It is generally understood that lower education is in crisis in the United States. Despite spending more per student than most industrialized countries, students in the United States continue to score near the bottom of most standardized tests compared to other developed nations. The North American Division education department has been searching for a way to improve our student’s achievement for generations.
Some thought differentiated instruction would solve the problems, but we have not seen a significant rise in test scores. Technology became our next focus, but again test scores have remained stubbornly that same.
Now we have a new trend, known by several names: 21st Century Learning, Project Based Learning, and Discovery Learning. This new, promising approach to education assumes that we must develop an engaging learning environment where the teachers become coaches to guide their students through activities and projects to facilitate learning. The classrooms will be larger learning spaces with different environments and mediums to instill creativity and individualism in learning. Classrooms will be multi-grade and multi-teacher, made up of teams providing coaching to their learners.
Using 21st Century methodology, students are allowed to follow what interests them in each subject area and learn as much as possible along the way. Students will be working at their academic grade levels, regardless of their chronological grade levels.
21st Century Education will naturally include differentiated instruction because there will be no right or wrong way to learn. Students will learn based on how their brains are wired. Technology will be available for research and discovery. Students will share what they learn with their peers and with students in the lower grades, reinforcing the learning and the importance of collaboration.
Heick provides four basic principles for implementing this type of learning in the classroom:
- Set Up Learning Spaces Intentionally
Set up learning spaces to encourage flexibility and group work. Balance between areas for group work and a centralized location for full group work.
- Provide a Wide Variety of Resources
Provide students with many resources, including resources like chalkboards or white boards, reference books, art supplies, and manipulatives.
- Use Technology With Purpose
Encourage uses of technology that develop real-world skills. Ensure that technology is maintained and students are instructed on how to use technology appropriately.
- Be a Supportive Resource
Set students up for success by clearly introducing project themes and goals, helping students organize the classroom and themselves, and being flexible and available to provide assistance as needed.
21st Century Learning can be a game changer for students lucky enough to experience it. Pioneers in this style of education are starting to see results.
Because we know that the education system is broken, we must never stop trying to fix it. The days of the industrial age classroom are numbered. I challenge all of us who love our students to continue to innovate to reach them; the stakes are too high for us to fail.