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The 21st Century Classroom: Ten Predictions for the Future of Public Education

September 03, 2008

21st_century_circle_2Public school is back in session, and Pete and Andy (my sons) seem to have made the transition to 10th grade without skipping a beat. The public school system here (District 3 in Manhattan) has worked well for us over the years; the boys have attended public schools since preschool and for the most part have had wonderful, dedicated teachers, been exposed to a broad range of activities (music, arts, field trips), and have made lots of friends. I was especially impressed by the math and science instruction they received at their excellent middle school (less so by the math curriculum in elementary school), and have been delighted by the student-teacher ratio and quality of instruction at Pete's small, specialized high school (less so by same at Andy's ginormous specialized high school).

Still, I worry about my boys and their peers. Are we -- parents as well as the public and private sectors -- doing all we can to ensure they will be able to compete in the always-on, globalized economy of the 21st century. Consider this:

In 1900, 8 out of 10 jobs involved building things with your hands. In 2010, 8 out of 10 jobs will involve working with ideas. In large part, the bricks and mortar of the industrial age have been replaced. Concepts and connections now lay the foundation for the 21st Century. A recent survey of over 400 employers in the US shows thinking skills are among the most important skills found in new hires. Whether the goal is professional success, personal self-fulfillment, national competitiveness in science and technology, or solving complex global problems, new skills are needed to thrive. The 21st century knowledge age requires people: to be adept thinkers and learners; to use and build knowledge; to differentiate and combine, compare and contrast, and construct and deconstruct ideas. In short, in the knowledge age people will need to be knowledge-able.... (source: Edgewood College, Madison, Wisconsin)

I couldn't agree more, which is probably why this list of predictions from Edutopia, the content-rich multimedia site and magazine published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, caught my attention:

1. Full-Service Schools: Where Success Is More Than Academic. "For every educator who has tried to play therapist, nurse, job counselor, nutritionist, and family advocate to her students while still fulfilling the duties of her own job -- imagine a school where there's actually a professional to fill each of those roles. That's the goal of a growing number of communities that are creating full-service community schools, in which service agencies and schools team up to meet a whole range of children's social, emotional, and academic needs, using the school building as a hub...." (cont.)

2. In the Trenches: Community Activism Plays a Starring Role in Education Reform. "This year, the rising tide of community-based organizations working for education reform will prove an indispensable part of the education system as a whole. Policy makers and philanthropic funders are taking note of the power of grassroots activism to shape political will, communicate local needs, and create long-lasting change in struggling schools...." (cont.)

3. Moral Aptitude: Schools Cultivate the Character Development of Their Students. "In the coming school year and beyond, teachers, and policy makers will develop and advocate for programs that leverage the best practices of two intersecting movements: character education and social and emotional learning (SEL). Activities and standards based on topics such as conflict resolution, violence prevention, and communication skills are expanding throughout the regular school day as a movement to bring values and personal strategies into public school classrooms gathers steam.... (cont.)

4. Serious Gaming: Computer Games Become Potent Student Motivators and Evaluators. "Educational researchers are working with game manufacturers to create a new brand of "serious games" that have the potential to capture and stream the kind of important assessment data that educators can use comprehensively, from tracking individual student achievement to determining national educational trends...." (cont.)

5. Behaveyourself.com: Online Manners Matter. "Educators have been increasingly, and sometimes uncomfortably, aware that students need education not just in Internet tools but also in Internet behavior....[F]orward-thinking educators are working to teach all-around netiquette. These nascent rules -- from acceptable-use policies created by school districts to guide students on the Internet to basic manners instructions for students with school email accounts -- have begun to show up in official documents. Some are written in legalese that no kid could follow, and probably no kid really reads. But some schools are making the information accessible to students -- for the children's protection as well as for their own...." (cont.)

6. Media Is the Message: Invasive Messages Require Defensive Teaching. "These days, media messages infiltrate people's living rooms and even their pockets via portable devices, and the power to create these invasive messages lies at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection. In this environment, it is inevitable that media-literacy education will work its way into more and more classrooms -- core subjects and media classes alike. And these lessons will expand to help students become wiser not only as media consumers but also as producers...." (cont.)

7. The Way of the Wiki: Building Online Creativity and Cooperation. "Wikis are Web sites that can be instantly and easily edited by anyone the wiki owner chooses to allow (in the case of Wikipedia, everyone in the world). The teachers who first used them a few years ago started simply by posting assignments and information for their students. Now, the trailblazers use them to create living, breathing classrooms online....A wiki is the ultimate enabler of collaboration. Stewart Mader, maven of the GrowYourWiki blog and "wiki evangelist" for the San Francisco software company Atlassian, explains that, tangibly, a wiki is a place to organize group work where everyone can see and contribute to it. A wiki can hold any kind of media -- text, images, videos, or diagrams. The intangible part is that it allows for asynchronous cooperation, so one student can work on a group project in the afternoon, one in the evening, and one at night, and each will build on what the previous one did. Unbound from fixed meeting times, says Mader, each team member contributes when she's at her best...." (cont.)

8. A Match Made in Cyberspace: The Next Generation of Teachers Will Seek Virtual Support. "The newest generations of teachers, like their students, have always connected digitally. As tech-savvy learners and communicators, they look online for inspiration and support. In the not-so-distant future, educators will seek and find personal and professional support through online portals where mentors will offer time, energy, and advice to their less seasoned colleagues...." (cont.)

9. Hail to the New Chief: A Guide to the 2008 Presidential Candidates' Education Agenda. "Public education promises to be an important component of any substantive discussion in the debates leading up to November's presidential election. But what -- if anything -- will really change when either Barack Obama or John McCain becomes president on January 20? Realistically, not much -- at least not right away. The new president's influence is likely to come subtly over the next few years...." (cont.)

10. Rise of the Robots: Human-Machine Interaction Enhances Tech Teaching. "[Robots] are hot, they're real, and they're a growing part of secondary school curriculum. Sebastian Thrun, a professor of engineering at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, leads a team at the school that competes in the DARPA Urban Challenge, where highly sophisticated robot cars must handle simulated real-world traffic conditions. Thrun sees an increasing number of freshmen entering Stanford with head starts in robotics. "I find that there's an enormous awareness and fascination with regard to robotics in the incoming student population," he says...." (cont.)

What about you? Do you see the same things happening in your local schools? Are kids being taught by motivated, technology-savvy teachers in open, creative, and cooperative environments? Do teachers have the resources they need to help their students go on to college and become happy, productive citizens in a knowledge-intensive economy? And what do you think are the most important trends in public education? Comments?

-- Mitch Nauffts

Comments

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Excellent overview of what public education needs are for the 21st century. Here are a set of general statistics an observations that can frame the discussion around the reality of public school education across the country:

* Over 40+% of classroom teachers in k-12 will be retiring or leaving the classroom by 2010.

* The average tenure of a grade-level teacher now is 5 years max.

* The shortage of experienced, knowledgeable and caring teachers is at crisis point. Many teachers are in second and third careers---and out of their familiar skill areas. Corrections officers in Language Arts classooms in high school is a difficult transition under any circumstances; especially when . . .

* . . . NCLB regulations hold schools, districts and states hostage to standardized tests. The need to develop critical thinking skills and content knowledge in a diverse-ability classroom (where most kids read two-three grade levels below)with less than experienced teachers who are going to penalized if their students don't make the state-mandated grade is an issue that needs to be addressed in the next Administration.

One of the largest missing components in public education today is critical thinking. And because I teach teachers about standards which include "media literacy" (critical thinking applied to media messages) this is also a concern--because, most teachers tell me, their students believe everything they see, read and hear.

Public schools should be equipped technologically and also have enough resources to enhance education to the lerners

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