Sunday, August 26, 2007

21st Century Skills . . . A "Hot" Topic

This past Friday, 21st Century skills were a hot topic (literally and figuratively) when 20+ Keystone teachers braved a sweltering computer lab as Richard Bonnar, assistant executive director of Riverview IU 6, presented an informative, thought-provoking workshop.

We began by watching Karl Fisch's Did You Know video. If you're not familiar with Fisch's blog, The Fischbowl, check it out. It's one of my favorite blogs because Fisch is currently a technology integrator in a public school in Colorado. He's walking the walk.

We worked through the School Leadership Development: Building 21st Century Skills program developed by Microsoft. A series of videos presented such topics as how schools need to change to meet the needs of the "flat" world, how today's students learn and what they need to know to succeed, and how to help students become "adaptive experts." We also discussed the type of leadership needed to begin and sustain change within schools.

The overall theme was school reform. Students have changed because of the world in which they are growing up; they often know about things (like technology) that adults don't. Their learning preferences are changing, and students are now multi-taskers and more self-guided learners. Often if they want to know about something, they search the topic on the Internet and teach themselves. They find their video and computer games more engaging than the school environment. In virtual worlds on the Internet, they can assume roles that have impact.

We discussed how schools often are not meeting the needs of today's students. Education currently doesn't support life-long learning; students are basically told to "shut up and learn." With the emphasis on teaching the Standards, scoring well on PSSA testing, and making AYP, some feel that teaching has become scripted. Several teachers expressed frustration that they can no longer be creative in their classrooms; the exciting, cross-curricular lessons that they taught early in their careers are no longer considered appropriate, or there's no time to implement them.

We were reminded that we can still innovate--within the constraints of the Standards--and meet the needs of individual learners. We looked at examples for teaching history, where instead of memorizing dates and names, students learn to make disciplined interpretations based on historical documents. Science classes engage students in real science inquiry. Technology is taught in context as a tool in a "just in time" fashion instead of in separate skills classes.

We were introduced to the concept of "adaptive expertise," a balance between efficiency and innovation. Efficiency develops with practice, and after problem solving becomes routine, students are able to apply solutions to new situations.

The topics I've outlined here are just the tip of the iceberg. Teaching 21st Century skills truly is a hot topic now as educators struggle to prepare students for life in our changing world. The "Classrooms for the Future" grants will help Pennsylvania schools, including KHS, implement some of the needed reform. (I guess my sources who said that Governor Rendell would announce the grants this past Friday were wrong!)

Techlearning has introduced a new web site that highlights 21st Century learning; visit 21st Century Connections.

I hope that others who participated in Friday's workshop will jump in here with their comments on Friday's steamy workshop!

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