21st-Century Inventory

by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education

We have looked at the history of education in America over the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries (Education 1-2-3), and glimpsed a Day in the Life of a 21st-Century School. This article delves more deeply into Education 3.0, analyzes more closely the day in the life, and asks you to compare your school with what you have seen. Our goal is to explore the questions,

A careful examination of the days in the lives of 21st-Century students and teachers leads to six principles that describe what's going on, and help distinguish Education 3.0 from 2.0. In the 21st-century school...

Of course they do many other things as well -- they learn their times tables and the causes of the Civil War and play sports and sing in the choir -- but they accomplish these according to the six key principles of 21st-century learning. (For more information on the source of these principles, connect to the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills, or read Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap, or Cisco's Preparing Every Learner for the 21st Century.)

And of course they use many new technologies as they do this work -- but the technology is not at the center of their attention, nor ours. Technology enables many of the things they do, and helps them to work faster and deeper, but it's not an end in itself. Let's look at each principle in turn.

Students work on problems worth solving

By this we don't mean factoring polynomials -- not those kinds of arcane academic problems, which seem to fill up most of the time in the 20th-century school. Rather we mean students working on problems the world needs to solve to make it a better place. (It might be that one of these problems could require the factoring of a polynomial or two; if so, they students would learn that when they needed it. That's the difference between just in time learning and just in case learning.) In the Day in the Life of a Student, our students:

Students collaborate productively

They seldom work alone on a project, but they are often solely responsible for an aspect of the group's work. They take advantage of digital communication tools to collaborate with teachers, distant experts, and peers as they work. They ways they work mirror the ways adults work in 21ct-century businesses and laboratories. In the Day in the Life, our students:

Students engage in self-directed research

Their research is aimed at solving the kinds of problems described above, and is often original and along lines their teachers have never explored. Seldom do they research the same old questions from last year, seldom is the entire class researching he same topic. And always they are gathering ideas from a much wider array of sources, made available through digital archives and networks. Students in our Day in the Life...

Students learn how to tell a good story

Explaining, publishing, presenting and persuading are important skills for every student in the 21st-century school. Throughout their school careers, and throughout each day in their school lives, they are called upon to compose, prepare, and present their ideas through public speaking, PowerPoints, prose, and podcasts -- the same forms used in higher education and business. Students in our model school:

Students employ tools appropriate to the task

Just as you seldom see pencil and paper employed in modern offices or universities or laboratories, these 18th-century tools are rare in the hands of students at our model school. Instead they use whatever tool works best for the task at hand: computer, calculator, mobile device, keyboard, or data probe. Students:

Students learn to be curious and creative

At our model school, these are not thought of as personality traits but as habits of mind and modes of work that must be taught, practiced, and assessed in all subject areas. Without them, students are less likely to succeed in college and in work, and less likely to enjoy their lives. So during the day in their lives, students:


At My School

How many of the students in your classroom did the things listed above today? In your school? In your district? What changes would have to take place to make more of this happen? What technologies would they need?