Great Education in the 21st Century

See the possibilities

“One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

21st Century Skills

21st Century Schools believe that authentic education addresses the “whole child”, the “whole person”, and does not limit our professional development and curriculum design to workplace readiness.

21st century skills learned through our curriculum, which is interdisciplinary, integrated, project-based, and more, include and are learned within a project-based curriculum by utilizing the seven survival skills advocated by Tony Wagner in his book, The Global Achievement Gap:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination
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What is the Difference Between 20th Century and 21st Century Schools?

20th Century Classroom

USA 1960’s typical classroom – teacher-centered, fragmented curriculum, students working in isolation, memorizing facts.


Focus: memorization of discrete facts

Lessons focus on the lower level of Bloom’s Taxonomy – knowledge, comprehension and application.


Passive learning

Learners work in isolation – classroom within 4 walls

Teacher-centered: teacher is center of attention and provider of information

Little to no student freedom

“Discipline problems" – educators do not trust students and vice versa. No student motivation.

Fragmented curriculum

Grades averaged

Low expectations

Teacher is judge. No one else sees student work.

Curriculum/School is irrelevant and meaningless to the students.

Print is the primary vehicle of learning and assessment.

Diversity in students is ignored.

Literacy is the 3 R’s – reading, writing and math

Factory model, based upon the needs of employers for the Industrial Age of the 19th century. Scientific management.

Driven by the NCLB and standardized testing mania.

21st Century Classroom


Focus: what students Know, Can Do and Are Like after all the details are forgotten.

Learning is designed on upper levels of Blooms’ – synthesis, analysis and evaluation (and include lower levels as curriculum is designed down from the top.)


Active Learning

Learners work collaboratively with classmates and others around the world – the Global Classroom

Student-centered: teacher is facilitator/coach

Great deal of student freedom

No “discipline problems” – students and teachers have mutually respectful relationship as co-learners; students are highly motivated.

Integrated and Interdisciplinary curriculum

Grades based on what was learned

High expectations – “If it isn’t good it isn’t done.” We expect, and ensure, that all students succeed in learning at high levels. Some may go higher – we get out of their way to let them do that.

Self, Peer and Other assessments. Public audience, authentic assessments.

Curriculum is connected to students’ interests, experiences, talents and the real world.

Performances, projects and multiple forms of media are used for learning and assessment.

Curriculum and instruction address student diversity

Multiple literacies of the 21st century – aligned to living and working in a globalized new millennium.

Global model, based upon the needs of a globalized, high-tech society.

Standardized testing has its place. Education is not driven by the NCLB and standardized testing mania.

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What is 21st Century Curriculum?

Twenty-first century curriculum has certain critical attributes. It is interdisciplinary, project-based, and research-driven. It is connected to the community – local, state, national and global. Sometimes students are collaborating with people around the world in various projects. The curriculum incorporates higher order thinking skills, multiple intelligences, technology and multimedia, the multiple literacies of the 21st century, and authentic assessments. Service learning is an important component.

The classroom is expanded to include the greater community. Students are self-directed, and work both independently and interdependently. The curriculum and instruction are designed to challenge all students, and provides for differentiation.

The curriculum is not textbook-driven or fragmented, but is thematic, project-based and integrated. Skills and content are not taught as an end in themselves, but students learn them through their research and application in their projects. Textbooks, if they have them, are just one of many resources.

Knowledge is not memorization of facts and figures, but is constructed through research and application, and connected to previous knowledge, personal experience, interests, talents and passions. The skills and content become relevant and needed as students require this information to complete their projects. The content and basic skills are applied within the context of the curriculum, and are not ends in themselves.

Assessment moves from regurgitation of memorized facts and disconnected processes to demonstration of understanding through application in a variety of contexts. Real-world audiences are an important part of the assessment process, as is self-assessment.

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“School”, “Teacher”, “Learner” and “Curriculum” for the 21st Century

Schools in the 21st century will be laced with a project-based curriculum for life aimed at engaging students in addressing real-world problems, issues important to humanity, and questions that matter.

This is a dramatic departure from the factory-model education of the past. It is abandonment, finally, of textbook-driven, teacher-centered, paper and pencil schooling. It means a new way of understanding the concept of “knowledge”, a new definition of the “educated person”. A new way of designing and delivering the curriculum is required.

We offer the following new definitions for “School”, “Teacher” and “Learner” appropriate for the 21st century:

Schools will go from ‘buildings’ to 'nerve centers', with walls that are porous and transparent, connecting teachers, students and the community to the wealth of knowledge that exists in the world.”

Teacher - From primary role as a dispenser of information to orchestrator of learning and helping students turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom.

The 21st century will require knowledge generation, not just information delivery, and schools will need to create a “culture of inquiry”.

Learner - In the past a learner was a young person who went to school, spent a specified amount of time in certain courses, received passing grades and graduated. Today we must see learners in a new context:

First – we must maintain student interest by helping them see how what they are learning prepares them for life in the real world.

Second – we must instill curiosity, which is fundamental to lifelong learning.

Third – we must be flexible in how we teach.

Fourth – we must excite learners to become even more resourceful so that they will continue to learn outside the formal school day.”

What is 21st century education?

The Melbourne Declaration Preamble

High Quality Schooling- that equips young people with the knowledge, understanding, skills and values

Collaboration and Engagement with all Stakeholders- all schools and all levels of government

Major Changes in the World that are Placing Demands on Australian Ed- Global integration and international mobility, Australias need to become Asia literate, globalisation and technological changes, complex environmental, social and economic changes eg. climate change and advances in ICT.

Areas where Aust Education Needs Improvement- failed to improve ed outcomes for many indigenous australians, Aust students from low socio-economic backgrounds are underrepresented, room for improvement in Australias rate of Year 12 completion

Cornerstone for Australian Schooling- Literacy, Numeracy and knowledge of key disciplines, social interaction, cross disciplinary thinking and use of digital media.

Schools Legacy to Young People- should include national values of democracy, equity and justice, and personal values and attributes such as honesty, resilience and respect.

The Guiding Tenets of HOW2Learn

HOW2Learn has been developed in reponse to the current and future learning needs of students in the 21st century.

1. Real life learning

2. Mental wellbeing

3. Social and Personal Responsibility

4. Success at School and Success in Life

5. Learning Powerfully and Purposefully

6. Complex but Vital

Social and Personal Responsibility

I currently help my students connect with their roles and responsibilities in broader society by teaching and instilling values and social skills through the PBL program. I also try to integrate life skills (eg. shopping and cooking in Mathematics) and technology skills (touch typing, use of programs such as Word) through the KLA's.