21st Century Learning: The Year in Review

It’s hard to believe that another school year is quickly coming to a close. As an IB World School, our continued focus for the 2015-16 school year was on the development and application of 21st century “survival” skills based on the work of Tony Wagner (@DrTonyWagner). Aligned with our district vision to develop “independent thinkers who are prepared to change the world,” a focus on 21st century skills allowed our teachers to better focus on application as students were continually challenged to make real world connections across the disciplines while developing the skills and habits of mind that underpin both the IB Learner Profile and the IB Learning Standards.

Each Monday, I send a “High School Updates” email to the faculty that includes a list of administrative items, important dates, and general information that teachers need to know based on the time of year. I never call a faculty meeting for the sake of discussing “administrivia” and instead reserve our faculty time exclusively for professional development, department work, curriculum design, and teacher professional time. In each of my weekly updates, I also include a “21st Century Focus” and provide a link (and context) to an article that supports our school’s focus on 21st century learning. My goal here is to simply keep our teachers current on what is “out there” in the field and to provide them with some quick informal professional development as they start their Monday morning each week. Topics within the 21st century umbrella this year ranged from the 21st century job market to makerspaces, computer science, science research, and one-to-one technology.

This post includes one of the 21st century updates that was sent to the faculty each month during the 2015-16 school year. I’ve varied the topics to provide a full range and have included the context as it appeared in my original email along with a link to the article itself. If nothing else, the links will provide you with some good reading to kick off your summer. Enjoy.

October 5, 2015

21st Century Focus–Teaching and Learning: Candace (@careim2) and I have already visited many of you for our first informal observation and we expect to have this first round completed for everyone within a few weeks. As you know, the instructional focus of the feedback that you are receiving centers around one or more of Wagner’s 21st century “survival” skills. These skills are at the heart of the IB Learning Standards and have been something that we have been discussing both directly and indirectly for several years. A few of you recently shared an article from Edutopia with me via Twitter called “15 Characteristics of a 21st Century Teacher.” It’s a quick read and is worth taking a look at. You will also quickly notice that we hit on many of the 15 characteristics on a daily basis here at DFHS. A few that I think are worth thinking more about are #1 (“Learner Centered Classrooms”), #4 (“Go Global”), #11 (“Project Based Learning”), and #13 (“Code”). The article can be accessed by clicking on the following link:


November 23, 2015

21st Century Focus–The Job Market: In last week’s update I mentioned some of the informal research that I have been conducting on 21st century jobs and the importance of knowing what we might be preparing our students for in addition to the skills that we would like them to have. As a 21st century IB School, we have to remain current on the changing global market and how our work inside of the classroom connects to that bigger picture. Each week I am going to share a “21st century profession” that either currently exists or might exist so that you can think about how, if at all, the work that you are doing inside of your classroom might prepare students for that type of job. This week’s 21st century profession is a “Nanotechnologist.” The following site and video provides more information on this field. The video is about two minutes long and is worth watching. Please click on the link below:


December 7, 2015

21st Century Focus–The Job Market: I came upon an interesting infographic on Twitter this weekend on the 21st century workplace and the differences between”old” and “new” workstyles. The piece is called “Out With the Old: The Future of Work is Here Today.” It’s in-line with what we have been discussing. Take a look and think about how, if at all, the work that you are doing inside of your classroom might prepare students with the types of skills that are discussed in the piece. Please click on the link below:


January 18, 2016

21st Century Skills & The Job Market: Unlike any other time in history, schools are now faced with the challenge of preparing students for both everything and nothing at the same time. While it will always be necessary that individuals possess core foundational academic knowledge in order to succeed beyond high school, the challenge we simultaneously face is how to best prepare students with the skills necessary for success in careers and jobs that are not yet in existence. In a sense, we don’t necessarily know the end game because we don’t know exactly what we are preparing students for. Over break, Jenn Hickey (@MsHM211) tweeted out an interesting piece about the types of skills that employers are looking for in new hires. Interestingly, less emphasis is being placed on the degree (and grades) that prospective employees have and is instead placed on how these individuals learn and what they can do. This is directly in-line not only with our mission as an IB World School, but also with our ongoing focus on 21st century “survival” skills. Check out the article by clicking on the following link:


February 29, 2016

The IB Connection–DFHS Science Research: Erica Curran (@dfsciresearch) wrote an excellent piece last week on our science research program and how it connects to the IB Diploma Program. As an IB World School with a strong program in science research, our students are able to further develop the types of 21st century “survival” skills that will be necessary for success beyond the walls of our school. Our sophomores will have a similar experience next year through our new IB MYP Research course. Erica’s article can be accessed by clicking on the following link:


March 21, 2016

21st Century Focus–Computer Science: As we continue to discuss 21st century skills and career paths that students might one day pursue, the field that continues to gain the most attention and momentum is computer science. Given this overwhelming finding, schools are now in dire need of computer science instructors who can lead this important work on a K-12 level. At DFMS and DFHS, we are now offering Computer Science electives for the first time and will run a section of AP Computer Science Principles for students in grades 9-12 starting next year. Our long term goal is to eventually get to a place where we have enough students with the necessary skills to populate a section of IB Computer Science. For more on this important focus on computer science, please click on the link below for a recent article from Education Week:


April 4, 2016

21st Century Focus–Makerspaces: The “Maker Movement” has been getting a great deal of attention over the past year as more schools are providing students with hands on opportunities to explore and create based on intellectual interest and curiosity. This is precisely what I discussed at last week’s faculty meeting (“curiosity and imagination”) and it is critical that we continue to identify more opportunities for our students to engage with these types of experiences. In many ways, the IB MYP Personal Project is a great example of a “maker” experience and all of our current freshmen will complete a personal project by the end of grade 10. For more on makerspaces, please click on the following link:


May 31, 2016

21st Century Focus–Computer Science: As you know, we currently offer an elective in computer science and next year we will run a section of AP Computer Science Principles for the first time. We are definitely moving in the right direction as a school in terms of computer science though we still have a long way to go. This summer, we will have a team of teachers who will begin to work on a K-12 curriculum in computer science that will ultimately lead to deeper and more aligned experiences for students across the district. The following piece talks about the distinction between “coding tutorials” and deep instruction in “computer science.” Our goal is to provide students with the latter. We’ll talk a lot more about the difference and our program at DFHS when we return in September:


June 6, 2016

21st Century Focus–Future Ready Schools: I came upon an interesting piece on Twitter this weekend about the national push to move school’s into the “21st century” by having them sign a #FutureReady pledge to change the way that we think about and approach teaching and learning. The piece, “Let’s Not Use 21st Century Technology with 19th Century Pedagogy,” suggests that #FutureReady schools value and support hands-on learning, higher-level reasoning, critical thinking, and digital literacy/citizenship. As DFHS, we are certainly heading in this direction and become more #FutureReady with each passing day. Please click on the following link to check out the piece:


I wish you all the best for a successful close to the school year! Please feel free to share any links via Twitter or through the comment box below to any 21st century articles or texts that are worth reading this summer! .


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