Tag Archives: 21st Century

What’s the Most Valuable Trait in Learning?

If I was to choose one single quality that helps people the most, not only with success in school but also with happiness throughout life, it would be internal motivation.

Internal motivation is what drives passion. It drives the quest for knowledge, it drives interest and it drives repeat exposure to something…which in turn creates expertise. Some adults never possess that in their lifetime, and I think it has a lot to do with how we structure our teaching…therefore our learning.

I have a niece who is brilliant by all standard and practical measurements. When she was about 16, I asked her if she had any thoughts about college. She told me that maybe she’d like to major in guitar. Now don’t get me wrong, I deeply value music…both of my kids are musicians, and although my niece plays guitar, it isn’t her biggest strength by a long shot…it isn’t even something she loves to do or is particularly good at. Of all of the many interests she has ranging from science, medicine, social justice, engineering, economics, literature and the like…why guitar?

The question really is: why is it when we think passion we think extra-curricular? I think it’s because those are the times that we can be internally directed. It feels like playing, and when we become so engaged in what we’re doing, we do more of it, and become more skilled.  It’s like a powerful ongoing circle of interest, learning, practice and skill.

Many of the great inventors, scientists, writers, artists, whatever… the greats in any industry…many of them approach their craft like play. The motivation comes from within. They follow their interests and curiosities as they weave in and out…they follow the winding path as it leads to new understandings and possibilities. They are often the people we call geniuses after the fact. If our goal in education includes helping produce successful, accomplished, empowered, productive human beings…we need the cultivation of internal motivation as part of our learning culture.

If we want to create a system that supports internal motivation…and invites passion in science, math, literature, global issues, as well as music, athletics, art, theater and anything else….we have to start creating and supporting a system that includes 21st century learning such as innovation, choice, relevance and  self-direction.  Maybe you don’t think it’s possible to do that while teaching content. Many teachers, schools, and districts already do. A quick internet search with terms such as Project based learning, Problem based learning,  21st Century Learning, STEM, Genius Hour, or 20% Time will start to point you in that direction. 

Here is a related TedXTalk by Scott McLeod, author of Dangerously Irrelevant.

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21st Century Learning. What exactly is it?

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The buzz about 21st Century Learning is everywhere, but what exactly does it mean? It’s often linked to technology, but that is only a small part.  In fact, much of 21st Century Learning can happen without the use of technology. If technology is available and used in the right way, it can provide powerful tools for authentic learning and integration of 21st Century skills, but unfortunately, that is not always what we see in our classrooms. Purchasing equipment does not automatically create better learning.  We watch our classrooms fill up with technology, but we often see no plan in place to use it to benefit student learning. This requires a change in teaching.  With no change in teaching and learning, computers are often used for mainly word processing and Google searching. As an educator, this concerns me.

Let’s start with what 21st Century Learning means. It is the marriage of content and skill. Teaching content is what we are familiar with in our education systems: learning states and capitals, mathematical equations, historical events, scientific discoveries, and countless others.  21st Century Learning takes that content and makes it relevant. It not only shows learners how that content can be used to solve problems, construct new ideas, and through collaboration, expand that understanding, but it allows them to actually experience that as they learn.

How many school districts have mission statements that refer to educating problem solvers, critical thinkers, and creative minds? How many of them go farther than words and actually do something meaningful to provide that in their classrooms?

Equipping teachers to lead our students’ way in this takes a lot more than buying computers for schools. Before continuing, let’s figure out how to use what we have to further what many of us believe to be true: the world needs empowered critical thinking problem solvers that have the ability to learn collaboratively and create the solutions to problems that we have no way of knowing exist right now. It isn’t as difficult as it seems.

It starts with a unified vision, the development of a plan to create the teaching and learning environment, and the implementation of that plan. Many have led the way. It isn’t a mystery any more. Schools around the country have embraced this and have left their footsteps to follow. It’s just a quick Google search away!

Here’s a related article by George Couros.

One interpretation of 21st century skills.

One interpretation of 21st century skills.

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The Four C’s: Making 21st Century Education Happen