The term “21st Century learning” is used constantly. What does it mean? More active learning, classrooms designed to allow for movement and collaboration, project-based work, creativity, innovation, etc. Nardin is certainly involved in bringing this learning to our students through newly designed classrooms, DaVinci period in our elementary school, robotics, and so much more. While we hear all of this, what about the curriculum and how is it designed to provide for these new learning approaches?
Curriculum needs to develop understanding, present authentic tasks that promote meaningful learning and build critical thinking skills. Montessori is a key example of active learning and 21st century skill development. Observing their classrooms, one sees students at such young ages collaborating on a task, working independently after receiving a lesson, meeting with a teacher if they are unsure of something or just in need of touching base. This year the faculty at Montessori developed “Wonderful Wacky Wednesdays”. The kindergarten students spend a good portion of their day experiencing new ideas and skills. Recently, they heard their teachers talk about portraits and self-portraits and reviewed books showing examples of each. This was followed by their producing portraits of each other and self-portraits, too. Incredible! They took this work seriously, asked important questions and were able to produce something that has introduced them to a new talent/skill that they had not experienced before. They improved their critical thinking skills by honing their observation of other people and themselves, and this work brought to light their perspective of differences in others and how these differences make each of us special and unique.
Our elementary school makes great use of DaVinci Fridays, allowing them to enhance their curriculum and work on 21st Century learning. Kindergarten and 4th grade worked collaboratively on an “engineering” activity basing their focus on STEM challenges. One week they built snowmen with newspaper and toilet paper. Another week they worked in teams to build a house for a little pig that could survive the huff and puff of the big bad wolf. And in the spirit of the Olympics, they designed snowboarders with pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks and test their ability to snowboard down a slope. (Our future engineers??? Certainly could be!!!) Still in 4th grade, the team is working on a STEM project called the Pinewood Derby. Students will be learning about speed and motion in science. They will build, sand, and paint mini cars that represent specific countries in the Olympic Games. At the end of the unit, they plan to race them on an aluminum track in the elementary gym in a Pinewood Derby! And, not to be outdone, the Grade 8 ELA class has used the app Padlet to share ideas on how the Holocaust could have happened. Padlet is like an online sheet of paper where people can share their ideas. Students used evidence from the book Parallel Journeys to share ideas on Padlet that they will use to write their concluding essays.
High school is busy, too, with project-based learning and involving authentic audiences. Hack-A-Thon was a full day invention-a-thon where members from the community worked with our computer science students to develop apps that solve real-world problems! Seniors in the Environmental Science classes pitched to folks from 43North their app creations that promote sustainability. They impressed their outside audience with their knowledge and creativity for some of these apps might be realized! And, Culinary Justice day involved students researching the history of slave culture and BBQ learning how food shapes our sense of where we come from. They then prepared food for the Nardin community using techniques that slaves historically used. All of these projects were not had real audiences and students actively invested in the process of learning.
In researching and reading about how to prepare students for today’s world and the futures they will be facing, Nardin, while maintaining our strong academics is encompassing the elements our students will need. We are committed to providing opportunities for faculty to engage in professional development that will enable them to employ new techniques and skills to make learning authentic and insure that we are developing our 21st century learners. Each one of the schools is doing good work and preparing these young people to do “amazing things” in this world.