My Vision for the 21st Century School

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

A school facility is too expensive to operate only part of the year; therefore the 21st century school is designed to operate year round. The school day or time the school is open is at least twelve hours per day. Staff work on different shifts in order to efficiently use resources. Students attend at times scheduled in conjunction with their parents. Students can also access some instruction from their homes.

Obviously individual students do not attend all the hours the school is available. Students, in fact, attend at different times and different lengths of time in order to have the maximum learning take place.

schoolhouse_day_night7Students, with the help of the school, schedule family vacations when all the members of the family have common vacation windows. Such vacations can happen at any time of the year. In fact, if a family is vacationing at a historical site such as the Grand Canyon, Washington, DC, Europe or Asia, the school can work with the student and family to document the vacation and share such results in the school library of vacation experiences. If the family is attending the Olympics, the student might even report back to the school events from their viewpoint. For example, my ten-year-old granddaughter attended my wife’s burial in Arlington Cemetery. She produced a slide show on the history of Arlington Cemetery and discussed who could be buried there. Her grandmother had been a Navy Corpsman in World War II. The service included a 21-gun salute and a formal Navy internment. She shared this with her class in Pennsylvania when she returned home. Obviously, family vacations can be extended learning experiences.

Dr. Margaret S. Withrow, author of Auditorily Augmented Interactive Three-dimensional Television as an Aid to Language Learning Among Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children: Final Report (1980), is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Dr. Margaret S. Withrow, author of Auditorily Augmented Interactive Three-dimensional Television as an Aid to Language Learning Among Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children: Final Report (1980) and a Navy Corpsman in World War II, is buried at Arlington Cemetery.

The 21st century school contains a range of learning environments that includes classrooms, small team rooms, laboratories, technology centers and digital libraries as well as gyms and sports fields. In addition, schools have camping facilities that can be used year round. Schools have shops where students can create various projects they have designed. School auditoriums are used for community meetings so that the school becomes a center of community activities. 

Middle schools have a range of shops open to both boys and girls. Woodworking, metalworking, electronics, and publishing are the resources available to middle school learners

Teachers in a 21st century school are mentors, tutors, lecturers and work with each student to manage a wide range of technical and human resources to enable each student to reach his or her learning goals. The modern school is learner centered and efficiently uses human and technological resources to meet the needs of every learner.

The 21st century school is more humanized and takes better advantage of the world’s vast storehouse of information. A tutor engaged in computer-based lessons, for example, guides a student studying the Chinese language. The student talks with a native Chinese speaker via SKYPE weekly as well as engages in computer based Chinese lessons.

Teams of middle school students design and build a robot that can pick up trash and deposit it in containers. Teams of students compete to determine the best-designed robot.

robot rubbish

The schools have video studios where students write and perform their own dramatic plays or enact existing plays. The studio can provide daily student information created by students.

There are also traditional classrooms where a wide range of lectures and discussion take place. The emphasis is on student participation.

Part of the learning experience in the school requires students to maintain the school. This means students are assigned to kitchen and general house cleaning duties.

Some students attend from 8 AM to 3PM, others from 10 AM to 5 PM and still others from Noon to 7 PM. Individual students require more or less time based on their needs. Learning management systems fit the needs of each learner. Staff and resources are assigned as needed. Each student has an individual learning plan and the human and technical resources needed to achieve their goals.

The 21st century school is learner-centric and assigns the staff, technology and time needed for each student to reach their goals. Parents are involved in each child’s journey through their learning experience. Students receive awards for accomplishing certain benchmarks in their learning plans. They even have award sashes like the scouts merit badges that can be worn on special school days.

Parents are included in the development of each child’s learning plan.

The teacher . . .

There are few jobs that are more rewarding and essential to a healthy society. Whether you are a preschool teacher or a senior physics professor at MIT, you are important and see the future of the nation in the eyes of your students. If as teacher you give the gift of literacy to young students, you are opening the world to them. If as a history teacher you create in children an understanding of yesterday, today and tomorrow, you are creating the foundations for tomorrow’s world. Teachers have enormous responsibilities as they open the eyes and minds of their pupils to the realities and potentials of the world. An excellent teacher will understand a student’s needs and abilities and open the world to that student. Teachers are the doorways to tomorrow. Through a teacher’s skills the young will learn the principles of the world of science, the thoughts and actions of great minds of the past and be able to dream of a better world.

The skills to impart mankind’s experiences and accomplishments of the past ensure that we build upon that experience for a better tomorrow as we seek a more perfect union.

The classroom . . .

Each classroom has a large-screen Apple television set. Each learner has an iPad that is accessible to his or her learning modules via their fingerprints. Each learner has an individualized learning plan. Each learner interacts with the Apple large-screen television in the classroom. The teacher has access to a relevant library of learning materials. For example, the class is studying how certain toys will react in the weightlessness of space. Teams and or individuals predict their reactions and then see them demonstrated by astronauts in the weightlessness of space.

In another class, learners are asked to develop a Constitution for a proposed multination habitat on Mars. The teachers call for dramatic films of the creation of the US and other Constitutions. The Mars habitat will have astronauts from the USA, China, Russia and Europe. How can they create a Constitution that is relevant to Mars and workable with these diverse populations? Teams of learners examine each participating nation and create relevant input. The teams present their findings, enter into larger class discussions, and eventually seek final approval of their Mars Constitution. Fellow classmates that are in their physical class and online students working with various teams are then asked to ratify the Constitution.

Learners in some of the teams are asked to create games for an Olympics on Mars. Such games must meet the gravity and other physical conditions of Mars. The teams create an animated video of how they think such games would be played in a Mars environment.

Learners in still another class are challenged to recreate the Lewis and Clark expedition to discover the West. One of the teams produces a dramatization of the trip that includes the need for provisions and supplies and how they obtained them.

The library . . .

This is an inquiry based digital resource system that allows learners to retrieve print, audio, and video materials in segments that are complete or in units that are relevant to their needs. For example, a learner is studying Lincoln and retrieves the entire Lincoln movie or segments as needed. In fact, she engages in a conversation with the characters in the movie. In science, another learner retrieves short demonstrations and discussions with astronauts and other scientists.

The 21st Century School is learner centric with enough safeguards to increase available human and technical resources when and if a learner is falling behind

One Response

  1. This vision is a bit Utopian, but that’s what visions often are.

    I don’t think that having school operate year-round is unreasonable. Some countries do that now. A small number of short vacations makes more sense for learning than one very large one.

    Having schools open longer hours also makes sense. I’m not sure about 12 hours, but certainly more than today. Tossing children out of school at 3 pm is harsh in today’s world.

    I’ve seen schools in poor neighborhoods keeping their libraries open after the school ends so children could use the computers and have a safe place to stay.

    Having students attend at different times may not work out so well. Clearly, this depends on the details. If not structured in some way, it will lead to chaos instead of good learning. A good structure can allow for the issues that families have now and help students who do better earlier or later in the day.

    Both year-round and extended hours cost extra money. Both will help our children. Isn’t it worth it? Fight back against those who simply try to lower taxes without any regard for consequences. Support education before defense. One new fighter jet costs more than most school district’s budgets. Without good education, our country will fail no matter how many jet fighters we have.

    I don’t buy into every single piece of Frank’s vision, but I do support its spirit.

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