Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. For decades, these subjects have been the staple of the modern American educational system. The creative arts and physical education have also been played somewhat of a secondary role in that system. While all of these subject areas play a role in the development of our youth, they are based on career needs of the mid-20th century. According to this Pew Research study on Changes in the American Workplace, there has been an exponential demand on the social and analytical skills.
However, in our schools, we still teach the same “four core” areas and then fill in the rest with other subjects ranging from World Languages to Robotics. What’s interesting is, those original core 4 were considered the staple in preparing students for a 1950’s factory model work force. In this Sir Ken Robinson animated video, he talks about how our schools are designed for the assembly line. One only needs to look at the following graphic of companies that no longer exist to see that the American economy has shifted rapidly since the early 1970’s.
Compare the above with the graphic below which shows companies that didn’t exist in the early 1970’s that are now on Forbes top 200 list.
While there are some mainstays in terms of travel, service and retail companies, there is a huge growth in technology based companies. Now taking these new companies into account, let’s focus on the skills they desire for their future employee and see where schools stack up. This graphic by Tracy Clark (@tracyclark08) has been one that I’ve shared for many years. It’s sort of a “Soft Skills Bingo” chart of things that employers in those Fortune 500 companies look for when hiring.
I don’t see any of the “core four” subjects listed on that chart. While you could definitely argue that communication plays a role in language arts and critical thinking plays a role in math and science, I start to wonder why we are trying to “fit” these soft skills into our 1950’s core?
What would a modern core curriculum look like? And probably even more importantly, how would we transition from the current curriculum to a more updated model?
Let’s break apart both of these questions so I can attempt an answer.
Future Ready Curriculum –
If we were starting the American school system from scratch today, knowing what skills our students will need, we could change the subjects and not base them on what big-time publishers want us to focus on with our students. Building on some of the great work from FutureReady.org, the ISTE NETS for Students and keeping in mind those most desired future job skills from above, I would propose the development of the following 7 courses for every student:
Collaborative Outreach – A way for students to both serve the communities around them, but also work in teams, plan projects, and practice empathy.
Entrepreneurialism – Thinking “outside-the-box” but in a class form. Many of the ideas from this class could work hand-in-hand with the other courses listed here. Again, working in teams, students create solutions or products with the goal of developing the entrepreneurial spirit.
Communication & Design – Oral and written communication still play a major role in our current system, and by all accounts they will in the future. However, what about visual communication? What about making a visually pleasing presentation to pitch a product or reflect on an outreach opportunity? This course would encompass those skills.
Creative Expression – Having outlets to express yourself creatively and time for passion projects is huge in the workplaces of Google and Apple. The same should be true for schools. This course could be all about an app you are designing or a sculpture you are trying to complete (either by hand or by 3D printing).
Critical Problem-Solving – Much of the curriculum from math and science would fall into this course, although elements would be sprinkled in the other courses (like economics in the entrepreneurial course and science in the Environmental Mindfulness & Outreach courses)
Investigative Thinking – This course takes many of the research skills taught in social studies and applies it with a twist. How can looking back and investigating history help predict future outcomes? Traditional statistics would play a role in this course too.
Environmental Mindfulness – We need to allow time for students to be outside and/or active during the traditional class day. We also need to allow time for students to reflect on what they have learned and set goals for their future. This course takes some of traditional P.E. and mixes in meditation and deeper thinking exercises as well.
Transition to the Future
Creating these courses is the easy part. The hard part would be transitioning our current core areas into the above. It will take me an entire new blog post to outline that plan for this transition, as it involves some heavy change in mindset (by both educators and community). In the meantime, here’s where I feel parts of our current courses would fit in the above new curriculum:
Mathematics – Critical Problem-Solving, Entrepreneurialism, Investigative Thinking
Language Arts – Communication & Design, Investigative Thinking, Creative Expression
Science – Critical Problem-Solving, Environmental Mindfulness, Collaborative Outreach
Social Studies – Investigative Thinking, Communication & Design, Collaborative Outreach
World Languages – Collaborative Outreach, Communication & Design
Fine and Performing Arts – Creative Expression
Physical Education – Environmental Mindfulness
Career and Technology – Entrepreneurialism, Collaborative Outreach, Creative Expression, Communication & Design
If we really want to prepare kids for what’s next, whether that be in a high-tech career or the service industry, we need to transition our curriculum into areas that will help them be more successful in a highly automated future. I feel like the new core curriculum I am proposing does that while at the same time folding in some of the ‘classic’ curriculum models of our educational fore-fathers.
What did I miss? Chime in on the comments below.
Recently, it’s been reported that U.S. “Millennials” are not making the mark when it comes to technology proficiency and problem solving when compared to counterparts in other countries (19th out of 21). Say what you will about the assessment and measure of this, but I do think it gives us a chance to reflect on ideas for integrating problem solving strategies into the everyday classroom.
Last year, I wrote this post on 21 Things Every 21st-Century Teacher should do and it became an instant hit (with the help of Sean Junkin’s Infographic). As tech tools come and go, I felt the need to update and refresh it for this school year. However, I ran into a problem. When I got done with my updated list (removing a couple of ideas, adding several more) I was up to 36 different ideas. As luck would have it there are 36 weeks in a standard school calendar so this actually works out wonderfully. While these aren’t necessarily listed in the order you should do them, they are listed from least difficult (#1 – Selfies) to the most difficult (#36 – Creating an in-class incubator). The last few challenges are especially geared toward real-world problem solving and will hopefully make a dent in those “Tech Problem-solving” stats in the future.
36 Weeks of Innovation for the 2015-16 School Year:
1. All About Your Self(ie) Project
You know all those “getting to know you” activities that you start at the beginning of the year? Why not integrate selfies into those? You know kids (especially teens) have hundreds of these on their phones and it could be a creative way to tell the “their story” through selfies.
2. Have a class twitter account to post a tweet about the day’s learning
Just like a blog only smaller. Nominate a “guest tweeter” and have them summarize the day’s learning in 140 characters or less. Then ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.
3. Create your own class hashtag
Tell your students and their parents about the hashtag and have them post ideas, photos, and questions to it. It’s a great way to get people from not only in your class but also around the world to contribute to your class conversation. You can also use this with your blog posts (#1) or classroom tweets (#2). Bonus points if you use something like VisibleTweets to display your posts in your class.
4. Create a Class Instagram Account
Spinning off of the twitter account you already created, why not have a photo-based summary of the learning in class as well? Have a daily student photographer who’s job is to post an example of something your class/students did that day. If you don’t want to mess with “do not publish” lists, you could ask that it be of an object or artifact, not a person. This would also be a good time to have a mini-digital citizenship lesson and talk about when and how to ask permission to take someone’s photo.
5. Create a comic of your class rules
Let’s face it, classroom rules are in need of a makeover. Do you still have that blown-up Word Doc with your 1995 clipart on it? Why not make your classroom rules into a graphic novel? Here’s just one example of classroom rules done up comic-style! BAM! BOP! BLAZAMO!
6. Periscope a “minute in the life” video
I wrote a few weeks ago about this newest social media trend called “digital broadcasting”. While that post went over some best practices for Periscope and Meerkat, I’ve since been exposed to a multitude of ideas from other ‘scopers. One idea is to capture a “minute in the life” video to post weekly. Whether this be a minute in the life of a 3rd grader or a Pre-Cal student, it opens up a window to parents and other educators to see what is happening in your class. I have a much longer post on this coming soon…but since we are early in the list, I’m keeping it simple.
7. Create a MEMEory –
I think meme’s are inherently evil. Some are so clever I almost get jealous, while others leave a lot to the imagination. With apps like Meme-Generator or an app like Skitch, you could have students make historical memes, favorite literary characters or even cats that like chemistry.
8. Brain Breaks
Kids (and adults) can really only sit and “work” for so long. The average adult can sit for about 20 minutes before their mind begins to wander. For kids, the younger they are the less than can sit still (just come watch me and my family at a restaurant for proof). Brain breaks should be a part of every class and every grade level. From Improv games to yoga to GoNoodle, make brain breaks a part of your classroom and watch their brains re-ignite!
9. Sketchnoting for reflection
I’ve been a big fan of sketchnoting before it was called that. Back in my day (now I sound like an old man) we called it doodling. However, the more I do it (either digitally or on an old school notebook) the more I realize that I actually remember what was said. Why not try this in a class? During a lecture or watching a short film, have students represent the talk in a sketchnote. Check out this massive sketchnote of my co-Keynote with Todd Nesloney at iPadpaloozaSouthTX.
10. Create a List.ly list to encourage democracy in your class.
It could be as simple as a list of choices for a project or something as grand as what is one thing you want to learn about this year? Whatever the choice, use List.ly to create a crowd-sourced voting list and let your students have some say in their learning! Let’s just hope they aren’t old enough to vote for Kanye in 2020.
11. Blog for reflection
Having introduced reflection with Sketchnoting (#9) you are now ready to have kids practice the art of not only reflection with words, but published words. Using sites like EduBlogs and Kidblog (no longer free) you can have your students reflect on their week of learning in a student blog. Crowd-source the topics for their writing from other classmates for those that are struggling with an idea.
12. Digital portfolio for projects and art
I’ve got a giant box full of art projects and my oldest is barely entering 1st grade. I can only imagine the size of the extra wing I’ll need to add to my house when all 3 of them are through school. While I love all their art, I would appreciate it even more if it was also digitized. Using a platform like Blub, have your students capture their best work and reflect on the process. For more advanced users, organize each into different categories, styles, or themes. Besides the student example here, check out Lisa Johnson’s (TechChef4U) multiple Bulb sites for staff and student iPad instructions.
13. Participate in a Mystery Hangout
This sounds a lot scarier than it is but essentially think of playing the game 20 questions with another classroom somewhere in the world. Here’s a link to a community page with more resources. It’s a great way to increase cultural and global awareness and you could event invite the other class to add to your Pinterest board (#10), vote on your List.ly (#8), comment on your blog (#1) or maybe co-collaborate on an eBook (#17).
14. Create a Fantasy league (where they keep track of the stats themselves)
It’s time to break the stereotypes of sports. What better way to do that than through fantasy sports and math? Have students “draft” a team in a particular sport and then track their stats manually to see who wins. For a more advanced challenge, create a “mega” league with multiple sports over the course of the year. Watch for heated trades taking place on the playground and Monday discussions livening up when football season starts!
15. Special Effects Science
With a ton of stop-motion apps and the new Slo-mo feature built into iOS, there are a ton of creative ways to watch a science experiment unfold. From the slow growth of a plant over a semester to the infamous erupting volcano experiment in super slo-mo, science really is part visual arts.
16. Infographic-ize your newsletter
Tired of sending home that same boring newsletter that nobody reads? Why not jazz it up with an infographic. Using a tool like Canva or even keynote (what I used to make mine for this post), you can create a visually pleasing and impactful message to your community. Just be sure to include links to your class Twitter(#2), Instagram (#4) and Periscope (#6) accounts!
17. Pinning for parents
In this new digital age, parents are always looking for some help when it comes to ways to help their kids manage it all and be successful for school. Rather than just send them tips here or there, why not have a Pinterest board for parents? Here’s one we did called “86-days of summer learning” for parents looking for learning ideas in the summer.
18. Green Screen a field trip to another land
Budget cuts mean no more field trip to the local zoo? Why not take a virtual one? Have you class research specific locations in our world (and even specific times in history) and then visit them via green screen technology. Students can discuss what they might see during their trip and reflect on challenges and discoveries they made (virtually of course).
19. Make a class weekly podcast
Busy parents mean no time to read a weekly newsletter or that note in the take home folder. One thing many parents due is subscribe to podcasts (remember the Serial craze last fall?!) so why not put your class highlights in their weekly feed? Have your students write and create segments for the weekly show and publish it to iTunes to make some instant memories and to let mom and dad listen to your week while working out.
20. Animated book reports
The video book report is so 2013. Why not ramp it up a notch and use some animation? Apps like Explain Everything, Puppet Pals, Tellagami, Toontastic, etc allow you to make your book reports a little more animated. Add in some green screen (#18) with some stop-motion (#15), throw in some legos, and your students could make their own Lego Movie as a book report! (as long as they don’t use that “Everything is Awesome” song as their soundtrack)
21. Instructables by Students
The Instructables DIY craze is a powerful one. From figuring out how to make your own bubble-machine to how to use chop sticks, these how-to guides for life hacks are quite handy. Since student’s learn best by teaching, why not flip the script and use a site like Bulb or Snapguide to have students make their own Instructable over the topic or subject area of their choice?
22. Let a kid take over
I know. This sounds dangerous. If you look at John Hattie’s research on visible learning, the number 1 way to help move the needle on student learning and retention is to let them drive their own learning and self-grade. While there are several different ways you can do this (Project Based Learning being the most widely accepted method), you could sprinkle in little bits of this in everyday curriculum. An app like Apollo allows the students to take over the teacher’s board and then send out their work to the entire class instantly! (bonus: check out the built-in random student picker for some extra fun)
23. Student-led Parent-teacher conference presentations
I first heard about this from Sandy Kleinman this past summer, but the concept is simple. Tell students on the first week of school that they will be collecting a portfolio of work and present what they have learned to their parents during parent-teacher conferences. This is a great way of having kids (even as young as kindergarten) own their learning (#22). This could be daunting if not planned well, but with built in reflection activities (#9, #11, #12) there are multiple ways to gather discoveries to share with mom and dad.
24. Augment an old Textbook
Textbooks are a way of life in education and though many are now digital, there are still tons of old adoptions laying around in classroom cabinets or school storage closets. Why not utilize these books to add a little Augmented reality to the classroom? Using an app like Aurasma or Daqri, create a special video message and “attach” it a picture in the textbook. So when the entire class turns to page 26 and holds their device over the image…they’ll get quite the surprise!
25. Go Paperless for a week (then track the data)
Depending on your grade level, this might be harder than you think. Even in a 1:1 district we still print or have need to print things from time to time. The idea behind this challenge is see if you can figure out ways to make things more digital. Maybe instead of a newsletter you print and send home, you write a blog (#11) or send an infographic (#16). Or instead of asking kids to write and peer-edit each other’s papers, you ask them to share a Google doc? If your students don’t have devices, then challenge yourself to try this personally for a month.
26. Google Cardboard
With Google’s release of “Expeditions” last May, students can now take a mobile phone or iPod and use Google Cardboard to take a virtual field trip anywhere around the world! This does take some prep, which is why it’s further down on the list, but the reactions of students experiencing the Great Wall of China is amazing!
27. No Tech Tuesday
Have your students not use any technology and live like it’s 1915. This is a great way to really investigate how much times have changed in the past decade and our reliance on technology. Of course when they are done, have them blog about their experience. (#11)
28. Cardboard Design challenges
Design challenges can be a great way to have students think differently and work together in teams. Whether it be creating a cardboard chair that can support your weight (like Mr. Lofgren did here with his middle school students) or creating your own arcade like Cane did, the only limits in these activities are supplies and your students’ imaginations. And sometimes, having limits like supplies and time can actually enhance the creativity of the teams. BONUS: Create an Instructable of your final project (#21)
29. Redesign your learning space
After having your class design their own cardboard chairs (#28), it’s time to look at your classroom space. How is it designed to facilitate learning? Have your students research what types of furniture work best for a diverse learning environment. From the color on the walls to the lighting, have students research the costs and practicality of a new classroom makeover. Need some inspiration? How about his “classroom diner” concept:
30. Make a class book
The ease with which you can publish books now is amazing. Using a tool like Book Creator or iBooks Author, you can publish to the iBooks store or Amazon. Don’t want to do something that intense? Keep it simple and make a book using Shutterfly and then have it printed as a keepsake.
31. Code a makey-makey Instrument
Music can be a great learning tool. Coding is like learning a second language. This challenge combines the two at a pretty inexpensive cost ($49 for a Makey-Makey, $2 for bananas). Have your students work in teams to create their own musical instruments using any classroom materials around them. Then when they are all done, have them put on a “Junkyard Musical” performance to wrap it up! (Which would be a great thing to Periscope (#6))
32. Appmazing Race
While the APPmazing Race got it’s humble beginnings from iPadpalooza 2014, it has since grown into a global phenomenon as a new strategy for delivering PD. Though built originally for adults, it’s perfect for students with mobile devices. Set up a series of challenges over a class period or a couple of weeks and have the kids team up and go to work! While the race itself doesn’t take a lot of work (except for reigning the kids back in), the prep before hand and the scoring afterwards will take quite a bit of time. Be sure to have a rubric to help students understand how they score on particular challenges and I would advise on using a tool like Padlet.com to curate all their finished discoveries. Here’s an example of one of the biggest races I’ve hosted using Thinglink and Padlet to curate.
33. LipDub to History
The ultimate form of flattery is imitation. The ultimate form of stardom is when Weird Al makes a parody of your song. Why not take that to another level and have students re-write lyrics to their favorite hit or a popular tune? The catch is they have to tie the lyrics into something historical like the video below. Who knows, maybe some student will remake “Chaka Khan” into “Genghis Khan”.
34. Design your own Rube Goldberg Machine
How great would it be to have teams of students design a Rube Goldberg machine? I once saw former 4th grade teacher Cody Spraberry facilitate a 2-week project where each group had a defined space in the classroom (marked by tape) and had to design, create, and test their Rube as well as record it. Not all the reactions were as priceless as this kid’s, but tying in reflection (#11), how-to instructions (#21) and some video effects (#15) can really make this a powerful lesson in teamwork, perseverance, problem-solving and organization.
35. Global Outreach GoFundMe
Teaching our students about generosity while giving them a wider perspective of world events can be powerful. Now with tools like GoFundMe, your class can strategize a way to help support a cause like this one for creating a School for the Deaf in Haiti. This is real, authentic, impactful learning that will make a difference in the lives of your students and those you are helping.
36. Create a start-up Incubator
To really tackle all of those “future-ready” skills, why not have teams of students create their own actual start-up company. Some high schools across the country have started this program (including our own Westlake High School) but it doesn’t have to be exclusive to high school. The key is to get business and industry leaders to work with the kids and talk about real world scenarios their companies will face. Kind of like “career day” on steroids. If you can get some local business or parents to participate with some funds, you can actually host a “Pitch night” to start the event and a “Shark tank” type activity to close it where students will get actual money to try and create their product. This is the most intensive of all the ideas on this list and can utilize parts of all the other 35 topics to make a team successful.
While I don’t expect any one classroom to do all of these ideas (I’d have to give them a prize if they did), I do think many of these are doable and possible on the cheap. I tried to design most of them without dependance on a particular type of technology, but having access to devices, even if not in a 1:1 environment, is helpful.
I hope you enjoy and be sure to give me some feedback below as to what you think. And to practice what I preach, I took Sean Junkin’s tutorial advice and created my own infographic out of Keynote for this post. See below:
The Student Desk (known by several aliases, most notably the Classroom Desk) died today when teachers at Bridge Point Elementary school in Austin, TX discovered that learning could happen in a variety of spaces that no longer necessitated their use. “We just feel like kids in this new mobile age don’t need to be confined to a small, uncomfortable desk.” said one teacher who chose to remain nameless for the purposes of this obituary
Student Desks had a rich history in public education. Descended from its “parent” Anna Breadin, who is credited with “birthing” (designing and patenting) the student desk in the late 1880’s, the Student Desk really found a moment of growth and boom during the 1940’s. In this Industrial Age, when the need to put things in neat rows was prevalent, learning needed to take place in much the same way as factory assembly lines. Why would students need to move around the classroom? The only time students needed to move was to go to the bathroom and you better really had to go because it entailed carrying around a large wooden keychain that said, “Hall Pass”. Much like the ballyhooed and unrelated bell curve chart, it seemed that the Student Desk’s middle age was a time of great dominance in the classroom of America.
The Student Desk had a life-long fascination with putting students’ rear-ends to sleep, a trait it mastered by the mid-1950’s. The 50’s were a time of transformation for the Student Desk’s life as it became a tool for protecting students during the “Duck and cover” days of cold war-era America. The Student Desk came in all shapes in sizes, especially by the 1960’s, a time of cultural change in our country. Tie-dye models and desks made from hemp would be built and later destroyed during this time, but one thing remained constant – their severe lack of mobility and comfort.
Through the decades the Student Desk persevered through tough times, like the “Pencil graffiti” years of the 1970’s when students felt like its top was their own personal canvas. The 1980’s were no easier for the life of the Student Desk as numerous spit-puddles attacked their tops by sleeping, drooling teens (a trend made popular as witnessed at the :52 second mark in this scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)
Despite these rough times, the Student Desk maintained its dominance in the American school system. Indeed, it seemed like nothing could stop the proliferation of the standard Student Desk in our school systems until the dreaded 2010’s. This was the beginning of the end for the Student Desk. This dark time in the Desk’s life began innocently enough. Schools were looking for ways to get more access to learning in the hands of kids. While this seemed like a novel idea to the Desk, one that would pass in time (like those 1:1 Lava Lamp days of 1968-69), this concept seemed to have staying power. The last few years of the Desk’s life would be a blur. Students began to come to class with some smartphone thingy and schools were even issuing tablets to kids. The Student Desk was no longer needed for physical support as it was in the past.
As preposterous as it sounds, this new idea of learning with mobile devices also meant that the Desk’s other primary strength (its ability to create neat rows) was no longer a necessity. Students needed to be able to move around and work in a variety of ways; individually, in small groups, or as a whole. The teacher no longer need to relay information down the rows, instead learning could happen anywhere and everywhere in the classroom.
Depressed and no longer needed, the Student Desk ended its life by throwing itself into a giant wood-chipper behind the school. The Desk is survived by aged relatives like the pencil, the paper notebook, daylight savings time, and as of this writing, the paper textbook (which is currently on life-support in a Santa Monica area hospital). In lieu of flowers the Desk asks that you plant a tree in its honor for the wood that was used to make the desk and offer a donation to the Chiropractors Helping Ailing Inflamed Rears Society (C.H.A.I.R.S.).
Finally, the family asks that in honor of the Student Desk that you write your school board and administration to rid classrooms of its kind. It’s time to move on people.
For more in depth ideas of what the classroom sans Student Desk looks like, see this post on the BPE Bobcat blog. Also see pictures below classrooms by two Bridge Point elementary teachers and watch this news clip recently released following the demise of the Student Desk.