Given the well publicized concerns about the performance of public education, it is disheartening to see how few schools are taking advantage of the proven power of authentic, student-directed learning. The reason is not a lack of information. A rich array of resources are available, and one can see the results at many pioneering schools across the country. This section will highlight some of the more useful resources.
Keep in mind that true student-directed learning is a major paradigm shift from conventional education. Forget the assumption that one can copy another model exactly or just buy a predetermined curriculum and follow it precisely. Every school must mold the approach to its own environment. In fact, schools need to become learning organizations that are constantly evaluating and improving.
Ted Dintersmith, the force behind the film Most Likely to Succeed and the book What School Could Be, maintains a regularly updated collection of video examples and related resources on his website that help anyone understand what is needed in education today and different ways schools are moving in that direction. Ted has devoted most of his life and many of his resources since he retired in an attempt to encourage and support a seriously needed transformation in education. Access his Innovation Playlist here: Innovation Playlist
Hewlett Foundation Deeper Learning Network
Several years ago the Hewlett Foundation selected 10 schools or networks of schools that the foundation believed were on the leading edge of 21st Century learning practices. The foundation coined the term “Deeper Learning” to reflect the learning beyond academics into critical thinking and problem solving. It has invested in helping these schools and trying to capture the lessons from each so others cam implement them.
Note that all ten of these partners vary in how they create their learning environment. However, the foundation identified six core competencies that are common to all and thus define Deeper Learning:
- Master core academic content
- Think critically and solve complex problems
- Work collaboratively
- Communicate effectively
- Learn how to learn
- Develop academic mindsets
From this work, Deeper Learning has come to be the term used most often to characterize the kinds of authentic, student-directed learning featured on this website. There are many related resources.
For a brochure listing the basics of Deeper Learning, and highlighting each of the ten members of the Deeper Learning Network, click here.
See a website set up for Deeper Learning at deeperlearning4all.org.
Teaching Channel Series on Deeper Learning
Under sponsorship from the Hewlett Foundation, the Teaching Channel created a pretty extensive series of videos describing all ten members of the Deeper Learning Network and many of the learning goals and approaches they use. Acccess this series at
View the overview video highlighting the common approaches and distinguishing features of each school.
PBL Works (formerly the Buck Institute for Education) is one of the leading resources for professional development on project based learning. In reality, many educators add projects to their curriculum thinking they are doing project-based learning, which has a strong research base to show its benefit. PBL Works has defined what they call Gold Standard PBL that represents the practice shown to be so successful. They have examples and information on their website. It has series of guidebooks that are very good, and it also offers courses that have teachers experience PBL.
See the PBL Works website at www.pblworks.org.
Getting Smart/BIE Initiative on a Project Based World
Getting Smart, with support from the Buck Institute, has recently started a campaign “It’s a
Project-Based World.” This campaign is exploring the economic realities of a project-based world as part of the equity movement to ensure all students are prepared for college, career, and citizenship. They are creating a number of good resources.
See the Getting Smart website at www.gettingsmart.com, or the campaign page at www.gettingsmart.com/its-a-project-based-world.
Some documents that are very helpful include:
- Preparing Students for a Project-Based World
- Preparing Teachers for a Project-Based World
- Really Ready: Preparing All Students for College, Work, and Life
P21 and EdLeader21
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is one of the first industry-led consortia to try to define how learning must change in the 21st Century. This group identified the 4Cs, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity, as the new 21st Century competencies, as well as a more complete framework that identifies both student outcomes and support systems. Among other things, P21 selects and promotes Exemplar Schools that are moving toward 21st Century learning.
EdLeader21 is a national network of school and district leaders focused on integrating the 4Cs into education. It is essentially a professional learning community for school districts working on incorporating these 21st Century skills. It was formed by the founders of P21 to support implementation. The members are at different stages of progress, and probably none of them comes close to what students experience at the Deeper Learning Network schools. Nevertheless, school districts starting down this path are encouraged to contact EdLeader21 for the benefits of a like-minded community of practice.
Edutopia is a website set up by the George Lucas Educational Foundation in 1991. It’s goal is to to identify and spread innovative, replicable and evidence-based approaches to helping K-12 students learn better. It has become a tremendous resource for commentary, practice papers, videos, and more.
Edutopia has a growing number of video case studies in a series SchoolsThat Work that highlights practices and case studies from K-12 schools and districts that are improving the way students learn. Many of the Deeper Learning schools are featured, as well as related practices.
Edutopia also has a series on Project-Based Learning that has a wealth of videos, informative documents, research references, and links to other related resources.
NGLC MyWays Project
The MyWays Project of Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) asks the four big questions challenging public education in the United States today and distills oceans of research to bring you trustworthy answers and actionable ideas.
WHY the urgent need for fundamental change? WHAT competencies must students develop to succeed in a world of accelerating change? HOW can schools enable students to build this broader, deeper set of competencies? HOW can they measure progress, in ways that support the learning?
The centerpiece of this initiative is the MyWays Student Success Framework, a synthesis of 20 competencies for success in learning, work, and life. Use the framework, tools, and community you’ll find there to launch your school-change initiative and reimagine your learning and assessment designs. The value of MyWays lies primarily in the rich discussions, collaborative development, and transformative culture-building it can catalyze within your team, school, district, and community.
This website has a growing set of tools that draw from many sources and help schools create a modern learning environment. This kind of work must be designed collaboratively for each district or situation. So think of MyWays as more of a helpful friend than a blueprint; more of a conversation than a report; more journey than destination.