Category Archives: Books

Transforming Learning Through 21st Century Skills- Part Two

I finished the book with a true grasp of the topic. The very clear and concise points moved smoothly through the rest of the chapters. There were many opportunities to stop and see where each individual fits in the discussion. Chapter 4 defined and stressed the importance of school culture as it applies to the climate and atmosphere of the school. Six characteristics define a positive school culture. The survey assessment was particularly interesting. Chapter 5 covered setting and achieving goals. One suggestion was a list of energy savers and energy wasters. By visualizing the end result, the process made perfect sense to me. Chapter 6 was perhaps my favorite because it emphasized the need to communicate clearly. It is an essential skill to all aspects of life. Chapter 7 asks the reader to predict possible roadblocks and barriers. Four types of response were discussed and the challenge to identify where the individual fits into the discussion was very enlightening. Chapter 8 asks for the individual to engage support with personal accountability and peer groups. Chapter 9 says to make it real in the classroom and continue learning. There was a very comprehensive collection of resources at the end of the book.

The reflections listed at the end of the chapters appealed to me because they followed up with the ideas presented in the chapter. This allowed me to finish a chapter with reflections and a sense of closure. For me, I wish I had the actual book rather than the digital book. I think keeping the reflections in a journal format would be very appealing; however, the notes I took accomplished the same goal, but not as organized as I would have liked. I enjoyed this format and the focus of the topic. Highly recommended for those who want an excellent overview and guidebook for this important venture in education.

Transforming Learning through 21st Century Skills

If you are still looking for a general overview and background information on the subject of 21st century education, this is a great resource. It is very clearly organized and easy to read. Chapter 1 deals with the rapid pace of change in the world as it applies to our students. Two statistics jumped out at me. First, the top jobs that our students will be competing for as adults did not exist in 2004. Second, today’s students will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38. Lydotta and Jill gave personal observations of their children’s experience with technology in the 1980’s. I was reminded of my daughter’s delight with her Speak and Spell – after all, it was so advanced that ET was able to use it to contact his space ship, right?
The authors identified eight of the greatest challenges for educators today. They also defined generations from Baby Boomers to Gen I, and gave a synopsis of the evolution.

Chapter 2 discusses 21st century skills and a model for change. “We do not believe that technology is a must in every 21st century skills learning opportunity.” A rainbow graphic shows the skills that our students will need to master- they look very familiar and incorporate information media and tech skills as one of several components. The chapter ended with a self check- is your classroom a 21st century classroom? Even the most traditional teacher will be delighted to find that they are farther along than they could imagine. The Who Took My Chalk?tm step by step model was then explained. The chapter summary allows the reader to take a moment to make sure that they have the main ideas presented in the text.

Chapter 3 challenges the reader to recognize the need or desire to make changes in their approach. Looking at our own fears and keeping a positive attitude for their suggested 21 days can allow the teacher time to make a few changes and then reflect on the process. The authors also said that keeping the changes and adjustments positive and happy for the teacher is a key approach.

These first three chapters have provided a solid background and foundation for the next section.

Summer Reading: Reinventing Project-Based Learning Part III

My final thought about Reinventing Project-Based Learning is that the book spent a little too much attention on exceptional projects. I actually would have preferred to read about average PBL instead of exceptional. Many of the projects referenced in the book were incredibly specific to the community. While I can see the value of eventually building a project like that, at first it seems more practical to do something a little more general. A few exceptional projects would have been great, but I also wanted examples of projects that failed – so I could learn from them.

There needs to be a book with specific instructions in designing projects, specific problems & specific solutions. I’m a firm believer in creativity and doing things differently. However, I also think you need to learn the rules before you break them.

Anyway, the book was decent overall….I’m just a big critic!

Summer Reading: Reinventing Project-Based Learning Part II

I liked the second half of this book slightly more than the first. It was a little more specific. One thing I was struck by while reading through the second half is how much PBL and modeling instruction have in common. For example, both emphasize asking good questions. Modeling recommends Socratic technique while PBL seems to advocate for complex, content-rich questions. Either way, the intention is to promote higher order thinking.

Another similarity between modeling and PBL is that both are extremely student centered. In both, teachers act as facilitators instead of sources of knowledge. In both, students are tasked with actively constructing meaning instead of passively consuming. Additionally both seem to sacrifice some breadth for richness and depth.

However there are some differences too. Especially for subjects like physics, chemistry, and math modeling offers one core methodology and curriculum instead of the seemly vast forest of resources for PBL. Both philosophies have advantages, but especially for the new modeler it’s nice to have access to a source of materials that are always high quality as with modeling. The other advantage of the core curriculum is that it is constantly being improved not just by a few physics teachers, but hundreds of physics teachers (I’ve even contributed a few small things). The more un-structured approach to curriculum materials for PBL does offer ton’s of variety though!

Summer Reading Thoughts: Reinventing Project-Based Learning

I’m about half-way through Reinventing Project Based Learning by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss. I’m not sure how I feel about it. The book is clearly well written, it’s probably more practical than most, and has some interesting interviews with teachers. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes & reactions so far:

“Teach Less, Learn More.”

-The Motto of the Ministry of Education in Singapore

Why don’t we follow proven educational leaders like Singapore and Finland?

“I’ll never go back….to the way I used to teach.”

This seems like a very persuasive argument in favor of investing in PBL. Modeling instruction in physics is similar – of all the teachers who learn/try modeling very few ever return to traditional instruction.

“Both teacher and students had to navigate news ways of working together as a the project unfolded, but it didn’t hurt that students saw their teacher trying new approaches and taking risks as a learner.”

Why do teachers always have to be right? I think it’s good for students to occasionally see teachers fail.

For a “field book” it’s still a little too theoretical for my tastes. One example is when Boss & Krauss talk about the importance of maximizing opportunity while minimizing risk. This is a well known strategy in everything from making money in stocks, winning football games, and successfully choosing a career. The hard part is knowing how to do it. Reinventing Project-Based Learning falls flat here – there is no actual advice about how to maximize opportunity while simultaneously minimizing risk for PBL.

When I first started reflecting on what to write in this post, my thoughts were almost all positive. Reinventing Project-Based Learning is certainly interesting enough. However, when I tried to think of the specific things I learned from this book, I couldn’t come up with anything concrete. In my opinion, that’s damning. I hope the second half is more specific!

Problem Based Learning: A Manual?

As part of e21’s summer reading, I’d like to find a book about practically implementing project-based or problem based learning. Based on our trip to New Tech High, I’m already convinced that PBL could powerfully compliment what I currently do. The problem is that despite our trip to New Tech High, I don’t really know how to actually implement PBL.

I’d like to read a book containing specific instructions on implementing PBL. What are specific examples of PBL units? What are the purposes and methods of all the different components like the introductory paper, workshops etc. Perhaps most importantly, what are the common problems and practical solutions?

Anyone know of a book like this?


Rethinking How Students Learn: Bob Pearlman on PBL

Bus driver…move…THAT…(school) bus!!!

And reveal the new learning environment of the 21st Century. Is it time for an Extreme Makeover: School Edition? I think so. And so does Bob Pearlman, nationally renowned educational reform consultant.

An example of “connected learning” (see my previous post), this topic is relevant on several levels for me right now. You see, Pearlman is going to speak at Heritage Hall in April regarding project-based learning (I absolutely can’t wait!). I am currently in the midst of dreaming and blueprinting a redesign of our Upper School computer lab. To top it all off, our E21 Team is thrilled about our upcoming road trip to see one of the premier examples of 21st century learning environment (21CLE) in our region – New Tech High at Coppell, Texas.

We all know that students learn best when they are engaged and allowed to do most of the learning on their own. Research has proven such about this generation of students. So what is the best way to accomplish this phenomenon? The successful formula seems to be:  PBL based pedagogy + 21CL environment + performance assessment = meaningful, connected learning.

Pearlman cites a Buck Institute of Education definition of PBL:

PBL is a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.

Sounds intense, doesn’t it? It is. According to Pearlman, PBL activities at New Tech schools usually last 1-3 weeks long. Examples include presenting a plan to Congress solving the oil crisis and inventing a sport that astronauts can play on the moon so they can get exercise. Students usually receive a rubric up front, so they know what amount of work will be required to achieve basic, proficient, or advanced scores.

Here’s an idea I absolutely love…when students finish a PBL unit of study, they present to an external audience. That could mean community experts, parents, Board members, other teachers, peers outside of their own class, or more. And students self-evaluate throughout the project and write a summative reflection on what they learned and how the project can be improved. And, in the spirit of 21CL, why not share with a global audience…online?!? This could be done with a partner classroom, or simply through a blog or Wiki open to the world.

So what about changes to the physical environment? 21CLE’s are large open spaces with mobile furniture. Every student has access to a computer. Tables or desks can be easily moved together for collaboration or “break-out” sessions structured around student “need to knows.” Many 21CLE’s use glass walls or windows to make learning transparent to all students and visiting adults.

The best 21st century schools provide every student with a computer, which increasingly means a laptop in a wireless environment. [Bob Pearlman]

But it’s not just about the technology. It’s the pedagogy behind technology that makes for successful learning in a 21CLE. Students use the laptop to conduct Internet research, Skype with experts, work collaboratively outside of school to construct products of learning (i.e. videos, podcasts, websites), and utilize technology to present their findings. In other words, according to Pearlman, “Students utilize all these [digital] tools to be investigators and producers of knowledge.”

At New Tech High in Coppell the school has adopted new language to refer to students and teachers. They have become “learners” and “facilitators,” respectively. Pearlman goes on to describe the physical landscape of NTH@C, both in the classroom and in hallways & common areas. Because our E21 team will be visiting NTH@C in early April, I will save discussion on these revelations for a future blog post. For now, check out these links to five schools ID’d by Pearlman as “the best of the new learning environments:”

Columbus Signature Academy (Columbus, Indiana)
New Tech High @ Coppell (Coppell, Texas)
The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (Providence, Rhode Island)
High Tech High (San Diego, California)
New Line Learning Academy (Kent, England)

The bottom line: These findings, yet again, suggest that our E21 mission is true. We are on the eve of implementing at a 1:1 laptop program – not based on simply dropping in technology, but based on years of our own research about 1:1 and 21CL. Our program is founded on technology rooted in tried and true pedagogy. By moving forward, we further enable our students to go beyond passive consumption of information and actively CREATE their own knowledge and experience true lifelong learning.

And that is what it’s all about, friends.

Rethinking How Students Learn: Teach Less, Learn More

I know, this blog is turning into the “Rethinking How Students Learn” blog lately. My apologies, but I like reflecting on what I’m reading and I hope you’re enjoying reading the posts. By all means, don’t be passive; chime in with some comments if you please.

The country of Singapore has undertaken a massive initiative, with four key “visions,” that will help them take education to the next level – “21st century learning.” They are:

  1. Thinking Schools, Learning Nation.
  2. Teach Less, Learn More.
  3. Tight, Loose, Tight.
  4. Professional Learning Communities (as discussed in my last post)

“Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” is about fostering in students a core set of life skills (thinking, creating, problem solving, collaboration, wonderment, tolerance for ambiguity, and persistence). “Wonderment” and “tolerance for ambiguity” are two characteristics not often included in 21st century skills, but I find them intriguing – and may just have to revisit them in a future post!

The “Teach Less, Learn More” is closely related to the first vision and promotes “teaching in ways that help students learn without being taught.” It seems paradoxical at first glance; how will my students learn if I don’t teach them? The truth is, when we provide students an essential question and allow them to explore the potential answers, we are building in them skills that will make them lifelong learners. As stated in the book:

The change process is about evolutionary thinking, not revolutionary thinking, and it all begins with critical collaborative conversations. While their system has traditionally compartmentalized the curriculum by disciplines that honor quantity…they find that this structure can be deliberately shifted to…honor the quality of student outcomes.

“Tight Loose Tight,” is also very intriguing approach. According to the authors of this chapter, Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete:

The T-L-T formula combines an adherence to central design principles (tight) with expected accommodations to the needs, resources, constraints, and particularities that occur in any school or district (loose), when these don’t conflict with the theoretical framework (tight) and, ultimately, with the stated goals and desired results.

The best part of the T-L-T philosophy is the message that schools CAN evolve without sacrificing the educational philosophy and characteristics that have defined them in years past. As a school, we can still promote rigorous learning, quality leadership skills, and compassionate service to others. We just have to figure out how to do it in a 21st century context – for our students’ sakes.

That’s where the PLC (the fourth Singaporean vision) comes into play. If we (the teachers) work together as a team, through various scopes and methods, we can achieve success for our students, our school community, state, nation, and the world.

With our help, Heritage Hall students will continue to learn, to lead, and to serve…the world…in the 21st Century and beyond.

Rethinking How Students Learn: Richard & Rebecca DuFour

Professional Learning Communities…did your stomach churn when you read that phrase?

Like “21st Century Learning” (see my last post), PLC is one of those buzz words that has been used ad nauseum. And it implies that teachers sharing ideas with one another is a new thing…in fact, it is not a novel modern-day concept at all. Teachers have always depended on each other for support and new ideas. It’s how sharing occurs that is changing.

In Rethinking How Students LearnRichard and Rebecca DuFour explore the role of PLCs in the evolution to a 21st century learning environment. One of the early charges the PLC gurus and the Partnership for 21st Century make is for educators to share knowledge in three ways:

  1. Via face-to-face interaction.
  2. Through “virtual” communications.
  3. By “blended” communications.

In this blog post, I would like to discuss the second method, virtual communications, because I know teachers here on our campus and all over the world already collaborate via face-to-face interaction.

As referenced by the DuFours, Ken Blanchard (2007) writes:

There is no reason that time and distance should keep people from interacting as a team. With proper management and the help of technology, virtual teams can be every bit as productive and rewarding as face-to-face teams.

So, what would a virtual team look like? It could be done locally, but through technology; the Charger Ning is a great example of local virtual sharing. Or your team could be a global group; are you part of the virtual team of educators using the “Twitterverse” to share resources, news, and ideas?

I also love this passage written by the DuFours, which references the ideas of Malcolm Gladwell:

The tipping point is reached when a few key people in the organization who are highly regarded by and connected to others (the Law of the Few) present a compelling argument in a memorable way (the Stickiness Factor) that leads to subtle changes in the conditions of the organizations (the Power of Context).

This has me excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for this team of pioneers and our colleagues. And, I can’t wait to witness the resulting explosion of educational transformation on our campus when crest the “tipping point”.

In fact, I think that’s the tipping point I see now on the virtual horizon…

Rethinking How Students Learn: Chris Dede

Are you sick of all the talk about 21st century skills? I mean, we are almost 12 years into the new millennium. Some educational pundits go so far as to demand we stop using the term, but Chris Dede attempts to rationalize the “21st Century Skills” movement:

Inventing new problem-solving heuristics when standard protocols have failed is an important skill; when all diagnostics are normal, but the patient is still feeling unwell, for instance, a skilled physician can think outside the box and become an expert decision maker.

Will your students fit IN the box, or think OUTSIDE of it?

Our kids NEED to learn how to think outside the box. This isn’t always an easy skill for them to pick up. You see, they’ve grown accustomed to the 20th century educational method whereby the teacher provides the answers and the student regurgitates them on paper homework, quizzes, or tests to prove they’ve acquired knowledge. They have already mastered this educational “game” and they like winning it. Our students want to be able to finish tasks quickly and easily, with great success. But what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. How will they answer those difficult questions that may not have a clear or easily-accessible answer?

Dede goes on:

…the nature of collaboration is shifting to a more sophisticated skillset. In addition to collaborating face-to-face with colleagues across a conference table, 21st century workers increasingly accomplish tasks through mediated interactions with peers halfway across the world whom they may never meet face-to-face.

Our students NEED to be able to collaborate; this goes beyond mere communication skills. They need to be able to work in groups to achieve project success. They need to know how to use modern-day tools like Skype or Apple FaceTime to connect and work with colleagues on the other side of the world. The only way they are going to begin life after Heritage Hall with that skillset is if we, their teachers, allow them time and setting to develop the essential skill of collaboration.

I love the comparison Dede makes next:

Conventional, 20th century K-12 instruction emphasizes manipulating predigested information to build fluency in routine problem solving, rather than filtering data derived from experiences in complex settings to develop skills in sophisticated problem finding.

Ask yourself, “Do I provide ‘complex settings’ for my students to work in? Do I allow them to find problems instead of memorize information? Do my students create their own data?” Hopefully, the answers to these questions are affirmative. Our students live in an information age – in fact, some have called it the “Age of InfoWhelm.” As Dede suggests:

The ability to separate signal from noise in a potentially overwhelming flood of incoming data is a suite of 21st century skills.

The 21st Century Charger needs to be prepared and able to filter the meaningful information out of the endless deluge of data. He needs to be able to ask questions about the data and explore resolution to such problems in a journey mapped out by himself. It is critical that the teacher becomes the “guide on the side” in this process for meaning can only be 100% relevant when it originates from oneself (the student).

In the book I read, Dede refers to Henry Jenkins’ interesting list of digital literacies. They are: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transformed navigation, networking, and negotiation.

To me, those are clearly skills that would make a person successful in the world of the near-future. The question that lies ahead of us is…

How can we prepare our students for life and the workplace of their future?