Reading the Signs
Chris Rother is group vice president for CDW Government, a leading technology provider to government and education. She is a passionate advocate for enhancing the educational experience with technology.
Eight years ago, No Child Left Behind ushered in the high-stakes testing era. Schools responded, aligning curricula to standards and implementing strategies to bolster achievement. Today, with schools paying more attention to international comparisons and trying to prepare students for college and the global marketplace, another change seems ready to sweep through U.S. high schools.
Twenty-first-century skills are the target many high schools aim for; innovative educators meet these and NCLB by wedding standardized testing and project-based learning via 21st-century curricula design. “These projects look and feel different from what some teachers are accustomed to, but they do meet standards,” states Katrina Moore, distance learning coordinator for the Columbiana County (Ohio) Educational Service Center. By aligning instruction to standards and 21st-century skills, schools equip students with the know-how needed to succeed in a changing world.
Take the “Great Race”: This collaborative, web-based project engages elementary students at dozens of schools in a virtual race across the United States. During regular videoconferences and podcasts, teams receive an itinerary that challenges them to get from point A to point B in the least amount of time, spending the least amount of money. Along the way, student travelers meet math, science and social studies standards such as measuring distance, tracking weather and identifying landmarks. Plus, they scour the web for information and evaluate online information sources. The project sneaks in writing and communication skills through online logs and podcasts that document trip highlights.
This fall, North Daviess High School in Elnora, Ind., began infusing the New Technology Foundation’s 21st Century Curriculum into freshman language arts classes. “The end goal is for graduates to know how to collaborate and have a solid command of oral, written and digital presentation skills,” says principal Jeffrey Jerrels.
Despite a full array of technology at their fingertips, North Daviess teachers weren’t using the tools to their full capacity. New Technology Foundation supplied the missing ingredient — a project-based learning library for high school educators. Each project begins with state standards and backtracks to build the project and scaffolding exercises. For example, teachers inject rigor and relevance into the traditional reading of The Odyssey by tracking the journey online and staging a mock trial to determine whether, by today’s legal standards, Odysseus committed war crimes.
Project-based learning transforms all participants. Teachers become coaches who guide; high-ability learners complete projects with greater depth; students who struggle receive peer mediation from classmates. The transformation mirrors the reality of the 21st-century workplace.
Project-based collaboration promises to impart essential skills. Many schools have completed the first phase of the transition by investing in technology and teacher training. The next step is professional development to show teachers how to link project-based learning to standards. At that point, we’ll turn the corner with schools optimizing their tech investments to prep all learners for the 21st century.
100 Years of Project-Based Learning
At the beginning of the 1900s, Maria Montessori decided to create an educational method based upon scientific observations of children learning. Her conclusions, known simply as Montessori education, form the basis for 7,000 schools worldwide, 4,000 of which are in the United States. In Montessori schools, children complete self-selected work at their own pace. Students work in mixed-age groups and use interaction, problem solving and child-to-child teaching.
21st-century Learning: The Second Decade
What will project-based learning look like in five years? Ken Kay, president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, offers a few prognostications: ● The model won’t change a great deal, but it will be more widespread. Average classrooms will resemble those on the cutting edge today. ● By 2014, 85 percent of students will complete e-portfolios and senior projects. ● By 2014, 85 percent of teachers will take at least one online professional development course each year.