A bit bland, but nonetheless valuable contribution this week from the Partnership (P-21), on learning environments which support 21st century learning. P-21 is offering a valuable approach, this blogger believes, in articulating that it is by progressive educational vehicles we will best prepare our students for the changing world. In this new white paper, the topic is not what skills students need to learn but rather what systems will support them, and it is a healthy list: flexible and sustainable learning spaces, credits for learning accomplishments rather than seat time, technology to support learning goals, a commitment to professional learning communities (and planning time!) for teachers.
[A] 21st century learning environment [is] an aligned and synergistic system of systems that:
Creates learning practices, human support and physical
environments that will support the teaching and learning of 21st
century skill outcomes
Supports professional learning communities that enable
educators to collaborate, share best practices, and integrate 21st
century skills into classroom practice
Enables students to learn in relevant, real world 21st century
contexts (e.g., through project-based or other applied work)
Allows equitable access to quality learning tools, technologies,
Provides 21st century architectural and interior designs for group,
team, and individual learning.
Supports expanded community and international involvement in
learning, both face-to-face and online
Standout points to me are the re-thinking of libraries in the new era (“These new spaces show the promise of the 21st century school library – as a gateway to information resources and services, a design studio to spur creativity and collaboration, and a calm and orderly place to make sense of a data-flooded world”), and, as noted elsewhere, the embrace of forging connections to the outside world of schools:
Over a century ago John Dewey, the noted American philosopher and
educator, observed that learning that endures is “got through life
itself.” While the physical space of many 21st century learning
environments may be small, the learning they engender extends out
into the local community and the world at large. Students and
community members may work together on service projects and
internships. Learners may connect with their peers across the globe to
share data on a common problem like climate change or wildlife
preservation. Teachers and students may seek the advice of world-
renowned experts to guide them in their inquiry-based projects.
Glad here to see them endorse one of my major points: get learning connected. I would have worded it more strongly: schools should provide every opportunity for students to encounter and investigate the world around them, explore and discover in that world issues and problems demanding attention and remedy, experiment and analyze and innovate solutions to those problems, and articulate, communicate, publish to the wider world their solutions.
In another section, P21 addresses time in school, and I find myself a bit confused: P21 cites an expert to say that US students spend more than 300 additional hours in school when compared to other nations, and yet I know I just read in Gladwell’s Outliers that US students spend far fewer days in school than in Japan and South Korea, for example. Now the broader point in the discussion is that we can spend the time we do have with students in school more effectively, that the quality of the learning time is more important then the quantity, and with this I know we’d all agree. I also think there is an interesting question to be explored about whether we’d do better for students if we had a school-year calendar that has a higher number of shorter days.