21st Century Learning! What’s it All About?

Rio School District students and staff are working towards new learning goals. Like many Districts across the country we call them 21st century skills or practices. This acknowledges that we live in times that are rapidly changing and in many ways very different than just a few decades ago. Success and thriving in this century requires people to be excellent communicators, collaborators, critical thinkers, and creative problem solvers. These are the traditionally known 4Cs. At Rio we have added the 5th C, Caring which suggests that people also need to care about themselves, their families, their communities and perhaps most importantly at school, caring about their own learning.

In the last three years, we’ve been making changes to our classrooms and learning activities that support the development of these skills and practices.

Communication: We have encouraged more group work, more discussion, and students using writing, technology and creative making to present their learning.

Collaboration: We have encouraged a variety of ways to work together with others in face to face and virtual contexts.

Critical thinking: We have moved away from learning goals that ask for the “right” single answer to questions to inquiry processes, project and problem based learning that engage students in more complex and layered learning that requires learners to use multiple skills to demonstrate their learning and solve problems.

Creativity: We have created more opportunities for students to make and create to solve problems and to express their learning as well as encouraging them to have divergent thinking and innovative problem solutions.

Caring: We have encouraged students to engage in learning activities that allow them opportunities to demonstrate that they care about themselves, their peers, their family, their community and environment. We are also working to have students develop heightened caring about their own learning and futures as learners, workers, and citizens.

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Caring…..How to Score a “5” on a scale of 1-5 for Caring

Caring is a 21st century skill and practice and has always mattered and will always matter in any century. Rio’s students, staff, and community care. This is why we have made the point of having 5Cs for our 21st Century Learning Aims: Communication, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, and Caring. Caring takes many forms when it comes to being a student at Rio’s schools. Here are a few I have been thinking about;

Caring about people. Caring about every child, staff member, and community member.

Caring about giving 100% of your effort to every school assignment and activity.

Caring about having a trash free environment.

Caring about helping others do well and feel well.

Caring about your own learning by making sure you are growing in all your areas of learning.

Caring about your community.

Caring about your family and friends.

Caring about your future.

Caring about your country.

Caring about the world and its resources.

I am sure that most Rio children already have already achieved a 5 out of 5 on many of these types of Caring. Still, I’d like to see greater emphasis on the caring about learning outcomes.

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The Centrality of Reading

In the last three year at Rio, we have gone all in for reading. We have added many high interest books to our libraries and made sure our libraries are full time places to learn and explore books. We have encouraged students and teachers to engage in our Accelerated Reader program which asks students to read independently and take short comprehension quizzes to demonstrate their understanding and earn points for various kinds of affirmations. We have also focused in on the primary grades when children first come to be able to read and develop an interest in reading. This has included changing our kindergarten to an All day program beginning each early Fall as well as lowering our class sizes in kindergarten and first grade. We have also added more pre-school opportunities as well as transitional kindergarten classes.These efforts and many more initiatives are keenly focused on literacy development and particularly in helping every child become interested and competent readers. 

Why all this effort and focus? Well, reading is central to academic success and the general ability to learn. While it is clear that we are working on many learning practices including writing, mathematics, technology and the 5Cs; Communication, Critical thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, and Caring, we know that reading is a bridge to human development in many of its aspects. This year we are focusing on helping students in the intermediate and middle grades to become better readers while we continue to seek improvement and expansion of reading programs across every grade level and subject matter.

We know that the easiest way for children to develop as readers is for them to be immersed in a family of readers. We encourage all our parents to read with, read to, and model themselves as readers of every kind of text including books, Internet based sources, and anything that engages and enlightens. We also encourage parents to develop an awareness of the quality and quantity of reading their children do each week while encouraging them to grow as readers regardless of their current status.

One to One to the World

This month, October 2015, the Rio School District will achieve its goal of having one connected computer device for each child enrolled. This is sometimes called one to one computing or even one to the world which is, perhaps, a better term. We’re calling it One to One to the World. oneacerworld This investment in technology is in service of our three prong learning framework. Students in every grade level are availed of three types of learning activities that can help them learn together and own their own. Direct instruction, project based learning, and individualized digital learning activities are arranged by teachers and the District in order to help every child develop a growth mindset that takes them from where they are to where they want and need to be in terms of literacy ( reading, writing, math, and technology) as well as 21st century learning practices (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and caring).

Rio’s teachers are taking on the challenge of learning to use these new tools in service of the greater demands of the common core standards and the quickly evolving technological landscape in our broader society. Rio’s one to one to the world program is an investment in the future of our children. We aim for these tools to serve each child encouraging them to become inquiring learners who build a passion for learning and developing their own interests. These connected tools offer them the opportunity to learn with and from other learners and experts from across the globe and across the historical timeline.

Regardless of technology, we know that great learners read and write every day and work hard to get better. 21st century learners now have a great and broad landscape of texts and hyper-texts to read and create. They have the world at their finger tips.

Rio’s One to One to the World program is also based on choosing economical and in many cases open source and free applications. In this way we partner with corporate and local business partners like Acer and MJP Computers to provide students and teachers state of the art technology at the lowest possible cost to the tax payer. Making smart decisions when purchasing and using technology is a great example and model for our students as they become the consumers and decision makers of the future.

This year we are also carefully developing and rolling out our take-home computer program. We have piloted the program in several classrooms and at several schools. We look forward to expanding this program District wide in order to expand the potential learning opportunities beyond the classroom day.