through complex communications.
Third, the student must use what he or
she learns to produce something. This
product might be simply a new idea or
an understanding that synthesizes the
concepts learned, or it might be an
actual product for real-world use.
As we have worked with schools and
teachers around the United States to
develop rich, authentic learning units
and activities for 21st century learning,
we have had success with a backwards
design process similar to that developed
by Wiggins and Mc Tighe (2006). We
encourage educators to do the
1. Start with the academic standards.
Know specifically what students should
know and be able to do and what sort
of performance might demonstrate that
knowledge or skill.
2. Ask the question, Who cares about
this content? Try to identify some
professional who, in the course of his or
her daily work, might apply this knowledge or skill. Think creatively. For
example, a medical researcher might use
math standards related to probability to
analyze the results of testing on the
effectiveness of a new drug.
3. Once you select a professional role,
identify a task for which this professional might use the targeted skill or
knowledge. Try to select a task that
would be appropriate and motivating
4. Identify content from other disciplines that might be integrated to make
the learning more efficient.
5. Identify 21st century skills—
information literacy, visual communications,
and so on—that might be developed
and assessed in the context of the
6. Think about the tools and technologies of the 21st century that might
contribute to the final product.
For example, one school in California
looked at the state’s six social studies
standards on ancient Greece through
Resources for Learning Online
Technology Entertainment Design (TED), www.ted.com
This site contains videos from the annual TED conference, which brings together
“the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers.” More than 400 of the conference’s best talks and performances are available free on the Web site, with more
added each week. Teachers can use these videos to spark student interest and
discussion in many subject areas. History students can view historian Doris Kearns
Goodwin talking about what we can learn from U.S. presidents, including Abraham
Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson. Math students can view “ethno-mathematician” Ron
Eglash exploring the fractal patterns underpinning architecture, art, and design in
many parts of Africa.
This site, created by a collaborative community of Harvard scientists, teaching
faculty, students, and multimedia professionals, contains video clips and animations
related to biology, including the eight-minute animation “The Inner Life of a Cell.”
Learn Bird Songs! www.learnbirdsongs.com
Created by a nature photographer and writer, this site contains recordings of bird
songs as well as information about habitats and bird species.
Online Courses and Learning Units
MITOpenCourse Ware, http://ocw.mit.edu
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a free publication of course materials reflecting almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT, a
total of 1,900 courses. Materials include course syllabi, lecture notes, assignments,
exams, and audio and video lectures. Teachers can incorporate parts of these
courses into the curriculum to spark learning and engage students. (For example, at
http://ocw.mit.edu/Ocw Web/web/courses/instructors/lewin/ lewin.htm, you can
access the 36 entertaining demonstrations by 71-year-old physics professor Walter
Lewin. In a typical presentation, he teaches the laws of motion by swinging back
and forth on the stage of the lecture hall seated on the ball of a pendulum.)
Facilitated through Rice University, this site is “a place to view and share educational material made of small knowledge chunks called modules that can be organized as courses, books, reports, ” and so on. Anyone may view or contribute, and
there are currently more than 12,000 learning modules on the site. For example, a
unit on African message drums for early primary students is “suitable for inclusion
in a unit on music, percussion, communication, history, or world cultures.”
Web-Based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE), www.wise.berkeley.edu
This online learning environment sponsored by the University of California,
Berkeley, enables students in grades 5–12 to examine real-world evidence and
analyze current scientific controversies by designing and debating solutions. The
learning modules, designed to take about one week, cover such areas as global
climate change, hybrid cars, genetics, and recycling. All modules are free.