Tuesday, August 5, 2014

21st Century Education: A Periodic Table of Elements

It's been an ongoing 'work-in-progress', but one which has been enjoyable. Identifying what is needed in education today is no easy task; nor a task which is ever completed. Constantly revising the list, identifying new elements, and arranging them in a way that makes sense, has been a fun continuous challenge. I also believe like education, this list will be revisited, & revised many, many times. New elements will appear regularly, as we begin to realize what is needed in education.

However, what has been completed up until now is below  - 34 elements, 3 groupings, and many months of consideration (you can also see the complete table here). It is a collection of my own thoughts, and of many others. In all there are 34 'elements' grouped accordingly - Habits of Mind (green), Skills (blue), & Environment (orange); each accompanied with a small definition that helps explain them.

It should also be noted, that I started out attempting to arrange the elements in terms of importance - the lower the periodic (atomic) number, the more important the element; however, after the first 7 I began to realize this would be far too difficult, and debatable. I also think that some elements will be more important than others - it all depends on the individual, whether this be a teacher, student, administrator, etc.

Explaining the rationale behind each of the elements is something that will also take some time, and unfortunately won't happen today. There are some elements however, that deserve a bit of recognition, as I believe these are crucial to 21st Century Education (my opinion only). We'll call these my 'Top 5':

1. The 6 C's - Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Citizenship, and Character. 
These six essential elements form the basis for many of the habits of mind that follow in the table. They allow students, teachers, educators, etc. to provide an enriching learning experience, and a mindset that will allow for greater success in anything that is faced in the future. The problems that exist before our students, and ourselves, are new, and therefore require greater critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, etc. The way we express solutions, also require not just effective communication, but appealing methods to capture the attention of the masses. The world we live in is one that is so interconnected we need students to realize that we all are global citizens, and our character matters even more.
 2. Technology
It is never the answer for education, but technology can provide new ways of learning, both efficiently and effectively, and energize students to solve problems they cared little about previously. Not to say that a pen or pencil can't do the trick, because these are pieces of technology too; but there are so many options out there now for us to use to enrich the learning experience. We are able to expedite the learning of many, connect with people around the globe, and make learning authentic. We are able to allow more people, who previously didn't have access to education, acquire knowledge and skills necessary for life improvement, all simply using technology. How we use the technology is always the most important question, but technology is a great motivator, improver, and connector for many.
3. Open Space
I must admit, I'm big on the physical layout of the classroom. That teacher who is in days before school begins, to get the class jussssstttttt right. Therefore, there is definite bias in this one. However, I think it is one that requires a little more thought. We teach 21st century students, using 21st century pedagogy, using 21st century technology, in 20th century classrooms? Something doesn't quite add up does it? Therefore, I think it is really important we begin to look at our own classrooms, and change the way things are done. One of these ways is to provide 'open' learning spaces. I don't mean knocking down walls, but I do mean providing many different places for students to learn in a comfortable atmosphere. Imagine walking into a Starbucks and finding nothing but individual seating, at individual tables. It wouldn't be too inviting would it? Therefore, can we please do away with rows, and individual desks?  
4. Numeracy & Financial Literacy
As a business and economics teacher, I must admit I am terrible with finances. I never took a course in my early years of education that taught me the basics of budgeting, accounting, forecasting, investing, etc. I took math, and at times we worked in these concepts, but like every other student I just thought it was stuff we did in math class. If I had a course on personal finance would I be better off than I am now? Probably not; but it also wouldn't have hurt either. The more we teach numeracy, the more focus put on working & understanding the value of numbers, the better we will be with financial literacy. Many believe the last recession, outside of greed & faulty accounting and investment tools, had a lot to do with the public's lack of financial literacy. Therefore, in the 21st century we need to invest more time in educating students how to read numbers, like we have done with the literary word.
5. Risk Taking
This element's focus is two-fold - one from a student perspective, and one from an educators perspective. 
The first is for our students. We have driven the idea into many (if not most) students that they should do what is safe, secure, and cautious. Go after careers that guarantee them a sufficient income, and a stability that they would not have otherwise. These same students complete their assignments in the same way - taking few risks to challenge the status-quo. Will this same approach help them once they complete their education? My thought is no - the world is filled with too much uncertainty and unknown, that you have to take some risk at least.
The next is for educators. We have also taken an approach in teaching that is safe, secure, and cautious. For the most part this is because we are evaluated based on this model - evaluated based on traditional teaching practices. But what is this doing to the classroom's of our school? Maintaining the status-quo? We need to encourage risk-taking amongst educators as well, to develop new ways of teaching things - new pedagogies, approaches, methods, etc. - that will allow for failure, and so that we can learn from this to constantly improve and evolve.