1.  Nice article this week in EdWeek about the initiatives being undertaken in many states to develop new curricula in 21st century skills development.     The article discusses what is meant by this, pointing out that in this new century a higher order of thinking and problem-solving is required: in critical reading, stronger communicating, and the use of technology.   One state calls teaching these skills “future ready” preparation.   I particularly liked reference to “global literacy” and “problem-solving with a global context” being included in the mix here.  

2.  I read a short little book from Corwin Press yesterday that I really liked.  It is low key, short (like 80 pages), teacher-directed, almost understated, but really valuable and immediately applicable.  It is called Teaching for Tomorrow. (Teaching Content and Problem-Solving Skills). Author Ted McCain offers a nice quick chapter on how the world is changing and why we need to rethink the skills kids need, and then the heart of the book is a chapter called Six Ways to Teach for Independent and Higher Learning.  Some of the ways include resisting the temptation to tell (always a weakness of mine), progressively withdrawing from helping students as we transition them to independence, and, my favorite: “Making a fundamental shift– problems first, teaching second.”  I am seeing this as more and more the key: whether from the writings of Wiggins, Graff, or Wagner, or my observations at New Technology,  Bay  or College Prep schools, good learning always, (ALWAYS) starts with an interesting question or a complicated problem or a difficult project.   Then, the teacher facilitates student activity in the direction of addressing the challenge before them. 
3.  But is there good evidence for this alternate approach?  How do we know students are learning more effectively this way?  I had a nice lunch yesterday with Jason Ravitz, research director of the Buck Institute (and an old friend from college).  Buck is dedicated to promoting innovation in teaching and learning, and has a particular interest in advocating for the efficacy of project and problem based learning (I am drawn to the latter term, thinking it is more inclusive of learning that begins with problems, good questions, or projects).   Jason’s role as research director is to develop the ways to measure the efficacy.   He directed to me to a few sites and resources summarizing some of the positive evidence, including these two (one and two)  articles in  Edutopia:
To quote the conclusion of the second article, by Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond:

A growing body of research has shown the following:

  • Students learn more deeply when they can apply classroom-gathered knowledge to real-world problems, and when they take part in projects that require sustained engagement and collaboration.
  • Active-learning practices have a more significant impact on student performance than any other variable, including student background and prior achievement.
  • Students are most successful when they are taught how to learn as well as what to learn

But that said, schools need to innovate and experiment in their own way, and find their own way to measure the results.   The approaches I am describing are very wide ranging, very non-prescriptive, very allowing of heterogeneity in teaching.   They do all ask, however, students to be conducting a large share of their own learning as they confront and tackle challenging problems with the very strong support of their teachers.