In this excellent new book published this fall, we have a valuable addition to the growing corpus.  Both co-authors, Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel, are tightly linked to the Partnership for 21st century skills (P-21, HQ in Tucson!), and the book, in its less valuable sections, is a reiteration of P-21 concepts and diagrams– these sections add nothing new to what has already been published or distributed by P21.

But, to this reader, there are half a dozen discussions that very genuinely do add value to my understanding, and I intend to devote a blog post to each, beginning today with the first:

  1. the priority placed on creativity and innovation, and upon leadership, as essential 21st c. skills;
  2. the focus upon team problem-solving as best practice classroom learning;
  3. the recognition that 21st c. education is 21st century because of the convergence of forces which make it contemporary and vital;
  4. the inversion of Bloom’s taxonomy;
  5. the value placed on one of my favorites, Problem-Based learning;
  6. and the careful explication of the Bicycle Model of Project Based Learning.
  7. Also interesting are discussions of faculty development, assessment, and classroom design.

Creativity and Innovation: Regular readers know that we at St. Gregory have chosen innovation as a central theme, and it is nice to see this book lead with this emphasis, in an introductory chapter entitled “Learning to Innovate, Innovative Learning.”  Learning and Innovation Skills lead the list of 21st c. skills identified, and the question is posed: “Innovation and creativity are so important to the future success of the economy– but why do schools spend so little time developing creativity and innovation skills?”

In a later chapter, the discussion continues: “Many believe that our current Knowledge Age is quickly giving way to an Innovation Age, where the ability to solve problems in new ways, to invent new technologies, or create the next killer app, or even to discover new branches of knowledge and invent entirely new industries… Traditional education’s focus on facts, memorization, basic skills, and test taking has not been good for the development of creativity and innovation…

Creativity and innovation can be nurtured by learning environments that foster questioning, patience, openness to new ideas, high levels of trust, and learning from mistakes and failures. They can be developed, like many other skills, through practice over time.

One of the most effective ways to develop creative skills is through design challenge projects in which students must invent solutions to real-world problems, such as designing a solar vest that can charge a cell phone when worn in the sun.

Our authors return again to this topic in their chapter entitled “powerful learning,” which marries a discussion of the importance of the skills of innovation with another favorite topic of mine, project based learning.   It opens with an Einstein quote that is both lovely and incredibly commonplace– Imagination is more important than knowledge.  (how many times have you heard it before?)   What follows is very valuable:

As we journey into the 21st century, creativity and innovation will become the brightest stars in the constellation of 21st c. skills… Though there will be an increased demand for skills in science, technology, engineering, math, (the STEM skills), there will be even higher demands for creativity, invention, and innovation. The arts have been the traditional source for developing creativity.  Integrating arts into STEM makes is STEAM.

So how do we best prepare for this?… A one word answer: Design… To prepare for the age of Innovation, we must all become better designers, ready to tackle brand new problems and design things and and processes that have never existed before.  We must apply both thinking and tinkering…

Learning projects anchored in the phases of the project cycle– define, plan, do, and review– can deeply engage students in their learning activities and build creative skills. Design challenges, like the ThinkQuest Web site competition and the FIRST robotics contests, can go a long way in developing a student’s invention and innovation skills.

This is great stuff– and fun for me to read, because one of my very first actions as new head of St. Gregory was to allocate funding for, and making a priority of, the school’s entering the FIRST robotics competitions.  We will need to look soon at Thinkquest.  And we are going, over time, to look carefully at enhancing the role in our curriculum of learning projects.

I am going to return to the other topics listed above in future posts here; they are all important.  But I am going to conclude this post with a quote from a section called “the turning of learning: toward a new balance.”   It is a quote about one of my very favorite schools, frequently lauded on this site, which I had the good pleasure of visiting and student-shadowing last fall (NTHS); it is from a new friend of mine, (a Tucson lunch-buddy, whom I hold in high esteem) who is a founder of New Technology High School, Bob Pearlman.

New Technology Foundation takes its mission statement seriously: To reinvent teaching and learning for the 21st century.  It’s a tremendous challenge, especially finding teachers and then training, coaching, and supporting them to develop effective projects that help each student build knowledge and understanding, basic and 21st century skills, at the same time.  But it’s working for kids from all walks of life, urban, suburban, and rural, and most of New Tech’s work is with students from less advantaged backgrounds.  I can’t think of anything more important than preparing all of our students to succeed in the real world.







Assessment and teacher development.