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Engaging Environments

Blog Entries

By Helen Soulé, Executive Director, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

In countless schools across the US, a new year brings new students. It also brings “wonder” tools, applications and processes. For many educators, this deluge of technology threatens to drown them in an ocean of confusion and frustration. They face hard choices, not only about which tools to purchase, but how to integrate these tools into classroom instruction in a 21st century information and media rich curriculum.

Today, savvy educators realize that technology must be more than an electronic teacher with paperless worksheets. They recognize the transformative power of technology. But transforming instruction to take full advantage of digital power requires significant risk-taking, support and new skill development. Students and teachers must acquire not only the media, information and technology skills, but also the 4Cs (communication, critical thinking, creativity and innovation and collaboration) in order to be able to build a quality 21st century learning environment. ...

While the ‘digital divide’ is well documented, studies show mixed results when trying to document technology’s influence on learning for at-risk students. In part, this is because the digital learning ecosystem is so complex. The academic realities for at-risk children, many of whom live in poverty, are also well known. More than half of all students enrolled in public schools today meet this designation. They are more likely to start school less academically prepared than their peers, fall behind throughout the summer due to learning loss and less likely to have access to technology, including computers, at home. ...

By Wendy Drexler, Chief Innovation Officer, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

The recent release of the 46th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools reveals a high level of public engagement in the issues surrounding public education. Americans are demonstrating greater levels of immersion and increased awareness of efforts to transform learning and teaching, such as Common Core, charter schools and assessment. However, a glaring omission from the national conversation in the poll is any reference to how teachers are leveraging the power of technology to motivate and engage students.

If we were to tour schools across the country, we would see technology in many schools and classrooms. We’d see some students using mobile devices, laptops, interactive whiteboards and tablets to learn in new ways. We’d see many more students using devices to do what they’ve always done, such as take notes and search for information. The push to digital learning started decades ago, so why, when we talk about education, do we want to separate learning and technology? ...

Our frequently stated goal is for all US students to graduate from high school prepared for college and career. The current emphasis on standards-based education reforms reflects our belief that there are things students should know and be able to do that will help them in that endeavor. While one of the main purposes of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was to better identify and support struggling students, the law ultimately resulted in an overemphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and school performance (though fortunately, some policy leaders are beginning to take steps to reduce the emphasis on testing, particularly as many state transition to new academic standards). Ironically, educators, businesses and parents generally agree that test scores are a poor indicator of future success. ...

By Ethan Clark, Arts in Education Manager, National PTA

Monday, September 15, kicks off National Arts in Education Week and National PTA's "Start the Arts" Week (September 15-19). During this week, National PTA encourages schools, families and PTAs to #StartTheArts with arts-themed activities at school and at home, helping to encourage student participation in the arts.

Looking for a way to celebrate?  Try one (or all!) of the following arts activities are based on the 2014-2015 Reflections program theme “The World Would Be a Better Place If…”

Monday - Dance Choreography.

Sample Idea: Choose a time during the school day and invite everyone to dance together. Choose a story based on the theme that is read aloud or song based on the theme and have students create movements phrases that communicate the theme ...

By Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

Self-directed learning often involves teamwork among classmates. Active, cooperative learning activities not only give students the opportunity to learn deeply, they also present opportunities to practice communicating, negotiating, and collaborating. Learning to work with others is an essential life skill, but for many students it doesn’t come easily!

Here are four complaints students commonly voice during group projects and some possible ways to respond:

“I’d rather do it on my own!”

Students who voice this objection don’t understand that working in groups provides important learning opportunities. Nearly every adult job requires collaboration of some sort, so always “going it alone” simply isn’t an option ...

By Tatyana Warrick, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

What do students need to know and do to be able to thrive in the 21st century? This is the question that P21 has been working in concert with business, education leaders, and policymakers to answer over the last 10 years. Turns out, the skills that students need to succeed in college and workplace – a.k.a. to be college & career ready – are the same ones they need to be 21st century citizens.

Just as the world of work has changed, with the advent of technology and globalization, so has the nature of citizenship. The challenges of being a responsible, effective citizen are more diverse, nuanced and complex than they have been before. Because of this, our understanding of what it means to be a citizen in the 21st century needs to be expanded. Public schools have always played an important part of shaping tomorrow's citizens and safeguarding the ideals of our democracy. That responsibility is just as vital today. In fact, as we discuss standards, assessments and teaching practices, we can't forget that our educators also carry with them the responsibility to impart to students what it means to be a citizen of this nation, this world and online. ...

As a child, I was told never to say that I was bored. Being bored meant I wasn't able to find something interesting or engaging to do, which was not acceptable. “The world is big and full of opportunities, do something!”, as my mother would say.

Boredom, as highlighted in the May issue of the Kappan, a PDK International publication, "is a mismatch between wanting intellectual arousal but being unable to engage in a satisfying activity."  The above description of boredom, from the article "Neuroscience Reveals That Boredom Hurts," suggests that students who seem to willfully defy urgings to focus on school assignments and work may simply be experiencing an involuntary brain reaction. ...

By Stacey Lange, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

The other day, I walked into one of our primary multi-aged classroom communities. I noticed many wonderful things. It was clear the students were engaged in what they were doing.

These young students were working on an inquiry unit related to force and motion. Students were engaged in reading paperback books, articles and e-books individually and/or with partners. Other students were using their i-pads to view videos related to force and motion. Many of the students were recording notes on their i-pads or on paper while watching the videos or reading.  A few students were experimenting with different materials such as ramps, matchbox cars, marbles, etc. to experiment and learn about force and motion. ...

Earlier this month, the Learning First Alliance participated in a day-long tour of three traditional public schools in the District of Columbia (DCPS), our nation’s capital and “home town.” The tour was hosted by DCPS and sponsored by Discovery Education, and it included stops at three campuses where teachers are using digital resources to meet the individual needs of the students in their classrooms. The day was worthwhile, instructional and (most importantly) uplifting as we observed excellence in teaching and learning in traditional urban public schools.

Those of us who have worked in public education for years know that there is much good work happening in public schools; however, most of that work doesn’t get attention, and the prevailing messages that “public education is failing” or “public education is not good enough” are, in addition to being inaccurate, also dispiriting. ...

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