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Takeaways from the P21 Institute and 21st Century Skills Best Practices Forum

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (p21) Institute in Stowe, Vermont.  To be honest, I’m still unpacking a lot of what I learned during this event, but here are a few takeaways that I am ready to share:

Vermont Qr Codes:

Everywhere I went, I saw QR Codes!  They were in the hotel, on receipts I received and in window shop displays. The most helpful ones for me were contained on a “cell phone walking tour” of beautiful little Stowe, Vermont.  Small placards, like the one pictured, are located all over Stowe.   As an accidental tourist who was on the hunt for postcards, but had no idea where to look, I *loved* being able to scan a qr code and learn about this gorgeous New England town as I explored – all the while thinking about how I could create my own “walking tour” of the library.  What fun!

World’s Collide.  And It Might Just Be Okay: For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Partnership For 21st Century Skills is, truly, a diverse group of education reformers.  The group is made up of business leaders, heads of non-profits, politicians and, of course, educators – but, to be honest, the more time I spent talking to the people at p21, the more difficult it was for me to figure out which was which.  In the end, despite their diverse backgrounds, everyone there had one incredibly important thing in common: a shared desire to make education better for today’s students.  I bring this up because so much of the talk in education reform these days appears to pit educators against non-educators (and vice versa).   It seems like there’s some pervasive themes in the stories that cover the collision of these two worlds: a) big business is trying to take over and privatize education b) people who are not teachers know nothing about teaching/learning and c) card carrying educators should be both afraid and suspect of anyone who is not a teacher but who wants to contribute to the conversation. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on any of this.  Furthermore, I can totally understand (and even relate to) the fear.  However, in the end, I find myself reminded ofthat episode of Seinfeld in which George Costanza’s two worlds ("relationship George" and "independent George") threaten to collide – the result, in his mind, being absolutely catastrophic. What I fear is that, like George, many educators are so afraid of what will happen if the education world collides with the business/political one, that they’re missing out on opportunities for conversation and collaboration.  To be honest, I don't know if this is a zero-sum game, but it seems to me that an "us vs. them" mentality only results in one loser: students.

Connecting The Dots: While I have some issues and (several) questions regarding p21’s framework for 21st century learning, I do think its focus on non-cognitive skills is right on the money.   Today’s assessment driven/bubble the right answer model of education leaves little room for inquiry, discovery, innovation and failure.  That said, one thing that p21 gets right, in my book, is an emphasis on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration, or the “four Cs,” which they stress as being essential in preparing students for life beyond the classroom.  What’s more, p21 not only recognizes, but also actively promotes the library media center as an important player in developing these critical skills within the school.  How refreshing!  As part of this effort, p21 has put together a tool kit which aligns their framework for 21st century learning with the new Common Core Standards.  In other words, what the tool kit seeks to do is provide teachers with a resource that shows them how to teach the standards through inquiry based learning that emphasizes the “four Cs.” While I haven’t had a chance to really unpack the whole thing, I can already see lots of connections between what I do and what they have outlined.  If nothing else, I see potential to use the tool kit as a way to help teachers connect the dots between the Common Core Standards and the learning that takes place in the library.  (The tool kit should be available for download soon – I will link to it as soon as it is).

A Foursquare Victory:

Lately I’ve been questioning my use of social geotagging services like Foursquare.  While I’ve never been afraid that someone will see that I’m at Starbucks and decide to burglarize my home while I get a latte, I have been a little concerned about what contribution these services make to the noise in my (and other people’s) lives.  Even so, I did a lot of "checking in" while I was in Vermont - which not only resulted in free ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s (you get a free tour if you show them your check-in) but these virtual map pins also afforded me the chance to meet and spend a few minutes with library superstar @bethredford who saw that I was having coffee in her hometown before hopping a plane homeward.  After a couple of quick tweets, she and I were chatting like old pals in the Vermont sunshine before I headed south.  Without foursquare this wouldn’t have happened, so I might stick with it for a little while longer.  (My apologies to those who don’t care where I am).

Finally, as Doug Johnson recently reflected after returning from ISTE this year, "the best part of [attending conferences] always has been and always will be catching up with old friends, getting to know colleagues better, and meeting new people the professional networking."  Even though this was a decidedly non-library event, I did get to meet a few really REALLY smart, funny and talented librarians who I hope to bump into again soon. Librarianship is an incredibly generous and increasingly connected profession.  I look forward to watching the seeds that were planted in Vermont blossom into lasting professional connections in the future.


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