Posts Tagged ‘21st century education’

“21st century learning” – a new “myth”?

June 15th, 2009

Continuing with the ‘opportunities for thinking about doing things differently’ theme (in the posts below) …

Recently I’ve had to read dozens of different papers, reports and websites on “21st century learning” (for something I’m writing). I’ve been struck by the fact that, while they all talk about the new skills students need, new pedagogies, new forms of leadership, and new technologies, underpinning these things (which are emphasised differently depending on the context), is the assumption that what is distinctive about “21st century learning” is the need to get more people to do harder stuff than in the past. (Very briefly, this usually means developing everyone’s ability to think and learn for themselves, and to articulate/debate this thinking/learning with others to generate new knowledge. )

This is a radical idea – because our current school system was never set up to teach these things to all students (and the ones who were meant to learn these things learned them more by accident than design). Currently we discipline students into disciplines, and, on the basis of their apparent aptitude for this, sort them for various post-school ‘pathways’ (most of which now function very differently from when this system was set up).

So, alongside this idea, in the 21st century learning literature, we usually see arguments for transformation of the existing system (not incremental improvement), and the argument that to be effective this transformation needs to be holistic (not piecemeal), implemented across a number of different systems together, in parallel  (see for example, the Cisco report Equipping every learner for the 21st century

Could this idea – that 21st century learning is, in essence, getting more people to do harder stuff, be the 21st century version of the equal opportunity “myth” that was an organising principle for 20th century thinking about schooling in New Zealand? (The myth idea comes from a 1986 paper by C. E. Beeby).  If it is, perhaps it could function as an organising principle, a way of helping us decide what to do when faced by the glut of ideas, suggestions, techniques, and recipes for success that populate the 21st century learning literature … (In the papers and reports alluded to above, I came across ‘differentiated learning’, ‘self-regulated learning’, ‘enquiry learning’, ‘distributed learning’, ‘co-operative learning’, and ‘learning communities’ – and those are just the ones I remember! How would a school know when and where to use each one? Which is ‘best’?).

If a school was to decide to organise itself — everything, including the curriculum, all teaching and assessment practices, its buildings and spaces etc etc – to scaffold everyone‘s ability to think and learn independently and to create new knowledge, setting aside all of the other functions they currently have, what would that look like? How could they do it? And how could they do it in a way that allows everyone to be who they want to be (i.e. not be assimilated into the dominant group), and be the best they can at whatever that is.

Hard to imagine isn’t it? And of course, all this is easier said than done. Higher order thinking skills can’t be ‘taught’ in isolation/independently of ‘content’, nor are they necessarily able to be transferred to other contexts. Just adding these terms into our vocabularies won’t change anything – just as the talk of ‘key competencies’ hasn’t as yet changed very much. (For a succinct discussion of the issues that need to be considered, see Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2008).

To really do this, we would need new underlying thinking – and new tools for thinking. This thinking would need to be done by everyone involved in education with – and this is important – people from outside the education sector. We need public debate, a new public consensus about how we want our schools to contribute to building the kind of society we want, and what we want our schools to achieve in the ‘bigger picture’ sense (i.e. something more than just basic literacy and numeracy).

Why do we need schools to get everyone to think and learn independently (when we didn’t seem to think this was necessary before)? What is there about 21st century life that is different/more complex than before, and how does this mean that the ‘old’ skills are necessary but no longer sufficient? How can we put together what we know from the past about what is good, and what ‘works’ in education (which is a lot), with what we think we know about (or would like to create in) the world of the future? What, in the current system, will we have to give up (or lose) to do this?

We plan to discuss these questions (and others like them) at a conference being organised by NZCER (to celebrate its 75th birthday) to be held in Wellington (New Zealand) on the 3rd and 4th November 2009. So, if you are interested in all this, mark the date in your diary, and watch this space for more information.


Beeby, C. E. (1986). Introduction. in W. Renwick, Moving targets: Six essays on educatonal policy. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research (pp. xi-xlv).

Bereiter, C. and Scardamalia, M. (2008). Towards research-based innovation. In: Innovating to learn, learning to innovate. Paris: OECD (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation).

See also:

Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need, and what we can do about it. New York: Basic Books.

Apparently, writing an essay sometimes can be hindered by numerous challenges thus there will be need to seek professional help in order to complete the essay assignment.

Shifting schooling , , , ,

changelearning and the e-learning research network

May 22nd, 2009

This posting continues an ongoing thread designed to bring to your attention other blogs or websites I think are worth checking out.


I recently met one of the directors of the Canadian Council on Learning, and whilst having a good look around their website, I found my way onto a wonderful related site called changelearning.

changelearning has exciting (and uncanny) parallels to, and I couldn’t be more happy to have found it!  It’s based on the work of The 21st Century Learning Initiative, an international network of academics, researchers, policy makers and educators who (like us) are encouraging people to re-think our current systems of education. The development of the site was funded by the Canadian Council on Learning, and created by an organisation called Classroom Connections (find out more about them here)

The site is well laid out, and content-rich – but obviously (like us) still in development. There are videos, research summaries, and it looks like eventually there will be places to post book reviews, blogs, discussion forums, and so forth. If anyone from is reading this – let’s talk about cross-postings and/or collaboration!

The e-learning research network

This site is a little closer to home, based right here in New Zealand. The e-learning research network is a place for teachers, educators and researchers to share the evidence about the impact of e-learning on teaching and learning (The Network’s byline: “From research to practice: transforming New Zealand education through e-learning”).  Last night I realised I ought to spend a bit more time reading or participating in some of the discussions happening in this network, as I dipped in and out of conversation threads that mused on the real meaning of “lifelong learning”, and read about some of the ideas around elearning that people were exploring in their  research and/or classrooms.

Realising the wealth of possibilities out there for people to connect, collaborate, learn and discuss ideas related to 21st century thinking in learning and education is exciting. But it’s also a little challenging. How can one find the time to read everything one wants to read, write everything one wants to write, and keep up with all the discussions one wants to be part of? I’m not sure of the answer to this one. But in any case, I’d like to keep connected…and I’d like to keep sharing the things I find with you!

Shifting schooling , , , ,

Dispositions and development

May 12th, 2009

I’m back from the NZCER curriculum conference in Wellington on Friday, where we did a lot of thinking and talking about what’s next—in the new curriculum, in teaching and learning, in 21C education. I was thinking, of course, about all of these in relation to this blog space and the questions we have about 21C education. Then layer Ally’s musing about service, Rachel and Josie being back from AERA where they spoke and listened about service learning, and the whole idea of dispositions. Throw in Chris’s idea that all 21C teachers need to be learners themselves (how did I miss this important idea?! that’s why we’re thinking together…) and suddenly I’m bewildered about what, in fact, a disposition is in the first place and how we increase the stores of teachers who somehow have these mystical things.

Chris wanted to know things about those of us writing here, wanted to know something about who we were and what made us tick. Well, I’m a developmentalist–I think about the changes in adult sensemaking over the course of their lives. I think about how to create contexts that welcome adults in their current sensemaking and also enable them to reach beyond their current thinking if they’d like to. I care about how these contexts make new things possible for people –in their thinking and in their practice.

So the thing is, what is the connection between development, context, and disposition? Suddenly I’ve fallen into a red hot panic that this thing that we’re trying to study—“21C teacher dispositions”—isn’t a THING at all. Have we checked to see what our particular vision is of what a disposition is? Is a disposition something that an individual is born with? Is it something that an individual develops? Or is it something that is an interaction, not held by an individual per say but reflected by individuals?

I’m thinking here about Richard in our study (all the names we’ll use are pseudonyms, although those in the study reading this might want to contribute in some way, and might recognise themselves). Richard was one of the most 21C teachers I’ve ever met. He had each of the ways of think-ing and be-ing that I wrote about in my last blog, AND he was made up of all the curiosity and love of learning which Chris reminded us to value. He sat in a room with us, and he talked about education and his context, telling us about his pathway to education (multiple subject area expert, picked his content because of the process of teaching that was most interesting to him), his goals for the kids (all process-based—no particular content goals), and his orientation to the world (to learn learn learn—and to push his ideas up against very different ideas to learn from them). But therein is the issue. Richard was in a context—with colleagues who valued him and learned from and with him, students who followed his lead, parents and community members who let him be the kind of wacky guy he was—that enabled the full expression of these ideas. He was part of an on-going group of teachers who had conversations to push ideas around. This group, decades old, had changing membership and purpose, with the constant force the conversation people had together over time.

So does Richard have particular personality traits that enabled this way of being in the world? He was open and curious and passionate. Did he have the perspective of being developmentally sophisticated (more on development on another day)? Or did he have a context that allowed him to be in the world in this way? Or do these three things create each other? And where do we intervene in the system to help more teachers become as alive and passionate as Richard, as filled with not only 21C ways of looking at the world but also 21C ways of INHABITING the world? Do we create contexts—using schools and the new curriculum and technology and other pieces—that allow teachers to BE different? Do we look for teachers who have these sorts of traits in the first place? Do we seek to develop these dispositions (and how do we do that)?

At the Curriculum Conference, when we were talking in tables about all the things that get in our way of enacting these 21C ideas—timetabling, NCEA, needs for teachers to cover classes, money, etc.—I had this serious vision that there were some relatively simple answers just out of view. I think these answers will require us to change everything we think about, but once we’ve made that change, a future vision will slot into place relatively quickly. I can nearly see it out of the corner of my eye. But what about Richard? What about you, Chris? Can you see it? Can others? And is it a thing to be discovered, or is it a thing to be developed, or is it a thing to be co-created? All of these? None of these?

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” (Albert Szent-Gydorgyi)

Teachers' work , , , , , ,

21st century teaching dispositions

April 23rd, 2009

This teachers’ work thread in this blog comes in part from a research project we’re doing here at NZCER that attempts to understand what it looks like when teachers are working in 21C ways. As Ally wrote in the very first entry of this thread, our curiosity was to try and figure out even what we mean when we talk about the actual practice of 21C teaching and learning (you can read that here).

In our meetings and our talking and our rereading of data, we still haven’t quite figured out what exactly we mean when we talk about what it takes to have teachers who teach in 21C ways. Is this a curricular set of choices? A pedagogical set of choices? A way of being in the classroom? A set of theories or beliefs a teacher might have? We are happy to engage with any of those ideas.

Our first stab at it, though, is to wonder about whether there is a set of dispositions/ beliefs/ philosophies etc. that individual teachers might hold that would lead us to believe that perhaps they were more aligned with 21C ideas about education. After a couple of different sorts of data collection, the research team pulled together a set of ideas about what these dispositions etc might be. We thought we’d share them here and talk about them together to see how readers connected with them.

We found that some of what we all gravitated towards in those teachers we spent time with that we agreed had "it" was a particular set of ideas about which they were thinking. I think of this as thinking dispositions. It wasn’t always the specifics of what they were thinking that we were particularly drawn to, but the fact that they were questioning the old ways of doing things. And it wasn’t even enough to be questioning these different bits—they had to be questioning those old ways in a connected package.

The other main component of "it" in the teachers we all somehow agreed were 21C teachers was the way they showed up in the world. This was a kind of attitude, a way of being in the world, a set of personal characteristics which they might have had whether they were doctors or teachers or taxi drivers or accountants. (This distinction is not iron-clad but I hope it’ll get more clear as I talk about it here.) I’ll give examples of the elements of both the thinking and the being dispositions.

Thinking dispositions: 21C ways of thinking

  1. 21C teachers need to be thinking about education in new ways, and they need to be linking those ways together. They need to be thinking about the purposes of schooling, the role of knowledge and content, the relationship between pedagogy and curriculum. They don’t necessarily have to come up with the same answers or focus on the same connections, but from our perspective they have to have a mindful awareness of the often taken-for-granted pieces of schooling.
  2. 21C teachers need to be thinking about students and the relationships between students, teachers, families, and communities in new ways. Again, there aren’t right and wrong answers in this category; it’s the fact of the wondering about new kinds of relationships that signals to us the 21C teacher. Other teachers, who were doing innovative and interesting things in their classrooms but were not ever questioning the one-teacher-with-many-students-in-a-single-cell-classroom, did not strike us as 21C.
  3. 21C teachers need to be thinking about the future. This one might strike readers as even more obvious than the others, but we found it was often missing even for those teachers who had self-selected as being particularly interested in 21C learning. Unless teachers were open to ideas that the 21C might be quite different from the past and that those differences might be unknown and unknowable, they did not seem to us to be really engaged in 21C teaching.

Now each of these thinking dispositions seems fairly obvious to me as I type. Of course teachers should think in new ways about school and schooling, about relationships between those traditionally inside schools (e.g. students and teachers) those traditionally outside (e.g. communities and families), and about what future they’re preparing students to enter. The discovery we made on the research team after talking through the data, though, was that many many teachers—even those explicitly interested in 21C education—in fact do not think about these things and instead swim in the water of them, unquestioningly. This makes perfect sense (the old saying, "If you want to learn about water, do not ask a fish" comes to mind). And it has to change if we’re to see 21C teaching.

Being dispositions: 21C ways of being

We also saw what we thought of as individual characteristics in those teachers with more 21C ways of being. We found that while there were a variety of characteristics that seemed useful for 21C teachers, there were three that seemed to us to be mandatory and one that seemed, if not mandatory, at least important. You’ll see as you read that these are often tightly entwined with the Thinking dispositions above, in that some of the thinking may give rise to these ways of BEing and some of the BEing may give rise to new ways of thinking. Nevertheless, I’ll marshal on and act as though they’re separate for the purposes of useful explanation.

  1. Openness and reflectiveness, about practice, about self. Those teachers who we thought of as 21C teachers were deeply engaged in reflection about themselves and their teaching. They were constantly asking themselves why they did this or that, why students responded in particular ways, why schools were set up as they were.
  2. Comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity. To teach in new ways which prepare students for an unknown future requires a kind of comfort with things that are new and uncertain. Some of the teachers we worked with thrived under this uncertainty; others tolerated it. Whether they thrived or tolerated, all of them had to be able to cope with uncertainty and ambiguity without shutting it down or running from them to make our list.
  3. The capacity for juggling multiple things at once. Because each of these pieces is so entwined in practice, for us to recognise one of the teachers in our study as 21C, she had to be able to handle more than one thing at a time. In fact, it was important for these teachers to hold on to multiple strands of these ideas simultaneously in order to synthesise across them or put them together in new ways. Someone who thinks first about mathematics and then about literacy and then about science, or who thinks first about students and then about community members and then about the future, is unlikely to put the ideas together to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
  4. The ability to author these ideas. Here’s the one we weren’t totally convinced about and so we’ll hold tentatively here. It seemed to us that in order to show up in ways we recognised as 21C, you had to actually put these ideas together in some kind of self-generated packet. We didn’t care exactly what the ideas were that people were putting together, nor did we mind if people weren’t putting the ideas together in ways that were aligned with our ideas. What mattered to us was that each teacher was putting together his own package. If a teacher could quote from a book or resource where someone else had done a masterful job of putting these ideas together, and even if he was putting those ideas to use on his own, we did not necessarily believe that this was a solidly 21C teacher. For us to really believe in the solidity of it, a teacher had to put the ideas together in her own way and use them in her own way. Reading things and citing the ideas of others was great, but citing an authority outside yourself as the reason you knew what you knew seemed to us to be a less robust way of holding these ideas.

So that’s the list of them, or at least that’s the list I take away from the discussions we had (my colleagues may pile on and show me their different perspectives). We believed that if we saw these thinking and being dispositions in a teacher, we’d recognise that teacher as 21C. Without those dispositions, the teacher could strike us as a fantastic, helpful, intelligent, wonderful teacher, but not as a 21C teacher from our perspective.

We intend, over the next weeks, to play with some of these ideas about dispositions and to put flesh around this initial skeleton of our thinking. But we want readers to help too. As we write, we’d like you to think about where the holes are in our thinking. Are there dispositions we’re missing? Are there some here you don’t believe in? Perhaps we’re misguided with the idea about dispositions generally and you have a better way to put these ideas together? Come along and play with us!

Teachers' work , , , ,

How do we decide what to teach?

April 16th, 2009

Over the last couple of days I have been at the primary science conferences in Dunedin and Christchurch. I have been struck by the enthusiasm of primary teachers who have given up part of their holiday to learn more about teaching science which if we are honest has a fairly low (though perhaps increasing) profile in primary schools at the moment. I have also gleaned some new ideas about how we might get kids more enthusiastic about science and how to get them wondering and talking about their world.  However what seems to be largely missing from the sessions I have attended (including my own!) is discussion about what primary students need to know in science if they are to be able to “participate as critical, informed and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role” which is the rationale for teaching science in the curriculum document.

When teachers  (or resource developers for that matter) plan a unit of work do we pause and think why do I think students need to learn this? What is important about this? How is it fitting into the bigger picture? Or do we plan something that seems interesting and then afterwards try and fit it to the curriculum? It strikes me that if we are doing the latter, then adding “key competencies”, Nature of Science or anything else isn’t really doing anything different..or am I missing something here? How would a science curriculum that was designed to produce “confident, connected, actively involved life long learners” be different from a traditional school science curriculum? What content would be in it?

I recently asked a specialist physics teacher what she thought the basic physics ideas were that primary students needed to gain an understanding of. If my memory serves me correctly she said something about conservation of energy, something about conservation of matter and an appreciation of the concept of force. Do you agree? What other things in science do primary students need to know a little bit about? What would teachers need to know to be able to teach these ideas effectively? Looking forward to hearing some ideas.

Shifting schooling , , , ,

Disciplining and drafting, or 21st century learning?

March 25th, 2009

In most developed countries over the last couple of decades we’ve seen a lot of different pressures that have resulted in certain kinds of changes and shifts in the ways secondary education is organised.  Here is one quick example:  in the past, only the minority of students stayed til the final years of secondary school, and they were almost all planning to go onto higher education. Today, a much larger proportion of students stay on til the end of high school, and there are now many more pathways and possibilities for further education and work once students do leave school. In New Zealand and other countries, these kinds of pressures have lead to changes  designed with the hope of  better meeting the needs and demands of present-day students in the present-day world. Examples include: the development of new subjects or cross-disciplinary areas for learning that weren’t part of the secondary curriculum in the past (like education for sustainability, for example), or  changes to assessment and qualification regimes designed to recognise and accredit a much broader range of learning (like New Zealand’s introduction of the NCEA, for example).

There have been lots of other pressures  too – like economic and social changes, technological changes, and so on -  and secondary school systems have changed in various ways in response.

In 2008,  a book Jane Gilbert and I wrote  called Disciplining and drafting, or 21st Century Learning? Rethinking the New Zealand Senior Secondary Curriculum for the Future was published. One of our goals in this book was to look back at the way secondary education has changed over time, and to provoke people to think about whether we’ve yet reached a point where our system really promotes and supports the kinds of learning that we think are going to be important for life in the 21st century world.

In the book we drew a series of pictures to think help us about some of the shifts that have happened to secondary education over time. We call them our river metaphors:

The Forked River

The Forked River

The Forked River is our metaphor for the traditional senior secondary system. Here we have students paddling along through their senior secondary years, navigating through the “rapids” of exams and qualifications, and gradually getting sorted towards one of two pathways – the academic, and the vocational. If a student has been heading towards one fork of the river but decides they want to change to another, this can be difficult (though not impossible).  Indeed, in decades past, students were often told which pathway they were best suited for, usually based on how well they did (or didn’t) perform in their academic subjects.

The Braided River

The Braided River

The next metaphor, the Braided River,  is  is quite similar to a lot of senior secondary education systems around the world today. This  braided river metaphor acknowledges that people will take different pathways when they leave school, but the ‘rapids’ (i.e. qualification structures) are organised so that people’s options are not closed down early by early subject choices, and to allow people to change courses. Students can follow their interests, but also change their minds and work towards a different post-school pathway, all the while continuing to move down the secondary school river. They can mix academic and vocational learning throughout their secondary education, whatever they think they will do after secondary school.

Our third metaphor is similar to the braided river one, but it adds in a stop-off point—or safe haven—for students who are having trouble navigating or even staying afloat. These could be students with learning difficulties, or students with other difficulties in their lives that have meant that school has either not been a priority or has not met their needs. To avoid allowing these students to drown, or be washed up on an uninhabited part of the riverbank, a camping ground area is set up to give these students a different, non-‘mainstream’ senior secondary experience, the eventual aim being that they have the skills and confidence to go back into the river. The camping ground teachers are more like mentors and the students spend time learning together as a group, mixing work experience learning with programmes designed to develop life skills, personal development skills, and the educational basics.

Campground for "drowning" students

Campground for "drowning" students

In countries with these types of systems, educationalists are asking questions, like:  is it desirable to separate these students off in ways that are likely to limit their future options? Alternatively, aren’t there aspects of these non-mainstream programmes that all students would benefit from—like the focus on learning work skills, working and learning together in teams, different studentteacher relationships, and so on? Are the students in the river going to miss out on these?  Metaphors One, Two and Three maintain the traditional screening and sorting function of senior secondary education, but you can see how each new change is designed  in ways that genuinely attempt to better meet the needs of all students. With minimal disturbance to the traditional university-bound pathway, they broaden the choices and pathways available to everyone else, and provide more support for students who are struggling. However the traditional secondary subjects are maintained, as is the traditional notion of senior secondary assessment as a key adolescent rite of passage.

However in Disciplining and Drafting Jane and I explain why we don’t think Metaphors One, Two, and Three allow us to make the shift to the 21st century educational aim of building everyone’s capacity to learn.

The Networked Camping Ground metaphor below is our very beginning effort to represent quite a different idea about how we might think about organising our schooling systems (including the senior secondary system) to truly promote learning for 21st century for all students.

In Metaphors One, Two, and Three the river was central. It represented ‘the system’: a one-size/one-speed-for-all system that students must fit into and keep up with if they want to ‘get anywhere’. However, in Metaphor Four the river’s importance is greatly reduced. Its only role really is to bring students to the camping ground, and maybe carry them away later, when they are ready to move into the world beyond school.


The Networked Camping Ground

Metaphor Four represents a more personalised approach to learning in which it is possible to get somewhere by a variety of different routes, at a speed that suits the individual. Because, in the 21st century, we are less sure that we know exactly where that somewhere is (and what it looks like), we can no longer be so sharply focused on the one best way. Metaphor Four thus refocuses the traditional educational landscape. The river system moves into the background, as do the old hurdles and the old emphasis on subjects. Lifting everyone’s game is in the foreground. The central goal is to develop certain key competencies in everyone, to use—and build on—people’s strengths and interests, while also ensuring that everyone has the basics, via a system that allows people to follow personalised learning pathways.

The centre of the campground picture is the place where students and their teacher/mentors plan their learning personal programmes. The camping ground could have several different ‘loop tracks’ that lead to a variety of different learning experiences. Some of these could resemble traditional work experience programmes; or they could involve researching the skills and knowledge required for different kinds of jobs. Other experiences could involve designing, setting up, and carrying out a research project that investigates and recommends solutions to a real local issue or problem.  The purpose of these experiences, together with others, is to provide contexts which will develop students’ overall capacity to learn: to do things with knowledge, to be curious and questioning, to think and learn independently, and to evaluate—and improve—their own thinking and learning.

There is lots more we could say about our metaphors – but really the idea here is to use them as a stepping-off point for discussion. What do you think?

Shifting schooling , , , ,

Technology and what?

March 18th, 2009

Yesterday I was reading “Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century” by Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari. They reckon the challenge for the 21st school is to “educate children for living and working in an information-rich technological environment”.  This made me start thinking again about the role of technology in 21st Century education.

Although, I agree advances in technology have changed what we can do and know, I’m still convinced this alone is not a good enough definition of what 21st Century education is all about but I’m having problems identifying what I think is missing. I think it has something to do with diversity and ideas of equity. We are constantly told NZ is becoming a more diverse society but what does this actually mean? As international travel becomes easier, NZ is less isolated physically from the rest of the world and people from all over the world are making NZ their home. Information technology also allows us to connect with people from all over the world so we are not restricted to interacting just with those in our immediate physical communities. ..(so perhaps it is all about technology!) Contact with people who are different from us doesn’t guarantee we celebrate or even recognise diversity though. I think perhaps an acceptance that there are many different (and valid) ways of doing things and making meaning of the world, is an important aspect of  21st Century education…but then if that is the case who decides what should be in the school curriculum? Whose knowledge or world view is included, whose is left out? How do we (and who is “we”) decide what is powerful knowledge?

All this brought me to wondering about whether 21st Century teachers need not only a certain awareness of their own meaning making systems in order to be able to interact respectfully and at more than just a surface level with others but also an awareness of how our current education system has developed, what its original purpose was and what the society was like it was designed to serve.

So…I think I’m arguing that C21st teachers need knowledge about the system they work within (and the assumptions that underpin it) and also about how they operate as individuals…as well as subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge etc etc. .. and perhaps that is why I’m no longer a classroom teacher!

Teachers' work , , , , ,

Stuff and process

March 9th, 2009

Ok, so now I’m buzzing with Ally’s thoughts and Michael and Layla’s thoughts and I’m pondering this connection between 21C learning and technology. Into the mix let’s pour Jane’s thoughts about knowledge and Artichoke’s thinking about core curriculum and what it all means.

Ok, so there’s the STUFF you learn at school—that’s the facts/content. And there’s the PROCESS of the way you learn—that’s the pedagogy, etc.  If we make that separation, then technology is sometimes a STUFF (because it’s a skill base—my daughter “takes” technology) and sometimes a PROCESS (because it’s a method of learning—my son sometimes does maths on the computer).

But now I want to take Ally’s last entry really seriously and think that maybe the thing technology can do for us is help us think differently. That’s what Michael and Layla are pointing out too. And one of the ways I think we need to think really differently is to no longer separate the STUFF from the PROCESS. And maybe technology, because it goes in both of those directions, is quite a useful way to get us to think differently.

This means that it is most helpful to us when we’re not thinking of it as either a stuff or a process but we’re thinking about it for what it can enable—the connection that Layla talks about, the new thinking Ally ponders. If we could use technology—because it’s so new and flashy—to learn that stuff and process are not on different scales but could be the same, we could take that learning into other spaces. We could learn that putting kids in groups to think through something isn’t a PROCESS for their learning but the a big piece of the actual learning itself. We could learn that climate change isn’t just a STUFF, a content for kids to learn about, but a process for thinking differently about the world. If we can reconcile this difficulty about technology, maybe we could approach other key competencies differently and begin ultimately to have a different sense about Shakespeare’s place in the curriculum.

But what about Michael’s worry about the Faustian bargain? I wonder about this all the time. I used to teach in a masters degree programme for practicing teachers called Initiatives in Educational Transformation (fantastic programme, by the way—New Zealand needs something like this). We taught a course about education and technology, and we found that there were really two kinds of relationships our teachers had to technology: they loved it (uncritically) or they feared it (uncritically). It was so hard to have conversations about the Faustian bargains, about how each step forward is its own kind of loss.  I wonder if we need to have some of these conversations not just about technological changes but also about the changes to the 21C idea of education in the first place. Have we paid attention enough to our mourning of the old ways? I’m not sure. It’s all part of the same jumble for me, the same key question:
How does thinking shift the way technological change shifts, the way my growing kids shift, the way the our planet is shifting? How can we support these shifts? Maybe if we collect stories of shifting thinking, we can figure out more about how it happens?

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Tales from the blogosphere (part 1)

March 6th, 2009

One of the great things about the internet is how easy it is to find other people  who share your interests and passions. Of course, depending on how obscure your interests are, those people may be a little hard to find. But in most cases I’m pretty sure they’re out there somewhere, blogging away,  and just waiting and hoping that someone with shared interests wants to connect with them….

(“Hey Bob, Mike here. I’ve been reading your blog – you love Bulgarian films about the circus? Wow!  I like Bulgarian films about the circus too! Didn’t you just love Svirachat? Let’s be Facebook friends!”)

In the case of “shifting to 21st century thinking about education and learning”, it’s not at all difficult to find other people out there in the blogosphere who  are asking the kinds of questions that we’re asking, pondering the same kinds of challenges we’re pondering, and providing stimulating examples of the kinds of practices that can help us reshape teaching and schooling for the 21st century.  Over the last few days I’ve been perusing the web in search of some of these people. Here’s a quick sampling of who, and what, I’ve been reading:

  • I’ve enjoyed reading postings on The 21st Century Schoolhouse, written by Miller, a teacher from Conneticut. He describes himself (and his blog) as “A high school English teacher still trying to wrap his brain around teaching 21st century skills, digital literacy, the web 2.0, and anything else that sounds new”.  It’s fascinating to read some of Millers’ insights and struggles with questions about what it means to be a 21st century teacher, not to mention seeing how he’s been putting his ideas and working theories into practice. I recommend following some of the links related to the  21st century Journalism class he teaches.
  • Fans of Vygotsky have to love Konrad Glogowski’s blog of proximal development. There are just so many interesting ideas and stories here, such as the posting “how to avoid school talk part 1″ and The Virtual Classroom Project
  • Finally, a little gem from my own hometown of Hamilton New Zealand, Woodmonsta’s Blog, a blog created by an Intermediate (Middle School) teacher for, and with, his class.

I plan to continue scanning the Internet to see what else (and who else) I can find that I think is worth checking out…. in between writing a massive Final Report and two AERA conference papers, that is!

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Teaching and technology

March 6th, 2009

Can you teach/ think about knowledge/learn in a “21st Century way” without access to technology? That’s a really interesting question! (My dog liked that question too because when we were walking this morning I was so engaged in thinking about it that I was less focused on her scavenging/ bird chasing behaviours than usual).

Anyway, my initial response was of course you can teach in a 21st Century way without access to new technologies. (That’s probably not a surprising response from someone who still struggles to use the remote control for the TV!) Then I began wondering whether you can you teach in a “C20th way” without access to paper and pens which led on to thinking about how the tools available affect what you can know, how you can know it, and who can know it….which led me (somewhat reluctantly) to engage with the possibility that modern technologies might in fact be an integral part of “C21st” learning. So it seems to me that regardless of whether or not an individual uses technology, it does inevitably affect what schools are/ or should be about.

I think technology also adds to the possibility that people will be able to change their teaching to be more future-focused. Jennifer’s wonderings reminded me of 2 conversations I had earlier this week. In the first, I was talking to a colleague about a developmental theory that suggests that the ability to reflect on the limits of our knowledge doesn’t usually emerge till late adolescence. If this is so, what are the implications of this when we are talking about developing “key competencies” in younger students? The conversation went down the track of wondering whether the real benefit of the key competencies was in helping teachers to think differently about what is important in school.

The second conversation was with another colleague who was questioning whether or not self assessment was a realistic goal for young children, when in her opinion this was a skill many adults struggled with. This conversation also went down the track of wondering whether a main benefit of self assessment in classrooms could be in helping teachers to think differently about what is important in school by highlighting the possibility of engaging students more fully in their own learning

Similarly, I think technology too could help teachers think differently about what matters in education. I am new to blogging – this is a somewhat scary and alien activity for me…but my nervousness about putting out half formed ideas for anyone to read and interact with, has made me think a lot about what I value in writing for example, where those values come from, and whether or not those values are still really important for today’s world. For me trying to interact in a new virtual community, has the potential to help me see more clearly what I take for granted normally – just as going overseas can help you see what is unique about being a New Zealander more clearly than when you are at home. Perhaps this only applies to my generation – but there are currently lots of teachers who belong to the same generation!

So reluctantly I think I would now argue that the web and modern technologies are integral to C21st education. For teachers who are technologically challenged like me it could also help destabilize some beliefs that might otherwise get in the way of change. This does not mean however that I think “technology rich” schools are necessarily C21st schools.

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