Building a Better School Day

Parade Magazine is a U.S. weekly magazine that’s inserted into hundreds of local newspapers each Sunday. On August 11, their cover story was “7 inspiring ideas for a new and improved 21st-century classroom.” Because I do research as a learning scientist, and I’ve written articles with titles like “The Future of Schooling,” I read this story right away. Parade Magazine got it exactly right with these seven ideas:

  1. Begin the day with breakfast. Only 50 percent of middle schoolers and 36 percent of high schoolers get a regular morning meal, even though nutrition researchers say that breakfast improves cognitive function (Gail C. Rampersand).
  2. Emphasize learning, not testing. Too much of the school day is devoted to test prep, and subjects that don’t appear on state-mandated tests are being dropped from the curriculum (art, foreign language, science, history). (Diane Ravitch, Paul Tough)
  3. Teach 21st century skills. Emphasize long-term projects; use technology to solve problems; make classes multidisciplinary (Will Richardson).
  4. “Flip” the class. Students watch short videos of lectures at home, and then spend class time engaged in interactive labs and discussions.
  5. Say “Yes!” to recess. Taking breaks enhances the effectiveness of learning during the rest of the day.
  6. Get Creative! Creative pursuits engage different parts of learners’ brains, and contributes to problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  7. Go longer-and better. The school day should be expanded to match the long work days of two-career couples–up to ten hours a day (as at Hilton Elementary in Baltimore) but you can’t do the same old-style instruction all that time. The day should include eating, exercising, creative work, as well as core subjects. And one additional benefit: This can close the achievement gap, because affluent students are already getting a broad variety of after-school classes.

Kudos to reporter Michael Brick! I hope this article is widely read.

*Michael Brick, “Building a better school day.” Parade Magazine, August 11, 2013, pages 8-13.

Bringing Schools Into the Future

More and more people are realizing that schools will have to change to meet the new demands of the 21st century. In my own research and writings, I’ve emphasized the importance of creativity and innovation, and the need for schools to do a better job educating for creativity, rather than simple mastery of facts and skills.

I’m delighted to report that there is a global community of scholars and policy makers who are working on this issue. It’s not just an issue for the USA; schools in every advanced country face the same situation: an older style of classroom focused on the instructional delivery of information, which seems mismatched to creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving abilities.

Monday and Tuesday of this past week, I was invited to join an impressive group of global leaders at the University of Hong Kong, titled the Global Policy Forum on Learning. Organized by Professors Nancy Law and Kai Ming Cheng, the guiding questions were:

1. What do contemporary findings in research on learning tell us about how to improve student learning?

2. How many decisions and reforms are actually based on the results of sound research?

This meeting is just the first step toward creating a global network that brings together learning scientists and policy makers. I hope the work continues.

Here is the list of participants:

Professor Diana Laurillard, Chair Professor at London Knowledge Lab

Mmantsetsa Marope, Director, UNESCO, Paris

Gwang-Jo Kim, Director, UNESCO, Bangkok

Yves Punie, Project Leader, European Commission (Seville)

David Istance, CERI, OECD

Soo-Siang Lim, Director, US National Science Foundation

Marcela Gajardo, Director of PREAL, Chile

Keith Sawyer, Washington University

Naomi Miyake, Professor, University of Tokyo

Marcia Linn, Professor, UC Berkeley

Kenneth Chen, Under Secretary of Education, Hong Kong

Cherry Tse, Permanent Secretary of Education, Hong Kong

Nirmala Rao, Professor, University of Hong Kong

Nancy Law, Professor, University of Hong Kong

Kai-ming Cheng, Chair Professor, University of Hong Kong