Does 21st century learning demand a renewed attention to inquiry, relevance, and project-based learning, or are these alternate approaches too problematic to adopt wide-scale?
Can the curriculum balance the teaching of core academics and "21st century skills"? If so, how?
As an example of another approach (which might stimulate some conversation) here is a video about, Larry Rosenstock's "High Tech High" which is a high school based on the principles of project based learning...
In response to Eric and Richard's comments about our role as teachers in a project-based classroom - I have definitely felt that awkwardness about being more a facilitator during a project rather than my too often and unfortunate role as the teacher at the center of the classroom. That said, I think I need to get past this awkward feeling of not being useful or productive (is it a lack of control?) and let the students take the reins more often than not. It is true that when I have asked students for feedback they respond very positively to the projects we do in class. After many tries, I've figured out that a successful project needs to be scaffolded well - that means lots of checkpoints and opportunities for feedback from the facilitator and peers. I think our students need more opportunities to hear criticism and understand that growth comes from trying and not always being successful. Making mistakes and realizing that one can bounce back from these ought to have a big place in our school culture! Lastly, I would add that getting "buy in" from the students about why we are doing the project we are doing is a big plus in student motivation. If they can understand from the beginning of the project what the goal is then the checkpoints are more easily perceived as having a purpose. It can be great work and very rewarding for the students, especially if there is some form of public recognition at the end.
This video makes me curious about the nuts and bolts of the teachers’ curricular work. In group projects within my own class, I have observed what Shera describes as students taking ownership of “constructing meaning in their work,” and it is an amazing experience, but as Paul Q. notes, it is hard to see how the HTH model translates to BB&N as it is currently set up.
I'll give an example: When doing a drama unit in my tenth grade class, I handed kids a script of a short play and their job was to move from day one of reading the play to performance. It would have been great to have them incorporate art into creating backdrops, but my students didn't have access to the art resources (materials or space) because there were art classes in progress during the same block, the materials were art-dept. materials, and the art teachers would be busy with their own students. Nor could I have turned my classroom into a studio for a few days because I share it with other teachers and couldn't really have left, say, painted sheets hanging up to dry for the history class/model U.N. club meeting/Latin class that also used the room. (I am not suggesting in any way that the art dept. would not have been cooperative; I didn't even attempt to bring them in. I am just pointing out that the schedule, the architecture, and the resources were all considerations/obstacles.) The model seems to me to demand a full-school commitment to exploding disciplinary divisions, which is interesting, I think, but logistically pretty daunting.
It does take collaboration and in some cases shared vision; a trade off of time and scheduling to allow these opportunities. For example for the sixth grade musical, with the shift in the MFA day to later in the year, it allows more chances for the drama teacher to integrate time in music class for working on singing techniques for the show, as well as chances in art class for students to work on set design and construction. Once we recognize that the skills and techniques learned in each class are still being applied, in a way that makes stronger, meaningful connections for students to truly understand what it means to produce a musical, we can begin to see not so much a loss of class time, but a shifting of focus or content. Of course this may be more feasible in an elementary/quasi-middle school model rather than the US, but there may be ways to structure class schedules for overlay and collaborating among subjects.
As a school or campus, it becomes clear that this does need buy in and support in terms of logistics and resources. When this collaboration does happen, it can be a beautiful, meaningful experience for the students and faculty.
Replying to Jean's observations about the limitations of our spaces---What a good example she gives! Yes--If the kids in her classes had been able to invest more in their productions with scenery and props and costumes, you can be sure the investment in their work would go even further. A school needs to commit much more in terms of space (where do we get more inches at Gerry's Landing Road), time (a schedule with longer blocks), and a mandated philosophy that makes such things the center of a curriculum, not the add-on in a few units by a few inventive teachers. I don't mean to be discouraging: I just mean to say that BB&N US would need to wrestle hard with how to encourage and physically support such a learning approach.
I also had this thought in regard to Maggies' honest confession that when she initiates a project and the kids are happy and engaged and busy, she feels that she is "not important" any more. It does take a leap of faith to know that kids learning from each other and on their own is really TERRIFIC. As an art teacher, I feel things are really cooking when students come in and get to work and have their own goals for the projects I have started them on. Sometimes I am super busy coaching individual kids; sometimes I am giving the whole class some new level of visual ideas to think about. But sometimes I am just available if they need me. It takes faith to realize that by stepping out of the way we teachers allow students to step IN to learning and engaging more.
I think that Project-Based Learning and 21st Century instruction can be melded together for a holistic approach to reinvigorating curriculum. Our job as teachers is to reflect often on our practices and ask ourselves if what we are teaching is relevant and timely and are the pathways we use engaging to our current learners. Providing updated pathways by which students acquire knowledge and understanding as well as demonstrate their own learning is what Palfrey and November and many others are discussing. We need to be asking ourselves if the learning objectives, methods to gain understanding, and pathways to present learning are not only developmentally appropriate but are appropriate for the era in which our students live. Do we create authentic learning circumstances, do we allow students choice in their learning process and direction, do we utilize our own community and allow learning in context, do we seek out experts outside of our school walls, do we provide opportunities for student action...
I love Rosenstock's comments regarding identity. The authenticity is the key to learning. Not only do students experience modeling and examples, undergo problem solving, practice and role play, but then they take the schema gleaned to the next level and have an additional in-context experience. The ability to apply your learning to a new situation is the transfer we are looking for, not mere content mastery. Are we supporting the development of skills that will help the student navigate the world? Reflection on our practices keeps us passionate about what we teach and revitalizing curriculum is a process that is much less daunting when done with teammates and when you realize that much of what we are looking at is about the route we choose to take or better yet the ability or willingness to let our students choose the route.
Here are some sites that have good ideas, information, and more regarding 21st Century Skills and Project Based Learning:
Larry Rosenstock: "One misapprehension of rigor is that it's more content. A more nuanced misapprehension of rigor is that it's increasingly complex content. I would argue that rigor is being in the company of a passionate adult who is rigorously pursuing inquiry in an area in their subject matter and who is inviting students along as peers in that adult discourse. That's rigor." What a great definition! Kids want to be recognized as capable. They want to make their own decisions about what to do and when to do it. Building that into what they do at school is heading them in the direction they need to go to think things through and take action in their lives. We don't have High Tech High's physical plant, but I think we already have lots of teachers doing project based learning. This school is hands on, not necessarily all digitally based. I wonder what assessment is like?
Back to Schools of the Future Discussion
Q: Does 21st century learning demand a renewed attention to inquiry, relevance, and project-based learning, or are these alternate approaches too problematic to adopt wide-scale?
A: Much of what I read from my colleagues, Anthony Reppucci, Debbie Slade, Caitlin Drechsler, and many others, I agree with whole-heartedly. But like in the 20th and 21st century there remains in the larger society a cultural paradigm which is divisive on many levels, e.g., race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and class. There are comments outside of our elite ivory walls that are expressing loudly, "Schools have nothing to do with education."
When we talk about educating our children for the 21st century, what do we mean by that term? A standard dictionary definition of education is "the process of giving or receiving systematic instruction," quite an open-ended description if we look into education's expansive range and lofty aspirations. "Cradle to grade" has become a byword among some educators and family systems.
Education is the means to knowledge and craft. But both intellectual enlargement and skill acquisition require more than dictatorial and statically defined "receiving systematic instruction," hence the reason for profusion of internships, residencies, on-the-job training, seminars, accompanying and working with educators, and the like.
Some communities believed historically that apprenticeship had been the educational norm for transmitting and acquiring knowledge. Thus with the decline of its legitimacy (a deliberate undermining tactic of hyper-capitalist systems) has come the loss of much knowledge. Some cultures believe that people possessed a much wider and deeper repertoire of knowledge and skills than we do today, though many of “us” educated in the secular system of the West would have been trained to believe (without proof) just the opposite, that our early predecessors were hopelessly ignorant before the revelation of so-called “Western science.” There is a belief that the system that we live in is designed to incarcerate our youth for a quarter of a century of life which virtually forfeit the economic assets of their financially depleted parents for that length of time, and- with student loans- to semi-permanently indenture our children themselves on the plantations of the power elite. Some populations within America believe that this is no coincidence either, that this takes place at an age when young people, unoccupied with education by fear and unencumbered by anxious debt would normally be using the “guided” idealism and the vigor of their youth to transform societal inequities and redistribute power among the future generations.
There are some cultural tendencies from Africa, the Middle East, and, yes, parts of Asia, who believe that people before us knew a lot more and were much more skilled in multiple intelligences and crafts than we are. It is assumed that they had much more integrated personalities, were far more self-sufficient, and acquired higher mastery of disciplines and trades much, much earlier than we of today, usually in their teens.
“Please do not hate me for being the messenger.”
Yes! The curriculum can be a balance of the teaching of core academics and “21st century skills.” How? By not allowing ourselves to present a cultural paradigm of Western supremacy to other people, and the continuation of national and global dialogue, making connections and bridging divides by use of technology.