Friday, August 12, 2011

How to Build Competencies for 21st Century Living and Learning

APEC, the acronym for the inelegantly titled "Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation", identified, in its 2008 Education Reform Symposium in Xian, China, five 21st century competencies and skills to which it would be giving priority. Adapting from this basis, and in response to questions from a parent, I will today address how One World Secondary School plans to go about achieving one of its seven stated aims, "to produce workers whose competence in mathematics and science, languages, and information and communication technology makes them valuable and competitive in the 21st century international job market".

One of the mottoes of One World Secondary School is "taking the best of the world and sharing it with everyone". Having worked at Locke High School in south Los Angeles, and having witnessed firsthand the disastrous effects that continual experimentation, in the absence of controlled experimental trials, too often wreaks on the lives of poor urban students (as memorably documented by Diane Ravitch in Left Back), I incline towards empiricism; and therefore One World Secondary, while appearing perhaps wildly experimental, will in general be introducing innovations which are innovative to the local market only, having usually proved best practices elsewhere.

To achieve world-class mathematical competence, we will often be using Singapore Math curricula and assessments, while using the interactive, small-group methods to achieve deeper understanding of fewer, more complex problems, and also conducting professional development, according to Japanese teaching practices.

To achieve world-class scientific competence, we have consulted and synthesized the standards of high achieving nations; will devote relatively more time to learning the sciences; will utilize, at least in advanced courses, the inductive-discovery approach of the Bronx High School of Science; and will emphasize interactive, engaging, project-based learning methods that develop the kind of passion that leads, in the best cases, to research science projects and award-winning summer competitions.

We won't actually achieve world-class linguistic competence; small European nations are the leaders here, and sometimes produce high school graduates who know their fifth language better than American students may know their second. We actually have the advantage here, since these nations usually need to learn our language, while we really don't need to learn Norwegian, Czech, or Dutch. This will free up many lesson hours, some of which we will devote to extra science (see above). But we will also use some successful European language learning strategies, key among them being having the students apply to language sections (of their choosing) as well as to the school; having them begin a language from their very first year with us (which should be seventh grade); having them continue with that language every year; having them use that second language as a language of instruction to study another subject (often possible by their third year), including being assessed in, say, geography through oral or written tests in French, Chinese, or Spanish, the world's major power languages, after English.

We will achieve world-class competence in information and communication technology (ICT) by making sure that each student has a laptop (or similar device, as technology develops) as a learning tool available for every class other than physical education, and by using the standards of the International Society for Technology in Education to drive technology change throughout the curriculum, and thereby to change the way education is done, at least in our school, leading to lives of ever-increasing competence for all.

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