Recently, after returning from the ISTE 2017 Conference in San Antonio Texas, I realized that there was an underlying buzz about the need for change in 21st century education.
In the age of the digital revolution we are continually trying to identify the necessary changes needed to launch education into this new era. As an educational futurist, I am always trying to read between the lines of research, predications, and trends in education to find those changes most needed.
If you think about some of the educational hot topics, you will come across two concepts that show up regularly: project based learning and cross curricular learning. Both of these teaching experiences share something in common. They both accommodate multiple disciplines and multiple standards in a single experience. We know through research that students learn best when using real world experiences, creative projects and interdisciplinary instruction. Why do we think this is?
I believe it has a great deal to do with how our brain works. Inherent in our development we find that the brain does not retain information in isolation. Rather, the brain categorizes ideas and concepts in knowledge themes. Learning through cross curricular themes with creative, project-based objectives, students are able to garner a deeper understanding beyond separate subjects.
It perplexes one to try to understand the continuation of educators teaching in the same 19th century style. That being dividing knowledge into small isolated subjects ruled by the clock with no linkage between disciplines. We are no longer an industrial economy, rather we are now a knowledge-based economy. That knowledge should not be “distributed” in 40 minute blocks of time. We need to begin to think beyond basic facts. We need to think in terms of broader based learning that embraces 21st century skill development. After all, the real world is interdisciplinary.
Let’s try to consider a changing curriculum without subject labels. Students would have classes labeled critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, and creativity/imagination. Can you imagine the cross curriculum opportunities in each one of these classes? Each class would entertain project-based assignments. Learning real world skills would be the norm not the exception. Useful knowledge would be gleaned from each activity. Learning to work with others through collaboration would eventually create a world full of individuals understanding compromise and looking forward to solving problems together.
At the ISTE conference I tried to do my part, by presenting these very sentiments regarding 21st century learning. Now it is time for each and every one of you to do your part by sitting down with your colleagues and beginning to development appropriate “real world” curriculum embracing 21st century skills and embedding your particular knowledge and skills into the activities and projects. It’s an exciting time in education as we face the opportunities that change affords us.