Learning First Alliance

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21st Century Skills

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

Dana Elementary School is surrounded by apple orchards in the rural community of Hendersonville, North Carolina. Many of the families work in agriculture, and eighty percent of the students attending Dana qualify for free or reduced lunch.  “Having those demographics has never stopped us from wanting to have high expectations for our students,” says Principal Kelly Schofield. “And we really just have always felt…that if any students in the state can do it, then so can ours, and we can achieve.  Our goal has always been to find the framework, find the curriculum, find the instructional strategies that work for our population of students.”

For Schofield and her colleagues, the skills, content and teaching strategies outlined in the Framework for 21st Century Learning are essential to their shared success. “It’s the way we live in school everyday,” she says. “It is our culture; it’s how we talk, it’s how we act.” For students like Tom Walter, this framework translates into collaborative, project-based learning enhanced by technology—like a recent social studies class in which he built a documentary film project on immigration with a team of his fellow fifth graders. For teachers ...

By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D., Executive Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

My daughter, Tori, attended two high schools. Like most of her friends, she was very active. She was in the National Honor Society, the Chinese Honor Society, the marching band, the orchestra, drama productions. She was the class secretary and took Advanced Placement and honors classes. Tori went to a school of engaged, enthusiastic and energetic students.

There is another school, however, existing under the same roof. In this school, students don’t participate in any extracurricular activities. They don’t take a rigorous course load. Students in this school have attendance and disciplinary problems. This is a school of unmotivated, unchallenged and disenfranchised students.

Many students in the second school come from low-income, ethnically and culturally diverse populations. They don’t see themselves in the same world, much less the same school, as their more involved counterparts. The different socioeconomic populations may be physically desegregated, but they were never integrated into one cohesive student body.

Unfortunately, many schools across the country experience this same “one-roof, two-schools” issue. Every school has students who are engaged and those who are apathetic. Often, student involvement and performance is based on ...

I cannot begin to count the number of times I hear a statistic related to children and education that causes me to pause and ask additional questions about the context. A troubling number is often just an indicator of a larger problem, which serves as backdrop to help explain how we as a society arrived at this measurement. I recently attended three separate events that collectively reminded me, once again, that we can help all children realize their true potential through collaboration and teamwork across schools, districts and communities. By addressing root causes and individual student needs, we may see students take the lead in their learning, becoming the future leaders of tomorrow, today. ...

When District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) gets press coverage, it’s not always glowing news. In recent years, DCPS (a major urban city system with a recent history of controversial reforms) is often associated with topics such as their new teacher evaluation system (IMPACT), charters, or poverty and inequity. But just a few weeks ago, I learned about a truly amazing DCPS program at a Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P-21) event. I listened to two panels – one with embassy representatives and the other with DCPS teachers - talk about a life changing experience that could only happen in a system like DCPS: the Embassy Adoption Program (EAP). ...

Updated August 12, 2013

In a country where we expect free WiFi with our coffee, why shouldn't we have it in our schools?”

So asked President Barack Obama last week in announcing ConnectED, his plan for connecting all schools to the digital age. Acknowledging that success – for individual students, communities and the nation as a whole – in the 21st century is being driven by new technologies, the initiative aims to connect 99% of America’s students to high-speed internet within the next five years.

To meet this goal, President Obama is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “modernize and leverage its existing E-Rate program.” E-rate, created by Congress in 1996 and funded through a surcharge on telephone bills, provides discounts to assist schools and libraries in obtaining communications services, including Internet access. Currently, demand for the program much exceeds money available ...

Technology is an integral part of life in Washington’s Vancouver Public Schools (VPS), located just north of Portland, Oregon – and it has been for quite some time. They are the only district to host three NSBA Technology Leadership Network (TLN) site visits, the first in 1993, the second in 1999 and now 2013, which I was able to attend.

VPS serves 22,744 students in K-12 and it has 21 elementary schools, six middle schools and five high schools, as well as a school of the arts and Vancouver ITech Preparatory. The district is committed to providing an innovative learning environment for all students and helping them develop knowledge and essential skills so that they will be competent, responsible and compassionate citizens. During our visit to VPS, it was immediately apparent that the teachers, administrators and leaders are determined to serve each child. And while the commitment to the effective use of technology in classrooms is priority, the district also provides extensive supports for students and families. ...

Today the Learning First Alliance (LFA) and Grunwald Associates, with the support of AT&T, are releasing a report, Living and Learning with Mobile Devices, that documents survey results of parents’ attitudes and perceptions of the value of mobile devices as learning tools for their school-aged children.  Not surprisingly, parent perceptions are influenced by the level of personal usage they have with mobile technology and, as parental usage goes up, comfort level with the notion of their children’s use of this technology also increases. 

The report is an important reflection of just how far we’ve come in the use of and advocacy for appropriate use of technology in schools and classrooms.  As someone who has spent the past 25 years advocating for innovation in teaching and learning supported with technology and expanded connectivity, my view is that we’re at an important crossroads in transforming both the formal and informal learning spaces with new, less expensive, and more powerful technical devices.  As the survey found, more than 50 percent of high school students take a cell phone to school with them every day, and 24 percent of those surveyed use those cell phones in ...

We're over a decade into the 21st-century and schools across the country are working tirelessly to ensure students are prepared for whatever lies ahead. Rapid changes are afoot in demographic shifts and in the continuing development of new technology and social media platforms. These realities are presenting schools with new challenges and opportunities - sometimes in concert.

Dr. Mary Amanda "Mandy" Stewart has taught and researched English learners, and her recent research highlights how social media use and other out-of-school literacies are boosting language acquisition in this population. The winner of this year's PDK International Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award for her work on Latino/a immigrant students and literacy, her findings lead to several questions.

How can schools support the integration of social media in classrooms as an instructional support? How can homework assignments utilize social media? How can principals and districts support wider use of such platforms and other out-of-school literacies to support their English Language Learning population? 

We recently had an opportunity to talk with Dr. Stewart about her research and its implications. In an email interview, she provided advice and insights from her perspective as a researcher and practitioner, emphasizing the importance of expanding our definition of 21st-century learning to include bilingualism and biliteracy.

Public School Insights (PSI): Would you mind starting off with a little background on your research and the study? What led you to research this topic, and what questions were you interested in answering?

Stewart: I began my career teaching newcomer adolescents at the International Newcomer Academy, a public school for new immigrants in middle and high school in Fort Worth, Texas.  All of my 6th graders were in their first year in the U.S.  I saw the great resources my students from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East brought with them into the class, but also how the effects of NCLB in Texas pushed the students' linguistic and cultural resources out of the academic curriculum.  I feared that their linguistic and cultural resources would be ignored, devalued, and underutilized as they went to their home schools. 

During my doctoral studies, I became interested of the idea of "whose literacy counts?"  Through a pilot study with a 2nd-generation high school student of Mexican origin and reading about other studies of immigrant youth, it became apparent that immigrant students do possess valuable and sophisticated literacies they use out-of-school.  However, most schools do not ...

Do you remember when you learned to balance your checkbook, plan a monthly budget, manage credit card use, or perhaps invest wisely for retirement? Did you learn from parents, an older sibling, a seminar, or perhaps a bit by trial and error? In these times of economic uncertainty, responsible money management is an essential skill that the younger generation would do well to attain. April is National Financial Capability Month (also popularly known as financial literacy month) where, according to Presidential Proclamation: “We recommit to empowering individuals and families with the knowledge and tools they need to get ahead in today's economy.”  ...

New technologies are dramatically changing how people learn. Unfortunately, many schools are moving far too slowly to adopt them, with classrooms today organized in much the same way they were in the 1950s. We in public education must do a better job incorporating new technologies into teaching and learning to prepare students for success in the changing world that awaits them.

But what does it look like when schools step into the digital age? And what can school leaders do to ensure students are learning in new ways?

We recently had the opportunity to hear about these issues from an expert, Ryan Imbriale, Principal of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in Baltimore, one of NASSP’s 2013 Digital Principals and a PDK 2013 Emerging Leader. In an e-mail interview, he shared his thoughts on how school leaders can promote digital learning and the challenges they face in doing so, as well as specific examples of what it looks like in his building.

Public School Insights (PSI): Before we discuss your school in particular, I want to ask a couple overarching questions. You were recently named one of NASSP’s 2013 Digital Principals. What exactly is a “digital principal”?

Imbriale: Well, a digital principal is actually real – it’s not some sort of virtual person.  That’s been the running joke at my school since my staff found out I won the award.  The award is designed to recognize principals who exhibit bold, creative leadership with new technologies.

PSI: In general, what is the role of a school leader in digital learning?

Imbriale: The school leader must be willing to fostering an environment of innovation, exploration, experimentation, and trial and error.  When a school’s culture is student-centered and driven by a collaborative spirit it’s really amazing what can be accomplished.  But I will also say that the leader must also be a user.  It’s impossible to get buy-in if you are not modeling effective use.  I try hard to continually model my own personal and professional use of technology, whether it’s social media or flipping professional development.

PSI: Now tell me about your school. What is your vision for it?

Imbriale: My vision for Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts is to provide students with quality comprehensive educational experiences that enable them to develop the productive habits of life-long learners.  Our students will be able to think critically and creatively, learn independently and in collaboration with others, value ethical behavior, and develop skills needed to function in a technologically changing and ...

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