Never Stop Learning

Okay, so we know without a doubt that some characteristics are incredibly beneficial for life in the 21st century.  Among these is a habit of learning something new at every opportunity.  An example is learning a new thing through online college classes.  This love for learning (notice how I avoid the overused cliche: “lifelong learning”?) has been identified again and again as critical to success in our knowledge-based economy.

But, how do we educators instill this habit in the minds of our students?

Sometimes it feels like what I imagine Physical Education teachers go through when they try to combat obesity and unhealthy eating habits by stressing the importance of exercise and nutrition in their classrooms.  I don’t think that many children change their ways as a result of this instruction, because the real factors that contribute to obesity begin at home and in a child’s genes.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not claiming that we teachers can’t impact our students, either in their health or their learning, but rather we have to be more coordinated.  Hollywood might think that a single teacher in a single year might be able to change the life of a child, but in reality it takes a dozens of teachers and many years to truly change the trajectory of a student.

And there’s the rub.  I can decide to spend every available moment modeling adult learning for my students and I can talk about its importance with them everyday.  I can teach lessons that help them understand how their future can be better if they never stop learning.

But, I can’t make them learn.  Right?

That used to be my attitude, but lately I’ve become almost obsessed with the idea of trying to find a way to motivate those students who can’t find their own “juice”.  It’s been said that the best motivator is an engaging lesson, but all veteran teachers know that even the most engaging lesson is not capable of reaching those who have significant challenges in their lives.  I’ve sought (and followed) the advice of Larry Ferlazzo and others.  I’ve dug deep and talked to those students in an effort to get to the cause of their lack of motivation.

Can anyone sympathize?


Kenan Update: The 21st Century Workplace

As I am knee-deep in Kenan Fellowship research and planning, this will be a short post.  It’s based on my experiences on my first day today working at the Cisco Systems campus here in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina.

I hear/read/talk a lot about 21st Century Skills and the unknown workplace of the the future for which our students need to be preparing.  I have no idea what careers will be in high demand when my 12-year-old students enter the workplace in 6-10 years.  If history is any judge, the growth fields of that time don’t even exist today.  That’s why I firmly believe that we need to teach universal skills–problem solving, communication, and collaborating–rather than specific tech tools.

With that said, however, yesterday I witnessed the cutting-edge workplace of today and it was MIND-BLOWING.  I saw rooms where video conferencing can be as productive and natural as an in-person meeting.  I walked through modular workspaces in which employees grab an empty desk each day, log into their phone, and turn any space into their office while they are there.  I saw collaboration happening in the break room, the cafeteria, and the courtyard.  I got to see a telemedicine station that allows a corporate medical clinic to diagnose ailments and write prescriptions with the help of one nurse on site and one remote doctor that never sets foot on the campus.

And, the best part of all wasn’t the technology that made so much of it possible.  It was the company culture that lists “fun” and “team-building” alongside “inclusion” and “autonomy” as priorities.  This isn’t the workplace of tomorrow; it’s today’s office.  And, it makes me want to be twelve years old again so that I can work in whatever comes next.

Ah, but there’s the rub.  As a teacher I won’t ever work in one of these ecosystems.  Why aren’t our classrooms even remotely similar to these awesome business environments?  What would it take to get us there?


21st Century Skills Conversation: Wrap-up

This weekend brought an end to our four-day Voicethread conversation between Scripted Spontaneity readers and several of the experts behind the new book, 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn.  I’ve posted a lot here recently about the conversation (here, here, here, here, and here), and the purpose of the entry is to share what I personally learned from the participants.  Keep in mind that while no new comments can be added at this point, the Voicethread will continue to be viewable for the foreseeable future at this link.

Before doing that, though, I want to reinforce the importance of conversations like the one that we just completed.  First, the asynchronous, web-based nature of Voicethread yet again proved it to be an excellent tool for bringing together colleagues from all over the world and all over the education spectrum.  Second, an opportunity to interact with other eager educators and experts (that’s a mouthful, huh?) is a rejuvenating experience for us.  We are reminded that the work ahead is mammoth in its scale but critical in its importance, and that we are supported by some very smart people at every level.  Finally, we must remember to make the best of these discussions to reach out to the novice teachers around us inducting them into “the club” while pulling in veteran teachers who are stuck in the kiddie pool.

Throughout the Voicethread conversation, several strands stood out as contentious or engaging enough to stimulate a lot of discussion.  When I look back on what I learned over the past week, three themes pushed my thinking the most:

  1. While change most often comes from outsiders, this term is difficult to define in education.  Participants like Bethany, bplibrarian, and Chris Dede made it clear to me that an ideal educational leader has elements of being an insider (understands the system, knows the challenges firsthand) as well as some of the characteristics of an outsider (willingness to challenge the status quo, objective perspective).
  2. The various frameworks that define and describe 21st Century Skills are exceedingly diverse, and this may not be a bad thing.  While several of the book’s contributors chimed in about the challenges posed by this diversity, it also became clear to me that the “competition” among various frameworks brings new ideas and strategies to the table.
  3. The key to well-prepared modern educational leaders is a combination of training and assessment.  Simply identifying those with the greatest potential as leaders is not enough.  We must put into place processes that actively train would-be administrators and school leaders and then require them to show proficiency in the areas that we deem most important.

I would like to take this opportunity to show my gratitude to the many folks who helped make this conversation so successful.  To the book contributors, especially Chris Dede, Nancy Frey, Brian M. Pete, and Jim Bellanca, thank you for the time and effort that you put into this project.  To the participants who added their views and experiences–bplibrarian, Stephanie, Luke, and Bethany, in particular–I know firsthand how difficult it is to find “free time” to engage in meaningful personal and professional development.  Thanks to the good folks at Solution Tree for their help in putting together the conversation, recognizing the power of digital tools to facilitate interactions between authors and their audience.


21st Century Skills Conversation: Day 3

As we enter the final day of our engaging Voicethread conversation about 21st Century Skills, the discussion has become much more dynamic and exciting.  Both experts and visitors alike have raised interesting questions related to the vast diversity of frameworks for understanding and defining these skills.  John Barell addresses the question of expense when it comes to Problem-Based Learning, making a convincing argument that these methods can actually cost less than traditional paper-based educational materials.

Thanks to everyone who has participated so far, making this a fantastic learning experience for all of us.  Remember, you still have one more day to add your voice.  The final Voicethread will remain archived on the site for you to view and share in the future.

So, take a few minutes and express yourself:


21st Century Skills Conversation: Day 2

The second day of our asynchronous discussion around 21st Century Skills has yielded more intriguing questions.  We’ve seen several of the contributors, including Chris Dede and Nancy Frey, add in their two cents worth on the other themes, creating a unique learning environment for all.

My favorite strand today has been the ongoing back-and-forth about Problem Based Learning.  Chris Dede has added some real insight about the ability of the human brain to learn simple skills in the context of more complex ones, rather than prior to the complexity.  This flies so brazenly in the face of the curricula in place in most public schools.  Does reform need to begin there?

It’s not too late to join in the conversation!  Take a few minutes of your day tomorrow or Saturday and share your experience with us.  You’ll take away something meaningful, and add to the learning going on for everyone.

Your task for Day 3 is to ask a difficult question.  Push someone’s thinking!


21st Century Skills Conversation: Day 1

One day of our Voicethread discussion around the new book, 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn, is over and I know that my thinking has been pushed in some major ways.

For starters, a diverse group of university folks and classroom teachers have really impressed me with their perspectives on such a variety of issues.  Luke, a first-year classroom teacher from North Carolina said, “If you want teachers and school leaders to foster a 21st Century learning environment, you have to evaluate them as such.”  Wow!  Just think what the future of education looks like when even our novice teachers can speak so clearly about the need for educator evaluation to lead the way to 21st century skills.

My favorite slide, however, has to be the ongoing discussion about the use of problem-based learning (PBL) as a tool to develop these future-ready skills.  Book contributor John Barell, who is a strong advocate of PBL, makes a convincing case for its use.  He gets strong support from teachers like Stephanie who argue for the extra utility of differentiation and time-saving that PBL offers while maintaining a high level of student motivation and engagement.  My question of whether it’s cost, in terms of money and time, is justified is asked and answered.  My thinking got pushed, and my horizons were expanded.

What has your Personal Learning Network done for you lately?

It’s not too late to get your brain stretched and your views heard at the Voicethread conversation (check it out here).  Things will keep rolling through the end of the day on Saturday.  It’s free and it is guaranteed to be worth your time!


It’s On!

The four-day Voicethread conversation between the readers of Scripted Spontaneity and several of the contributors of the new book 21st Century Skills has begun!  To recap:

The conversation can be found here:

Tips for using Voicethread are here:

A review of the book, including a link to the PDF, is located here:

Check back later today for a summary of the interesting bits…

And, don’t forget that you can stop by any time that works for your schedule, and you should come back to see how your comments have kept the conversation going.