Based Learning StarterKit from the Buck Insitiute for Education as well as Dr. Milton Chen’s EducationNation: Six Leading Edges of Innnovation in our Schools. Dr. Chen spoke to our faculty
  2. 2. and some of this group before school started. The goal for his talk was to affirm some ofthe initiatives we have already started as well as show us some avenues to take as weinnovate further in other areas.Thats a snapshot of what weve been doing. Let me step back and say a littlebit about some of the thinking that has informed our idea of 21st centurylearning.There are a number of current movements in education that suggest what schoolsshould look like in the future. Broadly, they attempt to provide answers to twoquestions, "What should students learn?" and "How should students learn?"Lets first consider the question of what students should learn.There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about 21st century skills. Examples ofthese skills include critical and analytical thinking, creativity, effective oral and writtencommunication, collaboration, and social-emotional skills. Different overlapping lists ofessential skills have been promoted by Tony Wagner in his Global Achievement Gapbook, by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and by NAIS. These lists are more orless derived from lists of the skills needed by workers in the present and futureeconomies. The 21st century skills line of thinking answers "skills" to the question,"What should students learn?"Another movement focuses on core knowledge rather than skills and has proposed acommon core of content standards that a many state school systems have adopted.Some of the more combative members of this movement attack the 21st century skillslists as too abstract and point out that the learning of skills and content are inextricablyintertwined. Skills are important, but this group holds they take a back seat to thecontent knowledge students need.The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. The lists of 21st century skills bear astrong resemblance to traditional liberal arts skills. Students have long been asked tothink analytically, communicate effectively, and work together. These skills remaintremendously important. What is different today is that we are beginning to makestudents more self-aware about these skills. When we ask students to think critically orwork collaboratively, more and more we are defining what those skills mean in ageappropriate ways and giving feedback that allows students to practice. This is in contrastto the past where schools gave students experience working in groups without givingthem the feedback needed for them to get better at doing it. The goal here is for astudent to be able to articulate his strengths and challenges in the area of teamwork justas well as he can articulate his strengths and challenges in content areas like math orSpanish. We should teach 21st century skills explicitly and intentionally rather thanleaving them as an implicit by-product of our program.Following the common core strand, we recognize that students do need a base of contentknowledge. Sometimes one hears the idea that content doesnt matter because the webputs all the worlds knowledge at our fingertips. But I doubt anyone has the experienceof looking up everything all the time on Google. The web is tremendously useful for
  3. 3. filling in gaps in ones knowledge or extending ones thinking in new directions. Butwhen an elementary school student extends his thinking, he must already have a base ofknowledge that he is building out from. Students need to construct a framework ofknowledge at each level that they can build on when they get to the next level. Moreover,building 21st century skills must happen in the context of specific knowledge. We dontinquire, innovate, or think critically in the abstract. We do it in relation to specific ideasand knowledge. Core knowledge remains crucial. Yet thats not to say that everythingweve traditionally taught is equally relevant and there are examples of things that havebeen left out. Islam and the middle east have received short shrift in the past. At Town,we are again considering how Mandarin could be part of our foreign language offerings.Whats different in education now is that there is an ongoing dialogue about what coreknowledge is. We can no longer just decide on a core and stick with it. It needscontinuous revision, at least around the edges.And in addition to that revision, there is also an imperative to teach content knowledgein the context of broad questions that help students build a framework. Students learnby following broad questions like, “How can I communicate my ideas clearly so thatothers can understand them?” “How can events and stories be viewed from differentperspectives?” or “What does it take to create and sustain a community?” By acquiringknowledge through the consideration of questions like these over time, students seeknowledge as a connected whole rather than a series of unconnected bits. This strand ofour thinking is informed by Project Zero.So if thats a little about what students should know and be able to do, howshould students learn these things?The nutshell answer here is that our boys should learn in more student-centered ways.Traditional teacher-centered techniques are still important, but they need to bebalanced with techniques that center on the learner.There are a number of reasons for striking this balance. One is that student-centeredtechniques like project-based learning can continue to teach core knowledge while moreeffectively teaching key skills. Project-based learning asks students to meet a complexchallenge while working in teams. Projects start with an open-ended, driving questionlike, “How can we design a completely self-sustaining ecosystem?” or “How did WorldWar II affect San Francisco differently than other parts of the US?” Teachers then guidestudents in a process of inquiry. Students develop an answer to the central question byusing core content knowledge. The context of the project is designed to create a "need toknow" atmosphere and generate curiosity. Students have guided choice in how theywork and in the products they create.In project-based learning the teacher provides feedback to help students become moreself-aware about skills like collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.Students use the knowledge and skills they are acquiring in flexible ways that lead todeeper learning. Presentations ask students to think on their feet in front of an audienceof other people beyond the classmates and teacher. Rather than learn, repeat back, and
  4. 4. forget, students learn, use in a new way, and retain. An example might be studentspresenting findings from a project to a panel of experts who probe their thinking andask how the findings might apply in other areas. This would be in contrast to thetraditional report in which students simply state their findings without being asked tothink about them in a new way.Another approach to student-centered learning involves blending online learning intostudents’ school experience. There is tremendous potential for students to use websitesor software to build basic skills and content knowledge at their own pace. Examples arethe Khan Academy website and online courses like those developed by Mark KushnersK12 . This software can adjust to the level of challenge needed by each student. Withstudents building skills online, more instructional time is freed up for teachers targetindividual areas of growth or to facilitate group learning or other kinds of experiencesnot possible online.What I’ve said so far reflects some of our thinking on 21st century learning. At thispoint, we would like to allow you a little time to think about the future of learning.DiscussionAs you reflect on 21st century learning and you think about the skills you want your sonsto be facile with in their years beyond Town, wed like you to consider two questions:What are the skills that you were taught in school that you have found to beindispensable?What skills do you need now that you wish you had been taught in school?To discuss these questions we would like to divide you up into three groups (well countoff in a moment).Once youre in your groups, please designate one group member to be the recorder andreporter for the group.Once youve had a chance to discuss the first question, we ask that your group agree onthe top three to five skills or areas of knowledge that the group found indispensable. Thereporter will write these on one or more sticky notes and report out to rest of us.We will repeat the process for the second question.Questions? Ok, please count off by threes.What did you think of this discussion and the way it was structured?So why havent schools taught 21st century skills explicitly or used project-based learning widely? How is Town going go do it?One answer to the skills part of that question is that standardized testing has focused oncontent knowledge, and schools, by and large, teach what is tested. The good news isthat there are new tests being developed that are designed to assess critical thinking andcommunication. The Collegiate Learning Assessment is being given by high schools andcolleges to look at the development of these 21st century skills as well as to examine thequestion of what value these institutions add for students. While there is not yet anassessment available for elementary and middle school, I wouldnt be surprised to see
  5. 5. something in the not too distant future. That being said, we expect the deeper learningand skill building promoted by techniques like project-based learning to leave ourstudents better prepared for traditional standardized tests. They should be able to dowhat they’ve done in the past and more.Another past block to innovation is that we are part of a school system. High schools saythey cant change until colleges do and elementary schools are waiting for the highschools. The good news here is that the conversation about 21st century skills, coreknowledge, and student-centered learning are happening at every level. Both NancyDoty and I have recently heard about similar conversations at UHS. Milton Chen notedthat he sees conversations about a shift in education happening at schools across thecountry. As we change, we will track what is going on at the high school level so that weare neither too far out ahead nor behind where those schools are.It has been noted that project-based learning is widely acclaimed both by schools ofeducation and by teachers. Despite that, it is little used in practice. Research shows thatthe vast majority of teaching in US schools is individual deskwork or whole-classinstruction by the teacher. The reason is that project-based learning is challenging tomanage successfully. It requires opportunities for teachers to experiment and sharetheir ongoing classroom experiences with their colleagues. At Town we areimplementing structures to help us innovate, learn from each other, and thinkstrategically.This year faculty will be working in groups to develop, refine, and share project-basedlearning units that teach existing course content with increasing effectiveness. Theconsultants from Lime Design will be working with groups of faculty as they designthese units. Jared Fortunato will be working as 21st century learning coach to developprojects with teachers using the iPad, an effort also supported through professionaldevelopment provided by Apple. Eric Wilds role has been recast as technologyinnovation specialist. With this support, faculty will take proven ideas and combinethem with their experience to create something thing new. There is tremendous interestamong our faculty to try new things. As we returned to school, there was a palpablesense of excitement about whats coming next for education and for Town. To capitalizeon this, we intend to further institutionalize collaborative experimentation and learningfor faculty at Town. This year we will lay out a multi-year roadmap for professionaldevelopment that will help us more effectively balance teacher- and student-centeredinstruction and more explicitly teach 21st century skills. This plan will include bothformal training opportunities such as workshops and conferences as well as structuresfor professional learning in faculty-based groups. These kind of faculty-based groups arereally how outside professional development initiated by teachers or by the school getsabsorbed into the fabric of what we do on a daily basis. As we move forward, the goal forus is to figure out what’s coming next, how it applies to Town, and how to make ithappen in the classroom.That’s a little bit about where we are today. To summarize, we have a working definitionfor 21st century learning:
  6. 6. What should students learn? They should learn broad skills in ways that allow them tounderstand and practice those skills, and they should learn core content knowledge.How should students learn? They should continue to learn through effective teacher-centered techniques. These techniques need to be balanced with student-centeredtechniques that promote deep knowledge of content and essential skills. Examples areproject-based learning and design thinking.How do we do it? By thinking innovatively and strategically about where were goingand by building further structures for faculty to take initiative, experiment, and learnfrom one another.Before we break for lunch, Pam and I just want to give you a couple of vignettes ofchanges we have already seen in action or in the planning stage.In the 5th-8th grade Humanities and Lit Writer courses, I’ve observed guiding questionsfor the year posted on the wall.In 5th Humanities and 7th Spanish I’ve observed thinking routines.In 8th grade a design thinking unit. Student as engineer/designer. To work on thedesign process skills, a top. Will be used in later projects designing boats to explorebouyency, rockets to explore aerodynamics, and experiments to test Newton’s Laws.ReferencesRotherham, Andrew J. and Willingham, Daniel, “21st Century Skills: The ChallengesAhead,” Educational Leadership 67.1 (2009)