Thursday, March 11, 2010

21st Century Learning

"To Present their Gift of Human Imagination, Each Child Needs Hope and the Creative Capacity Earned From Real World Experience to Realize Their Potential"

- Gary Andersen, founder Neuropath Learning.

Today’s students are digital learners – they literally take in the world via the filter of computing devices: the cellular phones, handheld gaming devices that they take everywhere, plus the computers, TVs and game consoles at home. Young people, aged 8-18, mainline electronic media for more than six hours a day on average. Many are multitasking – listening to music while surfing the web, or instant-messaging friends while playing a video game. Less than 1% of the world’s new information that is being created ends up on paper.

This is a dramatic departure from the industrial model of our youth gathering knowledge. It is abandonment, finally, of textbook-driven, teacher-centered, paper and pencil schooling. It means a new way of understanding the concept of authority delivered "knowledge" and a new definition of what it takes to "educate a student". There is a need to discover a new way of designing and delivering the curriculum that is required to shape a child’s brain for their future. Schools must go from "buildings" to "nerve centers" with walls that are porous and transparent, connecting teachers, students and the community to the wealth of knowledge that exists in the world. Teachers must change from their primary role as a dispenser of information to an orchestrator of learning and helping individual students turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into abilities. Success in the 21st century requires knowledge generation and application; not just information delivery. Schools need to create a "culture of inquiry" with a focus on assessment of the individual.

By and large, a learner is a young person who goes to school, spends 12 years of their life in certain courses, received passing grades and 50% leave by graduating. Today, Neuropath Learning sees learners in a new context:

First – We maintain student interest by helping them see how the things they are learning prepares them for life in the real-world.

Second – We build curiosity, success, common sense and a thinking capacity which are all fundamental to the building of lifelong learning.

Third – We are certain that the development of the child’s brain is being prepared with the neurological structure that allows the child to be self-motivated and mentally prepared to be a responsible citizen.

Fourth – We excite learners to build and earn hope and success and become even more resourceful as they pursue their life story.

So what will schools look like, exactly? What will the curriculum look like? How will this 21st century curriculum be organized, and how will it impact the way we design and build schools, how we assess students, how we purchase resources, how we acquire and utilize the new technologies, and what does all this mean for us in an era of standardized testing and accountability?

Neuropath Learning 21st Century Perspective

Twenty-first century curriculum has certain critical attributes. It is interdisciplinary, project-based and research-driven, based on student performance. It is connected to the community – local, state, national and global. Sometimes students are collaborating with people around the world in various projects. The curriculum incorporates higher order thinking skills, creative desire, use of technology and multimedia, the multiple literacies of the 21st century and real time assessments.

The classroom is expanded to include the greater community. Students are self-directed and work both independently and interdependently. The curriculum and instruction are designed to challenge all students and provides for the differentiation of each student.

The curriculum is not textbook-driven or fragmented, but is thematic, project-based and integrated. Skills and content are not taught as an end in themselves, but students learn them through their research and application in their projects. Textbooks, if they have them, are just one of many resources.

Knowledge is not memorization of facts and figures, but is constructed through research and application, and then connected to previous knowledge, personal experience, interests, talents and student interests. The skills and content become relevant and needed as students require this information to complete their projects. The content and basic skills are applied within the context of the curriculum and are not ends themselves. Creating within the child’s brain the ability for, flexibility of thinking, ability to synthesize ideas and also to learn from failures.

Assessment moves from regurgitation of memorized facts and disconnected processes to demonstration of understanding through application in a variety of contexts. Real-world audiences are an important part of the assessment process, as is self-assessment.
Students find their voices as they create projects using multimedia and deliver these products to real-world audiences, realizing that they can make a difference and can influence others. They learn what it is to be a contributing citizen and carry these citizenship skills forward throughout their lives.

As a result, standardized test scores are higher. This is because students have acquired the necessary neurological development, thinking skills and knowledge in a meaningful, connected way with the real-world useful understanding stored in long term memory. Students actually know the content on a much higher level of understanding, and they have developed their basic skills by constant success throughout the duration of our programs. Students learn that through collaboration and competition they can work together to make their world a better place.

There is much more to consider. There is no "one size fits all" or "one style fits all" blueprint. Each school should be designed with the students and the goals of the individual, school and community in mind. However, there are some basic things that should considered.
A school will want to stay away from the traditional design which has students constantly isolated in small classrooms. Those school facilities were designed for the emerging industrial age of the 19th century, and were based on a factory model and a 100 year old management system.
First of all, the design takes into account the kind of spaces needed by students and teachers as they conduct their investigations and implement their projects. Spaces will be needed for large groups, small groups and for independent work. There should be plenty of wall space and other areas for displaying student work. This includes a place where the parents and community can gather to watch student performances as well as a place where they can meet for discussions. There also needs to be access to a virtual space where multimedia projects can be showcased and peers, mentors, parents and community can comment on successes, exchange ideas and collaborate virtually.

Changes in the Way Students Learn
Our challenge is to encourage, connect and foster learning throughout a child’s day. How do we help children make sense of all the information and experiences in their lives? How do we ensure that all children have opportunities to reach their full potential in a competitive world where thinking skills are the most important asset of a society?

Our thoughts are that in order to create change in education all stakeholders must be on board. One of the main obstacles as we see it is the enormous resistance to change. There have been many movements to create change in our educational system, all fraught with conflict. Some of the current efforts are trying to create change without actually changing; they are trying to take attributes of the 21st century and force them into the 19th and 20th century ways of designing and delivering education. That simply will not work.

What is Neuropath Learning?

Neuropath Learning is an education company that has created a series of 21st century early learning programs that develop critical thinking skills in young minds.
Neuropath Learning currently offers three online learning programs for elementary schools that can be easily incorporated into existing curriculum. These programs provide stimulus for knowledge application and synthesis, thinking strategies, social emotional development and cognitive growth that are relevant to the child and directly related to the context of the real world. The programs are designed to stimulate development of both left and right hemispheres of the brain in an attempt to create a more balanced and efficient brain. These programs also provide teachers with a tool for formative assessment of 21st century skills as well as academic standards.

Neuropath Learning programs are intended to be used for data-driven-decision-making which make them powerful RTI (response to intervention) tools for educators.

Neuropath Learning programs are:

Early Mind Matters: Special education and early education learning and assessment program. The EMM program assesses both perceptual skills as well as cognitive skills. It screens for visual processing and auditory processing problems as well as testing and training reasoning and thinking abilities.Some basic literacy and math skills are covered by this program but minimal reading skills are required to play the game. What is emphasized is the social/emotional and behavioral development of the child. This multimedia interactive software offers an alternative learning and testing environment for children who may or may not do well with traditional schooling. Student data from this program allows parents, teachers and caregivers to pinpoint with clarity where deficiencies in abilities or understanding may lie. Repeated practice of the weak skills through the use of this program also strengthens these skills. If cognitive weakness is the root of a particular student's learning or reading struggles, then cognitive testing and training is clearly the most promising approach to provide both immediate and long term answers. It is the only choice specifically designed to overcome barriers and unlock potential. EMM targets and strengthens cause/weakness.

Be School Ready: A preschool program designed to prepare children for kindergarten. Children using BSR get both an academic boost and a cognitive boost. Students who enter kindergarten ahead, stay ahead. BSR covers key early literacy and language skills, social skills and provides the child's brain with a broad array of stimuli required for proper development of essential skills. Children are engaged, they learn to focus, listen and attend better as well as build their memory capacity. In short BSR develops the fundamental skills required for efficient learning to occur. BSR is both a learning and assessment program. The early developmental data is important to preschool teachers and parents who often cannot gauge how much a child can do or know simply because they are not capable of taking a written test yet. BSR is entirely reality based with natural images, sounds and real human voices and has no "cartoon" visuals or computer generated audio content.

Knowledge First: This is a three part series of programs suitable for K-3 students, each one more advanced than the last. Students of all abilities can benefit from the Knowledge First. It identifies and corrects learning gaps in poor performing students and takes high performing students to an even higher level. Cognitive and academic exercises provide various problem solving challenges that motivate students to keep pushing the limits of their mind. These effective multimedia games build the parts of the brain involved in decision making, judgement and emotional intelligence. Cognitive capacity, including speed of reasoning, working memory are trained. Application of knowledge is demonstrated in the real world context, showing how it relates to the child. Learning productivity is greatly improved when Knowledge First programs are implemented in schools. Both right brain visual-spatial thinking strategies as well as left brain auditory-sequential thinking strategies are developed in the child brain through the use of this program which leads to better problem solving, critical thinking skills and creativity. Knowledge First covers state and national academic standards in literacy, language and math. It builds the reasoning and logical thinking skills that are required in science and math. KF data shows teachers and schools, a students strengths as well as their weaknesses and provides a comprehensive measurement of their abilities.

Neuropath Learning has shown that using this online learning environment, all children can learn. Students using the programs are noticeably more engaed than by any other learning process. School districts in Washington state and California have successfully used Neuropath Learning programs to close the achievement gap, effectively teach ESL/ELL, mainstream special education students and raise gifted learners. Neuropath Learning is partnering with cities to provide community wide access to our programs. This model is also under consideration for state-wide implementation. In 2010, an elementary school principal who has been using Neuropath Learning programs in her school for several years, received a national award from US secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, for closing the achievement gap at her school. Neuropath Learning is also building exciting new partnerships with national leaders in 21st century education reform. Visit the Neuropath Learning website for more information, demos of the programs, sample data charts and content related information on the learning and assessment activities today!