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21st century learning is vital

Twenty-first century learning is about to become a major focal point for the Fallbrook Union High School District. The implications of this are quite profound because it should substantially change what teaching and learning look like. Historically, most students have relied upon teachers and textbooks to help them learn the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful either in college and/or a career. Internet and technological advances are resulting in the increased ability of students to be in charge of their learning and how, when and where it occurs.

In order to better understand the context for 21st century learning, it is important to recognize how much the world for our students differs from the world in which today’s adults grew up. Consider this: we live in a global economy, not a national or local one. This means that neither are the best jobs nor the only highly qualified applicants located simply in the United States. As an illustration, in India there are more students in the highest 25 percent of IQ than there are total students in the United States. There is now conversation that there are two achievement gaps in the US. The more commonly known is the discrepancy between Asians and Caucasians and Latino and Black. The least known is between the high-performing students of China and India compared to high-performing US students. A second illustration is associated with how frequently information/knowledge is growing. The amount of technical knowledge is now doubling every two years. Related to this is the number of people seeking knowledge. In 2006, there were 2.7 billion Google searches per month. That total is now 31 billion per month. Wikipedia, an online collaborative encyclopedia, is both more current and more accurate than the Encyclopedia Britannica. (For further illustration, please go to the district Web site and click the district link of the “Did You Know Video” by Karl Fisch.)

During the next several months, our district will engage in a comprehensive and collaborative dialogue about what 21st century learning might look like in our schools. I don’t know what will be determined, but I do wonder. What if textbooks were electronic instead of 50-plus pounds of paper? What if the student was expected to use her/his cell phone in class for learning as opposed to turning it off so that it did not interfere with learning? What if students were taught how to evaluate electronic sources for accuracy and reliability and expected to research YouTube and similar Web sites as a part of their learning? What if working in a group meant that the student had to interact with one or more students from another country and not just another person in the same physical classroom?

I do not recommend that we retreat from these conversations because economic times are challenging and the district is implementing budgetary reductions. Instead, the time is ripe for us to reevaluate how we spend our monies and to prepare to more effectively use the new monies that we will eventually receive in support of student learning. More thoughtful research and discussions must occur so that decisions are based upon fact and not opinion.


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