Transforming 21st century education

Many educators support by now the notion of student-directed learning , where teaching is no longer about the teacher lecturing and the students absorbing information. We’re highly aware of the benefits from cross-curricular studies, blending science and math, for example, or incorporating music into a literature class. Thus, begging the question: Why is it still so often we rely on the same traditional model - where we separate subjects and lessons plans- to effectively teach?

Two reasons come to mind.

First, because it works, relatively speaking. We shuffle students through the curriculum, they learn lessons, take tests, and graduate with a satisfactory foundation of knowledge and skills. Adequate. Enough to survive, to continue on to pursue higher education, for the most part.

More recently, however, we have started to recognize that this foundation of knowledge and skills is not up to par. Rote memorization is not enough. We must attempt to inspire creativity and innovation, training our students to employ what they know in real-life situations. Our students aren’t as proficient in critical thinking, teamwork and inquiry - all of which are paramount for success.

Secondly, we also abide by established guidelines because we are unsure how to initiate change. Currently, we are lagging behind in adapting new frameworks that prioritize cross-curricular connections, student self-efficacy, and inquiry-based learning. As we move into the 21st century we must provide our students the skills necessary to succeed in this ever-changing global environment.

Imagination is more important than knowledge, according to Einstein.Students today require a learning environment where the skills and enthusiasm they bring to the classroom are understood and incorporated into the teachers’ pedagogical practices. If we are to sufficiently prepare our students for life in a 21st century global society, education must blend digital and conventional instructional methods into a comprehensive approach to teaching and learning.

As we approach the end of another school year, it’s a good time to consider the opportunity teachers have in ushering in a new era of educational excellence.

To be a teacher is to be a leader, a learner, and a change agent.

Inside the classroom, teachers make important decisions that impact the lives of their students on a daily basis. They try to engage with their students, while catering to learning needs on an individual basis. But in order to transform schools, teachers must be willing to go beyond the classroom. They need to become thought leaders, challenge the status quo, and not just articulate what change looks like- they must show it. By establishing a culture of change, presenting clearly defined goals, and asking the tough questions teachers are in the position to help guide the transformation.

How can this be achieved? Making small instructional changes can make a tremendous impact. For example, beginning each lesson or unit by allowing students to question the content first allows them to answer their own questions throughout the lesson or unit. By beginning with questioning, students often take more ownership in their work and have increased engagement with the content. (For questioning strategies try the Question Formulation Technique or I see, I think, I wonder).

Another small instructional change teachers can work in to their classroom is incorporating collaboration daily. By having student to student or student to teacher collaboration, teachers help students engage in meaningful conversation, questioning, and debate. Collaboration can take place with students researching the answers to the questions they create on the content, planning and carrying out an investigation, discussing content they are learning, or creating a presentation on content to teach to the class. Try using the Jigsaw strategy to allow for discussion and research or a discussion strategy like the Triad Conversation to facilitate discussions during a learning session .

Change is hard and often quite messy. Educators have to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and start asking themselves how they can be agents of change. Instead of doing more, focus on doing different. Take chances and welcome diversity. While this may seem daunting and difficult, it can also be fulfilling and exciting.


Edee is Social communicator @ Newschool.

Newschool is striving to driving change and invites you to come learn from a model that works. In cooperation with the Kaospilot Learning Design Agency, we offer a three day Masterclass workshop where 21st century learning takes the lead. More info here:



This past April, the Newschool team participated in and helped facilitate a three-day Design Thinking Workshop at the University of Western Macedonia in Florina, Greece. Other participants were teachers from across Europe: Spain, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, and Norway.

By providing a way to solve problems, Design Thinking is the nexus between learning, feeling and making. The ability to create and innovate is inside of any person willing to search, question and envision the future. During this three-day workshop, we explored the instructional philosophy, tools and activities that nurture essential innovative thinking. Each facilitator presented different strategies and skills necessary to build creative, collaborative, and design-minded classrooms.

The looming question for teachers in regards to Design Thinking is often, “How do I incorporate this into my classroom?” This workshop’s purpose was to convey Design Thinking in an educational environment: a workflow. Teachers learned how to use the same processes designers use to creatively solve problems in the curriculum, and were provided with guidelines for developing and testing ideas, then shown how to put those principles into practice.

The way that we introduce Design Thinking in the classroom is through a game called “Empatheia,” where each player is challenged to build a carriage for the King & Queen of a medieval village. In order to complete the game successfully, however, players can’t simply “play” the game. Instead, with the Design Thinking approach at the helm, they have to “build” the game. The Design Thinking process is iterative and user-centered, by supporting creativity and innovation. This combination of problem-solving roots and deep empathy for the player is successful at showcasing relevant solutions for problems encountered along the way.  

The ChangeMaker’s Game is now in its beta form. In the tech world, the term beta refers to software or other products that have not yet been perfected, but are launched to the public for a sort of trial run.

Aside from the game being a learning experience, discoveries can also be made using offline activities that ground students into the Design Thinking process. Thus, students learn to be flexible, approachable, and responsive to requests made of them. Success depends on it. This means they learn how to be outward-looking instead of inward-looking. They learn to fulfill the emotional needs of the “people” they are building the carriage for.

The value of “getting your hands dirty” comes especially during the final and in-depth analysis of the finished carriage. Students are encouraged to discover that there is a non-linear, non-sequential process in delivering their final product. Each stage can be conducted in any order, concurrently or even parallel to one another.

Participating in this workshop extended beyond preaching the perks of Design Thinking as a learning approach alone. It also shed light on how teaching within those same parameters supports the thought, “Perfect is the enemy of good enough.”

Perfection the first time around has long been the expectation within the educational sphere. When educators “don’t get it,” they brush aside the idea, try out the next, and repeat the cycle. It’s vicious and de-motivating, adding an extra layer to what is already a challenging profession.

Imagine if educators worldwide adopted Design Thinking, if every attempt at something new were treated as the first in a series of iterations - repetitions of a process with the goal of making improvements each time around. In layman’s terms, “teaching in beta.”

Our hypothesis: Teaching quality and job fulfillment would both improve.

At Newschool, we believe educators are designers. Changemakers. They design and influence spaces, materials and experiences. And we believe it’s time we start thinking of them that way.

“Compassion in tandem with a beginner’s mind helps us translate empathy into action. If we instill a sense of duty toward users in our designs, we can align our products with the humans who use them - and perhaps improve their lives along the way.” Eli Woolery, DesignBetter.Co

Edee is Social Communicator @ Newschool.


Forget homo zappïens - digital natives still need teaching

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Myth busting time.

  • Information-savvy digital natives do not exist.

Don´t kill the messenger. According to P. A. Kirschner and P. D. Bruyckere (in Teach. Teach. Educ.67, 135–142; 2017) , there is no such thing as a digital native who is information-skilled simply because (s)he has never known a world that was not digital.  The “homo zappïens” is a myth, just as the Yeti is.

It turns out that the youngsters today, although digitally active, still need teaching to become digitally literate : in using technology to support their learning they seldom go beyond a passive consumption of information(e.g. Wikipedia, downloading lecture notes or reading their social media feed). Students today indeed use a large quantity and variety of technologies for communication, learning, staying connected with their friends and engaging with the world around them, but they are using them primarily for personal empowerment and entertainment.

The non-existence of digital natives is definitely not the ‘reason’ why students today are disinterested at and even ‘alienated’ by school. This lack of interest and alienation may be the case, but the causes stem from quite different things such as the fact that diminished concentration and the loss of the ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli may be attributed to constant task switching between different devices.

Which brings me to my second point.

  1. Learners cannot multitask; they task-switch, which negatively impacts learning.

Remember those pesky teachers who insisted you cannot do two things at once? They are actually right.

The same article presents evidence that one of the alleged abilities of students in this generation, the ability to multitask, does not exist and that designing education that assumes the presence of this ability hinders rather than helps learning.

What students are indeed good at , is switch quickly and apparently seamlessly from one activity to another. The key word here is ‘apparently’:

When task-switching, a person first shifts the goal and thus makes a ‘decision’ to divert attention away from the task being carried out to another task...It has been broadly shown that rapid switching behaviour, when compared to carrying out tasks serially, leads to poorer learning results in students and poorer performance of the tasks being carried out.

Moreover, those who many considered “skilled”, or the heavy multitaskers who think can listen to class, and be on Snapchat, and have meaningful conversations, actually perform worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely because they are less able to filter out interference from irrelevant cues.

Even adults are very poor at this, and this actually impairs their productivity greatly. Multi-tasking is  allegedly worse for your brain then smoking marijuana...

Why does all this matter?

  1. Educational design assuming these myths hinders rather than helps learning.

Did you ever hear someone say that teachers of these digital natives are digital immigrants who, through their lack of digital knowledge and skills, impede the natives' learning?

Well, they are wrong. To succeed, edtech must be at the service of teaching, not the other way around.  Education software is not making teaching obsolete, but makes the craft of a teacher even more important.

This does not mean, of course, that technology in the classroom is a bad idea, rather that the task of the teacher in a classroom where the presence of tablets and laptop can be disturbing is to know when and where technology should be present. A good idea for the digitally active  students is allowing a backchannel or a chatroom where they can go back to read instructions, share links, get back on track and reinforce task setting. Another one is to add off-screen learning extensions that students love, as for example in Zinc, where teachers often use the application during the first 10-15 minutes of class to get students into “study mode,” especially after lunch, and then direct the kids to read the rest of the text offline.

Teachers hold the key to both embracing and letting go of technological advances, and learning how to achieve focus should be included in the curriculum. The naturally occurring (i.e., not learned) acquisition of the metacognitive skills necessary for a multitude of learning strategies is simply not there, and needs to be taught, just like other relevant skills.

Mihaela is knowledge curator and co-founder of Newschool, embracing methods and developing tools that help students and teachers develop skills for the 21 st century.  

Seal of Excellence

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After strenuous paperwork, we just received good and welcome news from the EU: Our application for Horizon 2020 has been awarded the so-called Seal Of Excellence. The seal is a new arrangement for projects that satisfy all demands needed in order to be approved. As the European Union has allocated all its funds in the project, the recognition in practice serves as a recommendation for national funding. newSchool have received assurance of funding from Innovation Norway.  

LeanLearn and newschool at Austin Tech For Schools Summit

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We had two busy days at EdSurge´s Austin Tech for Schools Summit.  EdTech Leaders day (September 30th) was largely attended by superintendents, directors of curriculum & instruction, and instructional technology officers. All Educators day (October 1st) was largely attended by teachers, site administrators, and site support staff. We had conversations with more than 50 educators and decision makers after testing LeanLearn, and they all provided us with very valuable feedback, some of which lead us in new directions.


We received very positive product reviews although our product is still in beta version. These EdTech leaders gave us a clear message that we also need to open up for students being able to upload their own content. We also got many request for using this tool for Project Work. So after Austin we got a confirmation on the following:

  1. We need a better interface to edit content in LeanLearn (that is why its still in beta)
  2. We will create a new version of the tool that is targeting Group and project work TeamLearn

So thank you EdSurge and all teachers & leaders providing us with all this valuable feedback that speeds up our learning dramatically. We also look forward to launching several new pilots in the Austin area next year.


More chaos in education, please!

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Chaos, complexity and failing forward is something start-ups do. Order, structure and properly measured learning is what serious educational institutions stand for. Are they really so contradictory?

I recently spent three days in Århus, Denmark, at the Kaospilot`s master class for educators, where we were challenged, thrown into chaos, exposed to our own and others´ feelings, and made to think about it. And only AFTER all that, were we given tools to navigate complexity together, and tools to design programs that are based on experiential and team learning.

In the start-up world, serial entrepreneurs are considered the best entrepreneurs. They learn from experience, and they learn from their teams. They learn from their mistakes, they are forced to act with as little information as possible (how little is enough?), or to frenetically search for information when they realize they do not know. And boy, do they remember those lessons! Although many entrepreneurs have mentors, teams are also a core factor in succeeding, teams that are aligned, have commitment to each other and to a clear direction. And where there is a very high degree of trust between the members.

Schools are in a way like start-ups. Their product, “educated children”, have to be prepared for the big unknown out there, with the proper tools to navigate it. Today`s teachers an students alike know very little about tomorrow`s workplaces, they have to act with as little information as possible (how little is enough?). Yet too often students are served “content” or “relevant knowledge“on a plate and do not actively search for information they do not know. Do they really remember those lessons?

Schools could be organized more like start-ups. Chaos, complexity and failing forward do not exactly describe a schools`culture, although it can be very constructive. Research shows that the best predictor for performance in education is the belief “Yes I can” or “Yes I know”. That belief comes from experiencing equally what I can and what I cannot do , what I know and what I don´t, then finding solutions to that, guided by a mentor and helped by my team of peers. This belief that I know own level, my personal best, and I am constantly challenged on that, gives a fantastic feeling of empowerment and drives students forward.

Our vision for schools is more learning from experience and less learning from books/ebooks. More learning with tools then from tools. More learning from team/peers, and less teaching. More “start-up” schools , and proper tools to navigate that constructive chaos.

Please let me know what you think at