“Why do we need to learn this?” I think about this question a lot, especially at the beginning of the year as I anticipate the astute student who might ask it in class. Although some may see the question as impudent, it really is similar to the question we teachers ask ourselves, “What is worth learning?” I find the student’s question a valid one and try to provide an answer before it is even asked, but nowadays it is becoming more complicated knowing what type of learning is “life worthy.” David N. Perkins defines life worthy in his book Future Wise, as content most likely to matter in the lives learners are likely to live.
So, what kind of a future are we preparing our children for? Predicting the future is not easy and it won’t be the same for everyone. I know it will be technologically dynamic with big environmental, social and economic challenges. Core learning content should tap into these challenges. Basic skills are a necessary foundation and providing a breadth of knowledge is important, but how can students develop skills to handle the 21st century and beyond? At Hillside Academy, students develop 21st Century Skills within the authentic context provided by Project Based Learning (PBL). These skills are summarized in the 4C’s: Critical and Creative Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication. This list could be expanded, but these are core abilities that can help students make sense of whatever the future may hold.
Our middle school habitat project is a good example of how giving students an authentic task helps develop the critical 4C’s. Students were given the following assignment:
Working as a member of an architectural team, you are competing against six other companies to win the contract to plan, design, and build a habitat on Mars. You must present your proposed design to an audience of professional architects and investors who will award the contract. Your design must meet the survival and living needs of astronauts on Mars, must accommodate six astronauts, and must make use of the natural resources of Mars.
Along with the assigned task, students were also asked the question, “How does settling in a new world influence your habitat’s design?” In order to be successful, the project requires critical & creative thinking, collaboration and communication. The solution is not simple and requires research, effort and time. However, students have strong motivation to do a good job because they will be presenting to actual architects who will award the “contract.” This public presentation is a key element of the project by providing an opportunity to present to an outside audience, providing the impetus to work well as a team, problem solve, to create a product that successfully meets the task and to produce a professional presentation.
Project based learning leverages the power of genuine situations to drive students along a path that inherently develops their critical and creative thinking, collaboration skills and communication abilities. The processes students go through give them these life worthy skills that will be relevant in whatever their future may hold. The 4C’s is not an answer to all that we should teach, but it is a solid foundation.
If the idea of life worthy learning interests you, here is a blog that gives a good summary of the book Future Wise by David N. Perkins:
Perkins, David N. Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014. Print. This book is available on Overdrive through the King County Library System.
This study suggests new relationships between skills development, job success, and school. http://bie.org/object/document/21st_century_skills_and_the_workplace