The 21st Century has arrived

According to wikipedia, the 21st Century “began on January 1, 2001.” So when I hear talk of a “21st Century Education” and ask people what that means, I am always a little amused that we are still grappling with how to define it and figure out what it looks like almost 15 years into the century.

 

CTRL-Shift has been doing a lot to make that a reality in Unit 4 schools. Granted, there are a ton of efforts and teachers all over that are working on ushering forward these changes, but I am going to highlight just a couple that I have some knowledge of.

 

First, there is Unit 4’s Innovate page, which opens the first page of this book and was discussed at the October 27th board meeting. Additionally, Kerris Lee (U4 Board member), along with many others like Todd Lash, has been working with district administration and staff to further integrate these concepts into district-wide curriculum and pursue funding via grants for crucial staff Professional Developement (PD), inviting partnerships with the University of Illinois MTSE and even code.org. Last Wednesday, WCIA interviewed Trevor Nadrozny and Wendy Maa of Kenwood and gave us a look inside how they are approacing “21st Century Education”:

http://www.illinoishomepage.net/story/current/d/story/u4innovate/21401/YB6a6AonCk-jBLATimYngA

 

Another example is Mrs. Slifer’s class at Carrie Busey, where I have been helping once a week. Just this past Friday, they produced a classroom video showing how students are actively using these skills to collaborate and work together on common goals.

 

The main idea is to get kids thinking about how to solve problems, no matter what the context is. These efforts encourage and immerse children in an environment where they ask each other questions, work together online (for example, using Google Docs or Google Classroom), and explore many different ways to answer questions about the world around them. They are developing critical thinking skills by being assigned a project and analyzing, conceptualizing and researching their way to a conclusion. Whether they use a tool like code.org, eToys, Scratch, google, wikipedia or something else entirely, the tool itself is not the object of the lesson, but rather just one of many possible venues to help guide the learner.

 

In light of all the controversy and talk (ad nauseam *grin*) of the Unit 4 referendum, I would absolutely love for the district administration to assign “the problem” of overcapacity schools and decades of deferred maintenance to our school children as a critical thinking project (*). What if students, parents and community members used an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action” (The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking’s definition of critical thinking) to address these issues? I cannot help but wonder how many core curriculum concepts can be applied to such a case study; you pull in math, social studies, social science, history and language arts. And probably others as well.

(*) sidebar: I have traded emails with Ms. Stephanie Brown, a local AICP Project Planner with MSA Professional Services, Inc who sits on the board of the Illinois chapter of the American Planner Association (aka, ISS-APA), on the topic of conducting charrettes within the schools. The resources are there if only we can bring them together.

 

This got me to thinking, what does a “21st Century” classroom really require to accomplish these goals? Kenwood, the Unit 4 leader of the “computational thinking” crowd, is currently squished into the old Carrie Busey building on Kirby, along with the International Prep Academy. Even prior to moving to this temporary location, they had already opened the doors of the 21st Century at their pre-renovated home building at 1001 South Stratford. To me, it is fascinating that they are making all this “21st Century education” happen in a 20th century physical environment. Along that line, here is one infographic of a “21st Century Classroom”:

 

How will this change the face of classrooms? How will this change pedagogy and how we “do” education? The “Lewis and Clark” explorers of Kenwood, Carrie Busey and even Westview (as mentioned in the WCIA interview) are finding out.

 

One reader also asked how all this is being rolled into the current HS “programming” that is going on in regards to the new Central. I have asked around and so far the answer is “no”. Which absolutely boggles my mind.

 

A parting thought – only 85 more years until the 22nd Century…..

Texas hold'em: what are they thinking?!?

re: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/texas-republican-party-2012-platform-education_n_1632097.html

Wow. I have to agree with Arne Duncan on this one:

In March, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Bloomberg he felt “very, very badly” for Texas students.

However, feeling very, very badly for someone never really helped them out, I don’t think. What is he going to do about those bad feelings? I mean, I feel very, very badly for the taxpayers and parents in Texas, but my bad feelings do not amount to a hill a nano-particles in terms of easing their pain.

The irony is written into the Republican Party’s own “principles” [*gag*]:

PRINCIPLES

We, the 2012 Republican Party of Texas, believe in this platform and expect our elected leaders to uphold these truths through acknowledgement and action. We believe in:
  1. Strict adherence to the original intent of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. and Texas Constitutions.
  2. The sanctity of human life, created in the image of God, which should be protected from fertilization to natural death.
  3. Preserving American and Texas Sovereignty and Freedom.
  4. Limiting government power to those items enumerated in the U.S. and Texas Constitutions.
  5. Personal Accountability and Responsibility.
  6. Self-sufficient families, founded on the traditional marriage of a natural man and a natural woman.
  7. Having an educated population, with parents having the freedom of choice for the education of their children.
  8. Americans having the right to be safe in their homes, on their streets, and in their communities,and the unalienable right to defend themselves.
  9. A free enterprise society unencumbered by government interference or subsidies.
  10. Honoring all of those that serve and protect our freedom.
  11. “The laws of nature and nature’s God” as our Founding Fathers believed.

Right. Whatever dude. Perhaps Texas Republicans should try practicing what they preach. I must have missed the part where “white washing” and being a hypocrite was codified.

What am I going to do about this? I am going to pursue “critical thinking” for our local education system as much as I can, and make sure I instill it in my family to my utmost ability. I might fail, or I might do a lackluster job. But I am not going to wave my draconian scepter around and bang people over the head with it. Instead of telling people what is best for them, I will listen. And yes, there are problems even with that intent and that approach. I intend to learn about those problems as an exercise in being reflective and adaptive.