Public TV station KRCB has presented the nationally syndicated anthology program “Natural Heroes” to PBS affiliates around the country for six seasons. I am very proud to have produced three segments that have been accepted to this Emmy Award-winning series. After receiving inquiries and positive feedback from educators, series producer Valerie Landes and General Manager Nancy Dobbs sought out a curriculum writer to create professionally produced lesson plans to go with their successful show.
They chose Suzie Boss, who spoke with me on the phone from Portland, Oregon about how central a role the 21st Century Learning concept of Project-based Learning (PBL) plays in her work. The beautiful materials can be downloaded from the “Natural Heroes” website.
For people like me who are not close to the world of education, it is hard to appreciate just how monumental a shift is taking place in pedagogy. The way kids learn in school has been and will be changing drastically in the coming years. The new approach, I have discovered, is referred to as “21st Century Learning.” This term is technical jargon, referring to a specific and concise idea. It is not a generic phrase, even though at first reading it might appear to be.
The concept is relevant to independent filmmakers interested in creating educational outreach materials (especially those of us born before the year 2000) because the new paradigm is taking such a radical departure from our own school experiences. The old-fashioned “study guide” of the 90’s, even the very good ones, are becoming increasingly irrelevant. I am not an education expert by any means; I am, however, an expert at feeling completely gobsmacked by some of the new strategies. My heart goes out to veteran teachers who after decades of teaching in one way are now confronted with the challenge of readjusting to another. Understandably, many find the new tools and techniques controversial, even threatening. At the same time the new directions seem fun and exciting. So much so that even a lay person like myself can appreciate the “buzz” and potential.
I thought I should include a list of some of the books that have been helping me wrap my 50-something brain around these New School methods as part of “Indies Go to School.” First is a great (and short and snappy!) book called Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know about Schools and Rediscover Education, by Clark Aldrich (2011, Greenleaf Book Group Press). It is an iconoclastic list designed to purge our minds of Old School cobwebs. Each premise is numbered and addressed directly with no more than three pages of text. An example from p. 23:
8. What a person learns in a classroom is how to be a person in a classroom. The teacher might be talking about history or math, but what the students in a traditional classroom are learning is how to be students in a classroom. And they are learning it very well. They are learning how to take notes. They are learning how to surreptitiously communicate with peers. They are learning how to ask questions to endear themselves to authority figures…Furthermore, we have built a reward structure to praise those students who can sit in classrooms better than anyone else. We let them run our planet.
Remember that teacher who changed your life? Who opened doors onto vast new horizons for you and was your unflagging advocate at every turn? Marcy Barton is one of those teachers. I had the wonderful chance to meet Marcy while shooting a little promo piece for an experimental school she was helping to set up, centered upon the formal concept of “21st Century Learning.” This rethinking of what happens in the classroom has important implications for how students approach media, and therefore is something every independent film producer should know about.
Marcy wrote the book on 21st Century Learning. No, actually she wrote two! They’re called “Classroom for the Conceptual Age: Chronicles of an Integrated Exploratory Teacher” and “Classroom for the Conceptual Age: A Developmental Approach to Design Thinking.” In these concise guides written for teachers she advances the paradigm shift taking place in education, away from rote memorization and class periods organized by academic subjects and toward engaging students holistically with the processes of Design Thinking and Project-based Learning. They’re a quick read and well worth the time for video producers looking into this area.
Independent Filmmaker, former Elementary School Teacher
San Francisco, CA
I was a teacher with elementary school kids, so it’s quite different than teaching at a level of high school or college. From my experience working in Washington, Illinois and California school systems, all the teachers and principals especially would really frown upon teachers using media in the classroom as a resource. Usually that was used during maybe a rainy day lunchtime activity. I think that’s unfortunate. I think the kids probably could benefit a lot from media. Especially in this era of media being so pronounced and so available, especially in their lives.
Jeremy Lum, High School Teacher
Bellarmine College Preparatory
San Jose, CA
I am a teacher at Bellarmine both in the English Department and in the Visual and Performing Arts Department.
Bellarmine is an Ignatian school, which means we focus on educating the whole person. And to me that means bringing in not only incredible academics, but probably most important the social justice aspect. And that infuses both the curriculum, what we do in the classroom, as well as the things we do outside the classroom.
Manuel Herrera, Fourth Grade Teacher
Learning Without Limits
What is “Blended Learning?”
When I’m teaching fractions, I would teach the fraction lessons, then once I’m done with that the kids would go on [TO THEIR INDIVIDUAL COMPUTER DEVICES] to math adaptive software, right now we’re using Dreambox. And then while they’re on that, I can continue working in small groups or one-on-one, whatever is needed at the time. And the goal would be that if I’m teaching fractions, then they would go practice that. But some math programs are basically what we would call a black box that students are on there and it’s adapting to their needs.
Teacher, Author and 21st Century Learning Consultant
Half Moon Bay, CA
What role does video have in the 21st Century classroom?
Oh my. That’s where we are. We are turning into a nation or globe of visual learners. So it’s not just a text-based economy or learning system anymore. It’s all about the music, it’s all about the images that are either still or moving. And it’s kids, they have a lot of different learning styles. So having video be available is just an incredible boon to the whole learning cycle for most kids, adults, anybody. I mean how can you explain the explosion of YouTube and all of the social media where we’re posting things? People learn through video. It’s where we’re living right now.