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21st-century learning

In Central Alabama at the junction of the coastal plains and the Piedmont Plateau, lies the swiftly growing, geographically diverse city of Auburn. Auburn boasts a nationally recognized school system that's as much a draw as the unique terrain and the anchoring presence of historic Auburn University.

In 2008 for the first time, laptops outsold desktops. In 2010 for the first time, smartphones outsold laptops.

"Yeah, but I don't have enough time."

"Yeah, but I can't do that and cover my content."

"Yeah, but what if it doesn't work?"

"Yeah, but that's not how it was when I went to school."

What do you hear when people say, "Yeah, but?" Resistance? If you listen differently, you can hear opportunity.

While tablet computers like the iPad get more attention, eBook readers—comparatively simpler devices designed specifically for reading electronic versions of books, magazines and newspapers—are currently selling in greater numbers and at a faster rate than tablets. E-book readers also hold much appeal for education, and for the same reasons they are increasing in popularity with consumers: ever-improving features and growing capabilities for displaying a variety of content, for a fraction of the price of most full-featured tablet PCs.

tree- social media

To the more than 600 million members of Facebook and the expanding legions of Twitter users, you can add a growing number of schools and districts. Whether communicating with parents and the public, enhancing classroom instruction and staff development, or rallying school spirit, administrators and teachers are beginning to leverage the interactive and multimedia features of social networks that have the added advantage of being widely and easily accessible—and free.

The Common Core State Standards are bringing some changes to curricula across the country—but not just in the classroom. School librarians are preparing for the shift and its new emphasis on 21st-century skills including information literacy, primary resources, independent thinking and complex texts. The New York City Department of Education—the nation's largest school system—is relying on its library staff to implement these standards in the coming years.


Some technology experts, including Will Richardson, a well-known social media blogger, say that social media has some value right now, but it's just a first step. He believes that schools in America are still way behind the business world, including journalism, in terms of how social media is used for learning. "We're not yet at the point where it's really altering the landscape, and much of that is because the assessments just want to keep measuring information and knowledge, not learning and skills," says Richardson, who is also a columnist for District Administration.

Girl doing chemistry exercise

Three years ago, sophomore environmental science students at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia needed a problem to solve. But they weren't just looking for any old problem; they wanted a big one, a real-life one that could make a difference in the world—one that would challenge them to be creative, to work in teams, to think and plan and build, and, by the way, to allow them to meet all of the state and local standards for the class.

I like the name of Maine's 2002 pioneering one-to-one program, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI). It has the word "learning" in it, and that's exactly what it takes from many players to implement the approximately 3,000 one-to-one programs across the nation and to make them successful.

Mark Edwards compares the start of school to Christmas. That's when the superintendent of the Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District, north of Charlotte, says the district invites students in grades 4 through 12 to pick up a gift: their own laptop for the academic year.

"It's extremely exciting to see the look on students' faces," Edwards says. "Last year I heard numerous students say—a week before school starts—'I wish school was starting tomorrow.' I thought, 'I've never heard that before.'"