By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Entries with keyword: 21st Century Skills
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Friday, February 25, 2011

New Tech High Schools and PBL

On the EdConnections blog, Dan posted an interesting article about Magnet schools and New Tech High Schools possibly losing some funding to put their student/teacher ratio to the same level as other schools in the district. I am impressed with the New Tech model.

The New Tech schools primarily emphasize two things: project-based learning and 21st Century skills. In addition, the "tech" part of New Tech advocates that each student have a notebook computer and there are other requirements such as school size being limited to 500 students.

Project-Based Learning (PBL)
Orienting all courses around PBL changes the way students learn and the way instruction is organized. Class lectures are out, students collaborating to solve problems are in and the daily role of teachers becomes one of providing mini-lectures when needed to small groups of students within the classroom. Of course, the larger role for teachers is to create the projects, often in collaboration across disciplines, that meet learning standards yet don't specifically teach to them.

It's inspiring to view a functioning PBL classroom. There is a lot of activity, students collaborating with one another in small groups and best of all, the degree of student engagement seems very high.

How well do students learn in PBL environments? One of the most frustrating aspects of this promising movement is that one can find little evidence of its efficacy. When observing a good PBL classroom in action one thinks, this must be great for learning. Yet the evidence isn't there. It's isn't that there is evidence that shows it isn't effective, there just isn't any strong evidence one way or the other! It's very frustrating considering what to outward appearances is a better approach to teaching.

An excellent source for learning more about PBL is Edutopia.

21st Century Skills
The 21st Century Skills movement is an effort to encourage skill development that cuts across traditional courses and learning standards. They are skills like collaboration, problem solving, work ethic, information literacy, critical thinking and so on. These skills have always been important, not just in the 21st century. The point of the program is that since they are important skills, they should be measured. Under the theory that what gets measured gets improved, it should help students improve these important skills.

What's unusual about grading these skills is that it's advocated that they be graded across all courses. For example, the student's work ethic grade would be calculated from inputs from English class, math class, social studies and so on.

The collaboration skill would be graded differently. It would depend primarily on input from the other students that one works with in teams. This is analogous to what in business are called 360 degree performance reviews: assessments not only by the teacher or manager but by one's colleagues as well.

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Keywords: PBL, 21st Century Skills

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