Today's kindergarteners will be retiring in the year 2067. We have no idea of what the world will look in five years, much less 60 years, yet we are charged with preparing our students for life in that world. Our students are facing many emerging issues such as global warming, famine, poverty, health issues, a global population explosion and other environmental and social issues.
These issues lead to a need for students to be able to communicate, function and create change personally, socially, economically and politically on local, national and global levels. Emerging technologies and resulting globalization also provide unlimited possibilities for exciting new discoveries and developments such as new forms of energy, medical advances, restoration of environmentally ravaged areas, communications, and exploration into space and into the depths of the oceans.
The possibilities are unlimited. 21st century skills learned through our curriculum, which is interdisciplinary, integrated, project-based, and more, include and are learned within a project-based curriculum by:
• Collaboration - the ability to work in teams
• Critical thinking - taking on complex problems
• Oral communications - presenting
• Written communications - writing
• Technology - use technology
• Citizenship - take on civic and global issues; service learning
• Learn about careers - through internships
• Content - conduct research and do all of the above.
Today's students are referred to as "digital natives", and today's educators as "digital immigrants". Teachers are working with students whose entire lives have been immersed in the 21st century media culture. Today's students are digital learners - they literally take in the world via the filter of computing devices: the cellular phones, handheld gaming devices, PDAs, and laptops they take everywhere, plus the computers, TVs, and game consoles at home. A survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that young people (ages 8-18) mainline electronic media for more than six hours a day, on average. Many are multitasking - listening to music while surfing the Web or instant-messaging friends while playing a video game.
How should education be structured to meet the needs of students in this 21st century world? How do we now define "School", "Teacher" "Learner" and "Curriculum"? We offer the following new definitions for "School", "Teacher" and "Learner" appropriate for the 21st century:
Schools will go "from 'buildings' to nerve centers, with walls that are porous and transparent, connecting teachers, students and the community to the wealth of knowledge that exists in the world."
Teacher - From primary role as a dispenser of information to orchestrator of learning and helping students turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom. The 21st century will require knowledge generation, not just information delivery, and schools will need to create a "culture of inquiry".
Learner - In the past a learner was a young person who went to school, spent a specified amount of time in certain courses, received passing grades and graduated.
Today we must see learners in a new context:
First - we must maintain student interest by helping them see how what they are learning prepares them for life in the real world.
Second - we must instill curiosity, which is fundamental to lifelong learning.
Third - we must be flexible in how we teach. Fourth - we must excite learners to become even more resourceful so that they will continue to learn outside the formal school day."
Imagine a school in which the students - all of them - are so excited about school that they can hardly wait to get there.
Imagine having little or no "discipline problems" because the students are so engaged in their studies that those problems disappear?
Imagine having parents calling, sending notes, or coming up to the school to tell you about the dramatic changes they are witnessing in their children: newly found enthusiasm and excitement for school, a desire to work on projects, research and write after school and on weekends.
Imagine your students making nearly exponential growth in their basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, researching, scientific explorations, math, multimedia skills and more!
Twenty-first century curriculum has certain critical attributes. It is interdisciplinary, project-based, and research-driven. It is connected to the community - local, state, national and global. Sometimes students are collaborating with people around the world in various projects. The curriculum incorporates higher order thinking skills, multiple intelligences, technology and multimedia, the multiple literacies of the 21st century, and authentic assessments. Service learning is an important component.
The classroom is expanded to include the greater community. Students are self-directed, and work both independently and interdependently. The curriculum and instruction are designed to challenge all students, and provides for differentiation.
The curriculum is not textbook-driven or fragmented, but is thematic, project-based and integrated. Skills and content are not taught as an end in themselves, but students learn them through their research and application in their projects. Textbooks, if they have them, are just one of many resources.
Knowledge is not memorization of facts and figures, but is constructed through research and application, and connected to previous knowledge and personal experience. The skills and content become relevant and needed as students require this information to complete their projects. The content and basic skills are applied within the context of the curriculum, and are not ends in themselves.
Assessment moves from regurgitation of memorized facts and disconnected processes to demonstration of understanding through application in a variety of contexts. Real-world audiences are an important part of the assessment process, as is self-assessment.