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21st Century Skills

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Technology can be a powerful tool for change, but in the excitement of doing something new, important planning aspects may fall by the wayside. In order to support long-term success and systemic change, technological integration benefits from piloting, community buy-in, visionary and consistent leadership, and a diligence to build on successes over time.  Vail School District in Vail, Arizona exemplifies these attributes, and the district staff is proud of the collaborative culture they’ve created. As they put it, they do the hard work of getting along, and they’ve established a strong foundation for their relentless pursuit of innovative practices that support student achievement and learning in the 21st century.  ...

By Joanna Schimizzi, American Federation of Teachers member and National Board Certified Biology teacher at Butler High School in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools

Those who can’t do… teach??? Undoubtedly, teachers would disagree with this, but sometimes it can feel like what we teach is pretty far from the actual practice of our content areas. Is what I’m teaching actually helping my students become scientists?

Since implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in my classroom 2012, I’ve gradually changed what my high school science students read and how they engage with the concepts these texts present to them. After only two years, the feedback I receive from my former students is very encouraging. Now university students, the first group says they feel more prepared for college-level classes and more committed to pursuing science careers. Kayla McGuire, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, says, “All we do at college is read papers and discuss them the next day. While I didn’t try my hardest in your class, it was the class that prepared me the most.”

For me, the huge lever was incorporating primary source academic papers into my classes. While I might not be “doing” the experiments in these papers, I can help my students build knowledge using the direct findings. I had tried to do this before, but with much simpler articles from ...

When Daisy Dyer Duerr was named principal of rural Arkansas’ St. Paul High School, the school was struggling. It was also, in her words, “disconnected.” Three years later, the school is achieving academically, and it’s largely low-income student population is being exposed to, and empowered through, experiences previously unknown to them thanks to the power of technology.

For her work at St. Paul, Duerr was named one of NASSP’s 2014 Digital Principals, an award that honors those who exhibit bold, creative leadership in their drive to harness the potential of new technologies to further learning goals.

In a recent e-mail interview, she shared her philosophy on digital learning and discussed St. Paul High School’s transition to a technology-infused school, emphasizing the challenge that bandwidth (or more specifically, a lack of bandwidth) presents to her rural community. The school’s story is both inspirational and instructive, offering guidance on how to incorporate and support new technologies in teaching and learning to best prepare students for life in a rapidly changing world.

Public School Insights: Tell me about St. Paul High School.

Daisy Dyer Duerr: St. Paul High School is an extremely rural, isolated school in Northwestern Arkansas. We serve approximately 125 students in grades 7-12; we are actually a preK-12 campus (with approximately 250 students), and I am the principal of the entire campus. The central office for our school district is 30 minutes from our campus.  

Demographically, depending on the year, our socioeconomically disadvantaged rate has ranged from 80-88%. We serve 93% Caucasian, 5% Pacific Islander, and 2% "other" students. Only 10% of our students have internet service in their homes, according to a 2012 survey.

At St. Paul High School, we are a small town school using technology and genuine relationships with students to provide a ...

By Brian Lewis, CEO, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

It was nearly 20 years ago when E-Rate, the nation’s largest education technology program, was put into place.  At that time, a majority of schools (86 percent) were not connected. Mobile phone use was in its infancy and we all referred to the Internet as the information superhighway.

Fast forward to today. Nearly all schools (95 percent) have some level of connectivity. Half of our nation’s teenagers own a smartphone and three-quarters of all children have access to a mobile device.

Walk into a school today and see if you can spot a blackboard and chalk in use; it’s a rarity. In many schools, modern learning devices – screens, projectors and computing devices – that support digital learning have replaced the blackboard.  We are in the midst of the digital age.

All the technology that surrounds us and supports our students is only as good as the speed of the connectivity available. Without broadband speed, streaming video stalls, online simulations freeze and load times drag on into eternity. The impact on learning can be crippling. Students get annoyed and teachers get ...

By Harriet Sanford, President & CEO, NEA Foundation

They. Love. Science.

Students involved in the Milwaukee Urban Schools Aquaponics Initiative have discovered the power of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). They do their own research. They ask their own questions. Who knew that you could use someone’s trash to create an incubator for growing fish? This authentic, self-driven learning is contagious and it is opening up a world of possibility.

Their teachers love science, too.

And they are bolstered by an infrastructure and support they need to do their jobs better. A professional learning community meets regularly so that educators can exchange ideas, brainstorm solutions, and learn from outside experts and other schools and schools systems.

The result is a cohort of students who are mastering complex subject matter, gaining valuable 21st century skills, by growing safe, local, sustainable, and nutritious food for ...

By Jack Dale, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

Since the year 2000, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has made the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) available to countries around the world. In 2012, 65 countries participated in the once every three year cycle of PISA.  Each three year cycle emphasizes one of three content areas – Math, Science and Reading. In 2012 the emphasis was on Math. In 2015 the emphasis will be on Science.

Beginning this school year, individual schools across America are able to participate in the school-based version called OECD Test for Schools. Participating schools will have a random sample of 15-year olds selected to take part in a matrix sampling of test prompts covering all three content areas.

Questions now before schools and districts are: What kind of results would we get? What are implications for school/district policies and practices? Can this assessment better help us prepare students for needed 21st Century ...

By Kecia Ray, President, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

The debate among global education leaders about how to transform education has taken a sharp right turn. A new report, “A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning,” released by education visionary Michael Fullan, provides educators with solutions for how to change pedagogies to foster deep learning.

Published by Pearson in partnership with ISTE, MaRS Discovery District and Nesta, this visionary report reflects on the impact technology has had on the way we learn. In the paper, the authors suggest a new education model that prepares learners to succeed in today’s knowledge-based economy.

Fullan and his co-author Maria Langworthy urge educators to aim the metamorphosing system toward deeper learning outcomes — in other words, moving students past mastery of existing content to become the creators and users of new knowledge. Three forces are needed to drive change toward this new level of deep learning:

1. New pedagogies that emphasize the natural learning process

Technology plays a pivotal role in creating deeper learning opportunities for students, but it’s not enough to simply add expensive tools to the traditional curriculum. We need pedagogies that tap into students’ core motivations and ...

By Margaret Glick, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

We are teaching kids to live on a planet we’ve never seen.”  - Mary Catherine Bateson

This quote is as true now as it has ever been, but how are we to do this?  By developing students’ abilities to think critically, creatively and empathically.  How do we manage that?  By embedding three qualities—connection, purpose, and mastery into our classrooms. 

Brain research has given us a few solid principles in the past decade.  One is the concept of plasticity.  Plasticity is the ability the brain has to change with experiences.  Basically, our brain becomes what it does.  This is great news (or bad news, depending on what our brains are doing).  This means teachers can promote patterns of thinking that benefit students, and these patterns can become neural networks that assist whatever kind of thinking you’re after.  Another brain research principle is that emotions impact learning.  When we feel connected and safe in a classroom, a staffroom, or a boardroom, we are able to think in productive ways that might elude us otherwise.  Lastly, we know that when work is viewed as purposeful and relevant, the tracks of learning, inquiry, and motivation are greased. 

So how do we get there in classrooms?  How do we take some of the principles that have surfaced in brain research and apply ...

It’s difficult to imagine life without computers and technology in general - some days my eyes hurt from staring at screens too much. But computer science is much more in-depth than the basic Internet navigation and word processing skills many of us use in our professional lives. Coding, for example, is an important skill for students to master as we move towards the middle of this century in our electronic age, and can develop habits of mind that students can put to use in future STEM professions. Students who learn to code at a young age establish a strong foundation for more advanced classes in high school, better enabling them to pursue degrees in engineering and other technical professions in their post-secondary education. ...

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Top Posts of 2013

In 2013, we tackled a number of issues here at the Learning First Alliance. For example, in June, our members – representing over 10 million public education stakeholders – came together in calling for a transition period in Common Core implementation, removing high-stakes consequences from new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards temporarily to allow the time necessary to implement them with fidelity. In August, recognizing the importance of connecting all students to the digital age, they joined forces in urging an increase to the E-Rate funding cap.

And earlier this month, we issued a statement reminding parents, educators, policymakers and other education stakeholders that the results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (a test of reading literacy, mathematics and science given every three years to fifteen-year-olds in approximately seventy countries and economies worldwide) must be viewed in context – and that there is a great deal we can learn from ...

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