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Monday, March 3, 2008

No limits - but when?

TechLearning had an article a couple of weeks ago sharing some examples of schools and school systems that are instituting 21st century classrooms, in which students are using collaborative networking tools. I couldn't help but notice that phrases used in the article like "give the new student-centered strategies a try" and "With the right support and leadership" indicate that, unfortunately, this is not the norm in classrooms.

I particularly like the description of the new kind of student, one who can choose what kind of tool or tools to use to collect and synthesize information. The 21st century classroom is not one in which students are expected to memorize or regurgitate raw information - it is one in which these students learn how to turn raw information into a useful schema of knowledge.

But how much will this replace traditional teaching? Of the whole of human knowledge, how much still needs to be delivered from teacher to student? So many teachers are used to covering "the curriculum" - the details that are considered important for students to learn. But how much of that information is essential - how much will be retained as those students become productive citizens? The teacher can serve as a “filter” to focus the students’ learning on the essential information – minutia can be gleaned from information on the web, in books, or whenever the need arises.

What are the new strategies that need to be present in the 21st century classroom? What percentage of classroom teaching needs to be on the “facts”, and what percentage needs to be on teaching students to work with the facts – critical thinking, analysis, source evaluation, synthesis, etc.? I'd like to think that the 21st century classroom is evaluated not on the "facts" - the teaching of facts becomes moot - but rather on what kinds of thinkers it produces.

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