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Five years ago, I participated in a discussion group where the merit of 21st century learning was a major topic of discussion. After the discussion, I was struck by the varying ideas out there about 21st century learning. Why has 21st century learning become such a hot topic? Why are there so many different ideas out there about what it is and how best to do it within a school environment? Personally, I find this notion of 21st century learning compelling primarily because 21st century learning embodies an approach to teaching that combines the best practices (the tried and true) with new innovations in education. What does that mean exactly? It means that when done appropriately, this model gives students the opportunity to learn/use the three R’s while also attaining skill sets like communication, collaboration, and leadership.
Since the workshop, this idea of 21st century learning has stayed with me so much so that I find connections in things that I read and watch almost every day. A favorite movie of mine that demonstrates essential 21st century skills is the Clint Eastwood movie “Invictus.” If you are unfamiliar with the story, it is the true story of Nelson Mandela’s quest to unite his countrymen and bring peace after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, by hosting the Rugby World Cup. While it is not my intention to promote any particular movie, I think that the film’s principle ideas of collaboration, teamwork, and leadership are all principles that educators across the country work to instill in our students each day.
One might ask, why focus on collaboration, teamwork, and leadership as elemental skill sets when working with school age students? Perhaps it is because above other skills that we might teach our students; these principles are what I consider to be essential 21st century qualities. They are qualities that everyone should embrace, no matter what their station in life or whether they are young or old. It is never too early or too late to become a leader. Similarly, I believe everyone should learn how to work in or be a part of a team. Developing these skills sets also help in other areas of our students’ growth and development as they become more self-directed (motivated), become more adaptable (ability to adjust and improvise), and see parallels and connection between themselves and others. Perhaps another reason the idea of 21st century learning for young children is so compelling is because I believe that no matter what our children encounter as they grow, we are preparing them to find ways to work together each day (and with others in different communities as they grow). Ultimately, if we are able to help young students learn to be leaders who work with a unified purpose with lots of different kinds of people then we have accomplished what is core about 21st century learning.