Here in Australia we’ve started a new curriculum that links the states and territories for the first time. We as teachers are all required to cover English, Mathematics, History and Science (among other learning areas) as well as the cross curricular priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History and Cultures, Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia and Sustainability. Of course these are all essential to promote literate, numerate students with a sense of social conscience and place within a global community. However, it is the general capabilities of our curriculum that are something to get excited about.
It is here that our curriculum attempts to align an education system that is in love with chalk and talk, standardized testing and outdated technology with the holy grail of 21st Century Learning practices. The general capabilities of Information and Communication Technology, Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability, Ethical Understanding and Intercultural Understanding all outline skills and essential practices that need to be woven throughout the curriculum to create lifelong learners that are prepared to survive and thrive within a 21st century world. Despite all that these general capabilities cover, they are nothing but words on a page unless they are embraced within the spirit of 21st Century Learning Practices.
What is 21st Century Learning?
The 21st Century Learning model aims to prepare students for the world that they will graduate into. What will that world look like? No one can honestly say! The last thirty years has seen vast amounts of change in almost every dimension of our lives and we will continue to see change. We live in a technology and media-saturated world where news is instant and we are more globally connected than any other time. The industrial model of teaching and learning, the teacher centered, chalk and talk method is simply too slow for the learners of today. These kids were born into a digital world where multi-tasking is the norm and flat out is the only speed they know.
So what do we do? We as educators need to prepare students to cope with change, to be creative, innovative and critical thinkers that have the ability to problem solve and work comfortably within a truly global community. We do this by exposing them to the real world using relevant and real life examples. We give them opportunities to collaborate with peers from around the world. Rather than a textbook approach, students should be encouraged to discover using the technologies they are so comfortable with.
The ‘teacher knows all’ achetype that led to reams of paper wasted from copying from the board is now shattered by the fact that kids of today often know more than we do about the use of technology in particular. They are fearless learners, they have no qualms about experimenting, guessing, checking, making mistakes and moving on. They love creating, collaborating and discovering for themselves. They love sharing their knowledge and teaching others. Our greatest battle as their ‘teachers’ is trying to keep up!
It is vital that we as educators facilitate these invaluable learning experiences for our students.
It’s easy to argue that this fast-paced and digital world is not an ideal way to live, that a slower, simpler, less stressful approach is better. The simple fact is that this is not how the kids of today roll. If I asked a nine year old boy to sit at his desk while I lectured him about the joys of persuasive writing, he would last all of ten minutes before he started looking for other ways to entertain himself. Certainly, students need to be taught skills to be successful both as independent and collaborative learners and there is most definitely a place for rigorous teaching and learning of literacy and numeracy in particular. It is the delivery of this content that needs to change in order to engage our learners so that we can say we’ve done our job, which is help our students to learn and prepare for their futures, whatever they may hold.