21st century learning: charting your own course (round 1)


The American education system is failing its students.  Over the past twenty years, the U.S. has declined in world education comparisons.  Whether it is the American system declining, or the rest of the world catching up is not for debate.  One thing is clear: education in America needs change.  Students want change.


Learners sitting in classrooms across the U.S. are bored.  They are tired of hearing the teacher “preach” from their soapbox while they sit passively waiting for instruction to be done to them.   Teachers continue to implement strategies designed for students to succeed in twentieth century schoolhouses when they need to develop twenty-first century skills.  As Dewey states, “if we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”  If we continue to implement teacher-centered strategies, we will continue to fail our students, causing them to be ill-prepared for the world that awaits them upon graduation.  I argue that educators need to shift to a 21st century learning model, which achieves three main goals:

  1. Teachers need to transition to lesson facilitators or guides that implement student-centered pedagogy to foster the growth of students’ 21st century learning skills. 

  2. Teachers and learners must harness the available mobile technology.

  3. Schools must redesign the learning space to more efficiently allow for this pedagogical approach.


The skills which educators and businesses deem most important in the 21st century are creativity, collaboration and innovation, critical thinking and communication.  These skills need to be at the forefront of our nation’s curriculum and school redesign so that teachers, schools, districts and the nation alike are in line with the goal of best preparing our learners for success in jobs that we cannot foresee.


kWL-We’re missing the “W!” What do the students want to know? And, how do they want to “know” it?



The coolest thing happened today.

Following my 8th grade block of social studies, students left arguing whether or not they should include Mao Zedong as a major person in the “birth of communism, China or Korean War” section of their virtual museum.  Less specifically, students left my class in an argument which reflected not only an interest in the lesson and activity but also a deep understanding of the content.  Isn’t that what we want our students to do?

With my 8th graders, most of whom I have taught for multiple years, I am experimenting with new pedagogical approaches to find the balance between what works best for them as learners and what works best for me as the “teacher.”   

For our Spring-long unit on the Cold War, I have developed a Google Site in which I add resources as we cover the different aspects of the war.  In using the site to house the resources, and their major assessment, I hope to model what I would like from them.  I have asked students to form groups, and to create a “virtual museum” which showcases their knowledge as they gain knowledge through our Cold War unit.  

From there, I left students on their own.

After many questions of “what font should the museum be written in?” and “what is the criteria you will use to evaluate our museums?”, they caught on.  I haven’t given students parameters for creating their museums, nor have I given them a rubric.  (I guess that is now in writing!)  My 8th graders, instead, have created their rubric categories.  They have developed a list of appropriate ways to demonstrate their learning.  They are in control.

While uncomfortable at first, I realized this approach is what they have been screaming out for.  Since shifting my instructional approach to more open lessons, I have witnessed lower instances of disruption, fewer students using the restroom, more students asking insightful questions and deeper learning of the content standards.  

In addition to covering the material stated in the standards, I am able to more easily incorporate ISTE NETS standards and CCSS.  Students love to use technology.  Students love to argue.  Students love to set their own learning goals.  Students love to collaborate and innovate.  Students love to think critically.  Students love to communicate in new ways.  Students love to create.

So, why don’t we let them?