By ROBERTA LENGER KANG
In 2011, three researchers embarked on a journey to better understand how high-achieving schools around the world were preparing students for the 21st century. Their research took them to seven countries, hundreds of classrooms, and thousands of samples of student work. This seminal research had two significant results: first, the development of the original Global Capacities Framework — an outline of essential domains and capacities that outlines students’ needs in education for the next 100 years; and second, a dynamic, collaborative community of K-12 schools and university partners who appreciated the learning experience so much that they didn’t want the research to end. And that’s the story of how the Global Learning Alliance (GLA) came to be.
The founding members of the GLA — from the US, Finland and Singapore — formed the Governing Board, and the community grew to include delegations from China, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, and South Africa. With roughly 15 partner organizations and 60 individual delegate members, the community comes together every two years to share promising practices, find connections on global issues, and deepen the research into developing 21st century skills through cross-cultural, project-based learning experiences. Professor Suzanne Choo of the National Institute of Education (NIE) in Singapore — one of the original researchers and the leader of our student research projects — said she is hopeful that these types of deep project work can not only jump-start students’ academic skills, but can be a bridge for students to develop lifelong friendships.
The biennial Global Learning Alliance Summit was scheduled to kick off in New York City earlier this year, with a focus on fostering a sense of student belonging at school. Enter: Coronavirus. As we collaborated with colleagues around the world, we were cognizant that COVID-19 was going to have a major impact on the Asian delegations — but we were hopeful that everything would blow over in a few months, so we proceeded with our planning. (Spoiler alert: it did not blow over.) We began discussing the need to postpone the event on behalf of our partners who were being slammed with cases in late February and early March, and then COVID-19 hit home.
Rocked by COVID’s impact on schools, every country has continued to make critical decisions that affect not only students’ learning, but their lives. We’ve learned a lot from one another as we’ve continued our collaborations during this time, and ironically, we’re still talking about the responsibility of schools to create a sense of belonging and connection for students. In fact, this issue seems even more important during a time of disrupted learning. Our approach to implementing cross-cultural projects for students has had a major impact on the development of 21st century mindsets, (outlined in our Global Mindset Framework) that can support students to tackle challenges like COVID-19 in the future.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly interrupted the opportunities for the GLA to meet together in person, but it has also reaffirmed the value of cross-cultural collaborations for students, school leaders, and academic scholars. Teachers College Professor Ruth Vinz reflected, “At all levels, what these projects can do is help us to make connections. When we work together, we learn together.” Clarinda Choh, Director of Staff Development at Singapore’s Hwa Chong Institution, believes that cross-cultural projects build a deeper awareness on learning how students learn, helping students and educators to bring attention to their similarities.
Embracing 21st century mindsets
As we reflect on the Global Mindset Framework in light of the current health, economic, and political crisis, it seems more relevant than ever before. In particular, cultivating a Global Consciousness requires us to engage in Real-World Problem-Solving. In many ways, we are living through a case study of what to do — and what not to do —when approaching problem-solving on a global scale. Using current events, media sources, and government responses around the world will be instructive in how we are able to learn from these experiences and support students to develop the problem-solving and collaboration skills they need as they grow into adulthood.
At best, these are uncertain and unsettling times. Ironically, one of the 21st century skills that I have struggled with, Appreciating Ambiguity, is the one that’s most needed right now. We are learning to shift our mindsets to hold multiple truths: these are very difficult times, and we don’t know what the long lasting impact will be. In times of great uncertainty, there are opportunities for deep learning, powerful collaborations, and inspiring innovations. We don’t yet know when to expect the end of this global crisis we’re in, but we do know that the best way to get through it is together.
That being said, one of the Framework’s skills I’m most inspired by right now is the ability to Imagine. Especially when walking in uncharted territory, it is so easy to become overwhelmed by the pressures and fears within each day. It’s too easy to focus on what should be, rather than on what is. But when we begin to imagine, when we begin to envision what has yet to become, the world of possibilities opens up before us.
By ROBERTA LENGER KANG
Some people have a true gift and talent for drawing, painting, sculpting, singing, acting or dancing. We sometimes mistake this talented artistry as creativity. This makes it seem like creativity is something you’re born with, not something you learn. But that’s a myth — there’s a big difference between artistry and creativity. Creativity is about developing the power to make something from nothing.
Our research-based framework for 21st century skills focuses on the creative mindset as one of five essential skills for the 21st century. Let’s face it, in a world where every piece of information is available to us within three clicks of a mouse or three swipes on a phone, finding facts is easy. The biggest needs we anticipate for future success is the ability to use information to innovate and solve complex problems. That takes creativity.
As educators, it’s our job to figure out how to teach creativity to our students. In order to teach towards creativity, we have to disavow the myth that creativity is an innate trait bestowed on only the few, and begin breaking down its component parts so that we can integrate it into our instruction.
We’ve defined creativity as the capacity for students to cultivate their curiosity by questioning or imagining in order to contribute positive improvements or inventions to their world. We’ve identified four skills that work together to cultivate creativity: imagining, questioning, simulating, and appreciating ambiguity.
A vivid imagination is part of childhood development that is sparked around toddlerhood, as children learn about the world through play and pretend. To pretend that something is true, when it isn’t, for the purpose of exploration and understanding (as opposed to deceit — which would be lying, or as a joke — which could be satire). We've outlined three simple entry points to incorporate imagining into instruction:
These are not the only entry points, but they should be accessible to us at multiple levels of instruction, and across different content areas.
Like imagining, questioning is also a normal part of human development that emerges as early as some children can talk (the classic, “why, why, why, why?”) and often lasts through early elementary school. Once in school, this skill often atrophies as traditional methods of teaching are structured such that the teacher asks the questions and the students answer, rather than having the students ask questions and work together to explore possible answers. Asking questions is a key factor of curiosity, and curiosity is a key level towards creativity and problem solving. Let's look at three entry points for supporting students to being asking questions, rather than simply answering them:
Simulation or embodiments are powerful, physical ways to connect and internalize information though experiences. We will never know what it was really like to be on the Oregon Trail, or to fight in the American Revolution, or to live in a Hooverville during the Great Depression — but through simulated learning projects, we can approximate the experience to gain deeper insights. Whether we’re engaging in a short, impromptu learning activity, or a long term project, here are three entry points for simulating:
Whether it’s nature or nurture, as human beings, we’re always looking for the right answer. And in school, we typically reward this kind of thinking. When students believe that there is one right answer, they may fall into the trap that being right is the goal of learning, when in fact, being right means we haven’t learned anything new at all. There is no absolute right answer in real life, and if we can shift our thinking from looking for the right answer, to looking for the possible answers, we shift the purpose of learning from something that is singular and narrow to something that opens us up to new opportunities. Entry points toward appreciating ambiguity:
When we regularly engage our students in lessons strategically designed to support imagining, questioning, simulating, and appreciating ambiguity, they become more and more connected to the topic, and more authentically curious about the process. Their imaginations are sparked with new ideas, innovative solutions, and new questions. Each of these traits works toward developing the mindset of creativity — resilient in the face of challenging circumstances, curious about the world, and confident that there isn’t any problem too big to tackle, or too simple to ignore.
By ROBERTA LENGER KANG
I recently provided the opening remarks for an institute with international educators about developing a 21st century pedagogy. As part of the talk, I wanted to draw a comparison between how I grew up and how kids are growing up today. I described how, when I was growing up, I had to use the card catalogue to find sources for my research paper, wait for film to be processed before I could see my pictures, and how I learned to type on a typewriter. These all seem like ancient technologies to us now, but it was a good reminder of how much has changed, and how quickly. The impact of these changes has made the world smaller, and more complicated as the advancement of technology has created more opportunities for globalization, instant communication with anyone in any time zone, and insights into the celebrations and challenges people experience around the world.
The reality is that the advancement of technology in the last twenty years has changed our culture in phenomenal and unpredictable ways, and we feel these changes acutely in schools. Whether it’s a challenge around developing and sticking to a cell phone policy for students, competing for time and attention in the YouTube generation, or how all of a sudden we find ourselves saying something like, “kids these days...” followed by something that was disappointing. As educators, we are confronted with the culture shift in powerful ways, and we know we have to do something about it.
Many teachers, schools, and even districts have begun adopting the concept of preparing students to be global citizens as we recognize that students who are currently in 6th grade will be 25 years old in the year 2030, and that this generation of students will be the adults who deal with climate change, global economics, and the impact of massive voluntary and forced migrations. So the question becomes, what do kids these days need to learn and be able to do in order to feel prepared for the future where they will be leaders?
Using the Global Mindset Framework
This question is always a motivation for me to think critically about cultivating a curriculum with 21st century skills. In its current iteration, our research-based Global Mindset Framework includes 20 skills and capacities for global thinking that can be used to develop a thoughtful 21st century curriculum by transforming 20th century assignments into dynamic 21st century projects. Using the framework to guide or develop a unit plan or project can quickly transform our curriculum and instruction.
One way we can begin to transform our curriculum is by acknowledging that our current curricula are most often focused on a traditional 20th century set of thinking skills connected to Bloom’s Taxonomy (Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation). Even in spinoffs like Marzano or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or our own Rigormeter, we see Bloom as the foundational underpinning of most learning goals, content standards, and teacher objectives. This is great, because teaching toward global citizenship or towards 21st century skills absolutely requires students to be logical, rational, and critical thinkers.
Small, deliberate changes
To begin transforming our curriculum, we’ll want to consider adding one new skill from each Mindset of the framework. By making small, deliberate changes to a simple task, we can transform a basic 20th century task into a dynamic 21st century project in a very short period of time.
Our first step is to begin with a basic task that we have taught in the past, or one we’re thinking of teaching in the near future. Let’s imagine that we’re teaching middle school Science and are in the middle of a unit on the solar system. Maybe the students’ assignment would be something like this: compare and contrast the features of the planets. We can easily locate this task in the Critical Mindset with a focus on analysis.
As we move on, we’ll want to add an element of the Collaborative Mindset. We can scan the list of collaborative skills and pick any one that seems interesting, relevant to the students or the task, or easily connected. For this example, I’ve selected multiple modalities. This means that students will work together and communicate their learning in different ways — through writing, speaking, drawing, and so on. How can they use multiple modalities to compare and contrast the characteristics of the nine planets? They could create a chart, use a program like Powerpoint or Google Slides to design a visual presentation, or they can present something aloud. That’s three modalities — that seems good.
Next, let’s add a skill from the Creative Mindset, keeping in mind that creativity isn’t about artistic ability, it’s about the ability to innovate and develop something new. The skills within creativity help students to think in stages that build toward innovation and imagination. For our unit on the solar system, let’s select the questioning skill. How can questioning connect to students’ comparison and contrast of the solar system and a presentation? Well, maybe part of their presentation includes questions that they’ve asked and found the answers to. This is a good skill because it will help students to focus on key facts and create more opportunities for them to take responsibility for their learning.
Next comes the Caring Mindset. We want students to be socially and emotionally engaged with themselves and each other, so we’re looking for opportunities to build these skills directly in our instruction. One element we can focus on is building confidence. It makes sense that if students are developing a project that includes an oral presentation, they may get a little nervous, shy or uncomfortable. That’s okay! We want to push students to be brave and confident, and school should be a safe place for that experimentation. As a teacher, I’ll ask myself — what I can build into the project that will help students develop confidence? With an opportunity to practice their presentation and get some structured feedback from another student on their team, they may improve their presentation skills and gain more confidence, and can reflect on their process (before, during and after the final presentation).
Finally, we get to the Global Mindset. I'll go through the exact same process and imagine how I can connect a skill from this mindset with the task at hand. Let’s go with real-world problem-solving. Students may think knowing about the planets or doing a presentation is an unimportant assignment, but framing this as a real-world experience can make the topic more engaging, more interdisciplinary, and more relevant. We can make a connection between their work in the classroom and the work of individuals in various careers. We can offer a scenario to students that includes a role for them to play, an imagined audience to present to, and a real-world format where this topic would apply. For our project, let’s imagine that our students are Scientists and Engineers presenting their findings to the UN in an effort to complete an international space mission.
Our reimagined, 21st century project
Let’s look at how our project has transformed. When we started, our 20th century task was to compare and contrast the features of the planets. Our revised, 21st century task looks more like this:
You are on an elite team of Scientists and Engineers who have been assigned the responsibility of developing a proposal for an international space mission to one planet in our solar system for the UN Assembly. As a team, you'll do the following:
This process can be used in any content area and is a fantastic way to explore the transition from 20th century to 21st century learning. As educators, we have a special opportunity during this unique time period to think deeply about today's students as tomorrow's leaders. What type of learning experiences do they need to lead in the future?
By JORDAN VETTER
As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, technology is consuming more aspects of our lives than ever. Schools everywhere want to give their students as much access to different devices, apps, and software that not only makes their lives easier and education more effective, but also helps train them in 21st century skills that they likely need as adults. Each year, the world continues to change at an increasingly rapid pace, and the needs of students continue to evolve with it.
To help meet those needs, schools and teachers are constantly looking for new ideas and approaches to innovate their classrooms and instruction. However, more technology doesn’t always equal more success. Sometimes, in fact, it only complicates matters, or introduces new problems. The challenge then becomes, how do we effectively use technology to the benefit of our students? It’s not as simple as buying them the newest, shiniest gadget and thinking it will immediately make everything better. I’ve taught in schools with varying levels of technology available, and I’ve been able to experience both the good and the bad of it.
Weighing the benefits of classroom technology
Having easy access to devices such as laptops or tablets can open many possibilities for a classroom teacher. There are many different services available online, but the most ubiquitous is Google Classroom. Getting students familiar with using Google Classroom (or any similar program) instills in them valuable digital literacy skills — the ability to access materials posted by their teacher, collaborate with each other on their writing or assignments, and submit their documents for review. Not only are these skills that will be necessary in college, but they are becoming increasingly vital in everyday life. With so much of life happening online, having the skills to navigate through content and communicate with others to achieve a desired outcome is something that students will benefit from greatly.
However, technology does not automatically improve a classroom. Like handing a screaming child a smartphone to quiet him down, devices in the classroom are similarly used sometimes as pacifiers. Instead of being a supplemental tool that aids instruction and adds an extra dynamic to learning that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, it’s easy to allow technology to take over the class entirely. While giving students an assignment and having them work independently for the period might be tempting for a teacher, it’s not creating the type of engagement and collaboration we want as educators. Technology should be used to make our lives as teachers easier and our pedagogy better, not as a regular stand-in for actual instruction.
It’s important to remember that the presence of technology doesn’t always benefit the classroom — its success depends on how it’s being used. Technology should not be seen as a quick-fix that once implemented, instantly makes everything better. Just like most aspects of teaching, it takes a lot of planning, experimenting, evaluating, and reflecting to make it work in the way we want. Technology and the internet connects us like never before, but it can also be incredibly isolating, and a distraction from engaging with those around us. As educators, we should strive for the former, and by doing so we can hope to raise the skills of our students so they are prepared to take on the tasks of a 21st century world.
By DR. ROBERTA LENGER KANG
When I was in high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Horn, required her students to write a research paper. This process included daily trips to the school library, where I used a card catalog to look up the name of a book that may, or may not, have the information I was looking for. Once I found a book in the card catalog, I had to hunt for it using the Dewey decimal system, locate the book, and then begin searching for the basic facts about my topic. Mrs. Horn was a stickler for notecards. Our research papers needed to have 75 accompanying index cards so that we could organize our information one fact at a time, before typing it out on the word processor or typewriter.
How times have changed. Most school libraries today have more space dedicated to technology than books, and the long process of searching through dusty publications or old-timey microfiche has become a thing of the past. But here’s the thing: the importance of research papers hasn’t changed. And the importance of research hasn’t changed. What has changed is our access to information.
Shifting educational landscape
The radical advancement of technology and the internet has fundamentally changed our relationship with information. A 20th century education taught us how to find information — but finding information is no longer a problem. If anything, in the 21st century, we have access to too much! With hundreds of thousands of hits through internet searches and recommendations for related information, the question is no longer how to find the facts, but what to do with the information that’s literally a click away. How do we interpret this information? This is the question that teachers and school leaders struggle with as they attempt to make key concepts relevant to children in a rapidly changing world.
These advances in technology have not only changed our relationship to information, they’ve changed our relationship to other people. Instant connection, instant messaging, and instant information-sharing have changed the landscape of interactions.
Educating students for tomorrow, today
We can no longer sustain a 20th century mindset in a 21st century world. The Global Learning Alliance (GLA), with its commitment to cross-cultural research collaborations and a desire to define a pedagogy that takes into account the dynamic needs of a shifting educational landscape, knows that the task before us is to educate students today for the world they’re poised to lead tomorrow.
The GLA is the outgrowth of CPET’s ground-breaking research on the features and practices surrounding 21st century teaching and learning. It has evolved from the seeds of a research project and is now a consortium of schools and universities around the world dedicated to understanding, defining, applying, and sharing the principles and practices of a world-class education within a wide range of educational contexts. As a result of ongoing research, we have been customizing the Global Mindset Framework, a tool that helps educators consider new skills for a new world.
The Global Mindset Framework builds on the importance of the critical thinking skills of the 20th century by fostering skills in collaboration, creativity, caring, and global consciousness.
If we want to ensure that our students are developing the skills needed for the next hundred years, we must begin considering a new pedagogy for a new era. We must consider the implications on our curriculum, assessments, and instruction, if we are going to add these essential skills in our schools.