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21st Century Skills

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Clearly we live in an age when customers have great choice in products and services, many of which can be delivered via computer applications. Education authors and former teachers and administrators Chuck Schwahn and Bea McGarvey want to integrate this reality into school learning.

They recently published a new book, Inevitable: Mass Customizing Learning, in which they discuss how schools can alter current outdated practices by utilizing customizing technologies to better meet individualized needs of students. We recently asked the pair some questions about their book and its potential for improving the schools. Check out the description Bea provided of creating a learning plan/schedule under their system at the bottom of the page after the interview.

Public School Insights:  Your book is titled Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning.  What is Mass Customized Learning?

Schwahn/McGarvey: Mass Customized Learning (MCL) is actually a very descriptive label.  From a learner’s perspective, MCL means that “every day when I go to school, I am met at my individual and personal learning level, I am able to learn in my most powerful learning modes, I am motivated to want to learn with content that is of interest to me, I feel a sense of challenge, I am successful, and I look forward to ...

Clearly there are many worthwhile focuses competing for time, funds, and energy within public schools, especially in our current fiscal context. And while it’s often difficult to prioritize these issues, it is increasingly clear that technology is of critical importance in modern society—and thus for schools—and it will only become more important in the future.

To this end, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) focuses on promoting technology-friendly policies and instructional information for schools. Their advocacy efforts make clear that technology proficiency is critical for students of all demographics and income levels. I want to focus on a few points ISTE makes on its website.

One, we should emphasize technology mastery in teacher preparation. Among crucial players to effect this is the federal government—which should provide funding to ensure that teachers understand current technology and can integrate it into curricula. While there are some great federally-funded programs like Preparing Teachers for Digital Age Learners (PTDAL), there is a shortfall in this emphasis, and we should come up with a ...

Earlier this week the MetLife Foundation released the first of two reports from its 27th annual Survey of the American Teacher. The survey, which in addition to middle and high school teachers included student, parent and business executive (aka potential employer) respondents, examines “the importance of being college- and career-ready, what the preparation includes and what it may take to get there.”

Postsecondary education is being seen as a necessity - both executives (77%) and students (84%) strongy agree that there will be few or no career opportunities for students who do have some education beyond high school. And not surprisingly, there is broad agreement among stakeholders that all students should graduate high school ready for college and a career. There were, though, differences in how high a priority this should be – less than half of executives think it must be done, compared to 73% of parents.

What I found particularly interesting - and what I think could have important policy implications for schools, districts, states and the federal government - were the areas of consensus, and divergence, in what being college- and career- ready means.

Teachers, parents, students and executives all overwhelmingly agree that problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, the ability to write clearly and ...

I was intrigued by two stories in the December 13 issue of Newsweek on the subject of public school reform in the United States: the cover story, an essay authored by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools whose picture and quote “I’m not done fighting” graced the cover (as a former English Language Arts teacher, I would have hoped for a more elegant word choice, but then I suppose space was an issue); and a second story, buried in the middle of the magazine entitled “Give Peace a Chance”, featuring a full page photograph of the president of the Hillsborough County, FL teacher’s union and chronicling the successful school improvement efforts in that school district, the result of collaboration among all the professionals in the system, including the teachers’ union. As a career educator, I think the more provocative magazine cover would have featured photographs of both women juxtaposed with the question: What will it REALLY take to improve all our schools?? ...

Yesterday, the Commerce Department released a broadband access report based on Census data. The conclusion? While broadband use among all American increased sevenfold between 2001 and 2009, the U.S. faces a significant gap in residential broadband use that breaks down along incomes, education levels, and other socio-economic factors. For example, 94.1 percent of households with income over $100,000 had access to broadband in 2009, while just 35.8 percent of households with income of less than $25,000 did. And 65.9 percent of urban households, compared to 51 percent of rural ones, subscribed to broadband in 2009.

One surprising finding: African-Americans and Hispanics lag behind in broadband access even when controlling for factors such as income and education. A possible reason: “Internet usage relies on networks. ... If the people around you don’t use the internet, you will be less likely to use the internet, too.”

In looking at this data, I make the assumption that children who have access to the internet have someone teaching them how to use. And so data like this remind me that in developing our education reform strategies, we have to look beyond just the teacher, school governance and the other currently hot topics. If we believe that technological literacy (including knowledge of how to best utilize the resources that the internet offers) is a critical component of future success, and if we want all students to have access to the skills needed to succeed in an increasingly complex society, we cannot ignore disparities in ...

The news has been getting me down recently. And not just the news itself (depressing enough to those who share my views on a number of issues), but what people are saying about it.

Like most people these days, I get most of my news online. And as you know, most newspapers allow comments on the articles they post. In theory, this is great. It allows those who read them to gauge public opinion on the issue at hand. But too often these comments seem counterproductive to me. So many essentially tell the author or another commenter that he or she wrong, dumb, and a terrible, awful person who (in the case of education news) cares only about adults and not about children. I miss productive conversations between people who disagree respectfully and then work to see the other’s position and find common ground.

So I was delighted to see Bill Ferriter’s post on The Tempered Radical yesterday. It appears he shares my views on the potential of this type of web-based communication. As he pointed out:

Web 2.0 tools have given us the opportunity to join together in public forums----electronic versions of the ancient Roman marketplaces----and to think across borders. We've got amazing opportunities to ...

obriena's picture

Do Believe the Hype

Now that everyone is knee-deep in post-election analysis, I want to call attention to…Tom Friedman.

Friedman’s last couple of posts have been from New Delhi, the capital of India. In one, he quotes from a piece by Nayan Chanda, the editor of YaleGlobal Online, in the Indian magazine Businessworld:

It is the Silicon Valley revolution which enabled the massive rise in tradable services and the U.S.-built telecommunication networks that allowed creation of the virtual office. … But the US seems sadly unprepared to take advantage of the revolution it has spawned. The country’s worn-out infrastructure, failing education system and lack of political consensus have prevent it from riding a new way to prosperity.

In another, Friedman asks:

What if – for all the hype about China, India and globalization – they’re actually underhyped? What if these sleeping giants are just finishing a 20-year process of getting the basic technological and educational infrastructure in place to become innovation hubs and that we haven’t seen anything yet?

In both of these pieces addressing America’s place in the world, Friedman mentions education. In one, America’s failing ...

obriena's picture

Brilliance in a Box?

A recent Slate article asked, “What do the best classrooms in the world look like?” Their answer: Surprisingly low-tech.

To find these classrooms, the author looked to Finland and South Korea, both of which perform better than the United States on international standardized assessments without really utilizing technology in the classroom. She points to KIPP charter schools, claiming them among the most effective in the nation, and explains how one KIPP school uses technology--to make teachers' lives easier, not to engage students.

It’s not that this piece is wrong, exactly. Having never been to South Korea, Finland or the KIPP school featured here, I can’t speak to their use of technology in education. But I have problems with the assumption on which the author seems to rely: That these schools are the best in the world, and the ideal model for reform efforts.

Actually, what she claims, after mentioning how these classrooms look like those of 1989 or 1959, is that “the most innovative schools around the world do not tend to be the ones with the most innovative technology inside them.” Now, I agree that innovative doesn't need to mean technology, but ...

As promised, last week the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released their strategy to improve STEM education in America’s elementary and secondary schools. It has two prongs, focusing on both preparing students (improving STEM education itself) and inspiring students so they are motivated to study STEM subjects and have careers in STEM fields in the future. The report divided recommendations into five general priorities for the federal government: improving federal coordination and leadership, supporting the state-led movement to establish a baseline for what students should learn in STEM courses, cultivating/recruiting/rewarding STEM teachers, creating STEM-related experiences that excite and interest students, and supporting the transformation of schools into STEM learning centers.

As I said last week, I was anxious to see the strategy proposed for motivating students in STEM. As a science and remedial math high school teacher in a low-income community, I found that getting students excited about STEM subjects was one of my biggest challenges. And if students weren’t excited, they were not going to learn it. Plain as that. I suggested that doing more to ...

obriena's picture

Are All Readers Literate?

Back in 1965, UNESCO proclaimed September 8 to be International Literacy Day. The goal? To highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and society. I’ll try to link to some of the reports being released today as they come out.

Just learning this occasion exists reminded me of a post of Robert Pondiscio’s that I saw recently on the Core Knowledge Blog, which referred to a post on Mark Bauerlein’s blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education that commented on an article that Pondiscio wrote with E.D. Hirsch earlier this year. (You’ve got to love the internet.)

The article doesn’t necessary embrace the international spirit of today, but it hits literacy on the head.

To be fully literate is to have the communicative power of language at your command—to read, write, listen and speak with understanding.

The Pondiscio/Hirsch article argues that reading is not a transferable skill, at least not entirely. A child may be able to master “decoding” but needs domain-specific content knowledge to fully comprehend what he or she is reading. And it argues that our current testing and accountability system for our public schools results in time wasted on reading strategies rather than imparting the knowledge that will allow our children to become truly literate, especially in low-income schools where children don't always get background knowledge from ...

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