Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the New York iSchool (thanks to Teachers Network for organising it). It was great to see 21st Century skills in a learning reality. This unique high school was established last Summer by the NYC Department of Education as part of their New Vision for Public Schools initiative.
NYC iSchool provides a college preparatory curriculum to its 108 9th grade students. While at first it looked like the students were lounging around the common area web surfing and listening to music, they were in fact engaged in project work (and they don’t ban ipods and mobile phones). The focus is on cross curricular study of real-world problems, individualized learning, and on-line coursework.
Technology is used to facilitate project based learning, team collaboration and access to a wide ranging curriculum despite having only 7 teaching staff (1 x Maths, 2 x Science, 2 x Humanities, 1 x Special Education and 1 x Guidance Counsellor). Netbook carts allow one to one computing for project work, higher end laptops for digital media work, interactive whiteboards for teaching and video conferencing for connecting to the outside world.
Uniquely, the school has two co-principals who each bring different dimensions to the school leadership. One of them, Alisa Berger told us of their emphasis on student project management skills to work on projects that have purpose and meaning for the learners. We got it straight from the students , they take responsibility for their own learning and look on the teacher as their guide and manager rather than as the person with all the answers. They really like being able to make learning choices, take responsibility for what they learn and by do they have their eye on the project targets and deadlines.
It’s refreshing to see policy makers willing to put 21st Century skills “theory” into practice…