School Education in the 21st Century

When I was growing up, our school education was simple. The teacher stood at the front of the class and spoke and the students listened. If any student was having trouble learning in school, they received extra classes. They could be remedial lessons, tuition, or anything that repeated the instruction to help them grasp the concepts of the material taught in school. There wasn’t a lot of thought given to the way we learn or how we learn best. The teacher taught and the students learned – it was as simple as that.

old school education

Image Source: Pinterest

Education in the 21st century has changed. We have learned so much more about the brain:

  • There are differences in the brain between the various stages of development from early childhood to adolescence to adulthood.
  • These differences in the brain can affect our children’s learning.
  • There is evidence showing what methods are working and what aren’t.

So what is neuroscience saying about the brain, learning, and what we should be doing in school? There is a terrific article from Edweek that highlights all of this which I highly recommend reading in its entirety. These are the salient points:

What we SHOULD do in school:

school classroom design

Image Source: Pinterest

What we should NOT do in school:

  • Teach largely through lectures and textbooks because this method does not engage the adolescent emotional brain which is important for learning.
  • Publicly post grades and test results because it shames and humiliates students in front of their peers (because teenagers value peer opinion very highly).
  • Lock students into a set academic program aimed at driving them towards specific college/university programs because it robs them of the chance to decide what interests them most.
  • Removing or cutting back on physical education  and recess opportunities in order to increase time devoted towards academic studies.

What is your school doing?

So what is your school doing? Are they making changes or are they still stuck in the 20th century style of education?


Minecraft Education in the Classroom

Minecraft – whether you love it or hate it, there are two things you cannot deny:

With G1 getting into Java with Minecraft and Youth Digital, I thought it was time to learn more about increasing our educational experience with Minecraft. Since children learn best when they’re fully engaged, it made sense to use a medium so near and dear to my son’s heart.

The following infographic by Fractus Learning is a great place to start. It shows 25 ways that Minecraft is being used in classrooms around the world:

Minecraft Education

Image Source: Minecraft in the Classroom by Fractus Learning

I’ve always known that Minecraft was educational, but I had no idea that you could learn stuff like quantum mechanics, molecular chemistry, circuits and logic gates, and Rube Goldberg Machines! Now that’s not for the faint of heart.

Quantum Mechanics with Minecraft Education

Thanks to Caltech and Google, Minecrafters can learn about quantum mechanics through the mod Qcraft.

Qcraft is free to download and can be used by any licensed Minecraft or MinecraftEdu user. They also have a free Qcraft curriculum (MinecraftEdu only) for introducing quantum physics and computing concepts to students in Middle School (Grade 6 to 8) and above. The curriculum currently contains three lessons approximately 60 minutes long.

Rube Goldberg Machines

Rube Goldbergs provide a way for students to demonstrate their understanding of Physics concepts in a physical way. SciMaTech teachers and shop teachers for years have allowed for students to be the master builders and use tools of their trade to become architects and structural engineers. Minecraft is another way for students to tap into that creativity when they don’t have access to a craft space or wood working tools. – Minecraft Education

Minecraft Education offers a free lesson plan on Rube Goldberg Machines that you can download. Although it is intended for students in Year 9 to 12 because of the complexity involved, you can simplify it for a younger student. Here are some ideas for inspiration.

Molecular Chemistry in Minecraft Education

Created by students in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Hull (and supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry), MolCraft teaches students about the structures of proteins, chemicals and even chemical history.

In MolCraft, students can explore and read about molecules. Filled with hidden treasure chests that contain goodies, puzzles and quiz books, students will learn quite a fair bit of chemistry along the way.

Logic Gates in Minecraft Education

Students can also learn about circuits and logic gates using Minecraft. Check out the video below from Kestal Kayden:

Resources for teaching circuits and logic gates with Minecraft:

More Minecraft Education:

How Can We Ignite Creativity in Education?

creativity (noun)

  • the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
  • synonyms: inventiveness, imagination, innovation, innovativeness, originality, individuality; artistry, inspiration, vision; enterprise, initiative, resourcefulness

What is creativity?

  • Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions. – Creativity at Work
  • Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others. – California State University
  • Creativity is defined as the process of having original ideas that have value. – Ken Robinson
  • Creativity is in everything – not JUST Arts but also Maths, Science, English…
  • Creativity is a process that often involves trial & error. It is evolving. It is the determination to try again and again.

Why do we want to nurture creativity?

According to a recent Adobe creativity study, 88% of U.S. professionals believe that creativity should be built into standard curricula. Companies are looking for more than graduates who can do specific tasks, they want employees who can also think differently and innovate. To be successful, students need an education that emphasizes creative thinking, communication and teamwork. And as Sir Ken Robinson concludes in this next video “Creativity is not an option, it’s an absolute necessity.” – Adobe

  • Creativity & Problem-Solving are at the top of the list of skills that universities and employers seek
  • A 2010 survey of over 1,500 executives found that creativity is valued as the most important business skill in the modern world – Edudemic
  • Creativity will help to make change and make the world better

Image Source: Moco-Choco

Nurturing Creativity

From cardboard and duct tape to ABS polycarbonate, it took 5,127 prototypes and 15 years to get it right. And, even then there was more work to be done. My first vacuum, DC01, went to market in 1993. We’re up to DC35 now, having improved with each iteration. More efficiency, faster motors, new materials. – James Dyson on Wired

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

How can we nurture creativity?

  • make mistakes and embrace failure
  • promote divergent thinking
  • encourage risk taking
  • no “right” or “wrong” answers
  • instead of “direct instruction”, provide encouragement, opportunity, and coaching
  • offer group work as the sharing ideas can spark more ideas
  • do project-based learning
  • provide clear explanations of the focus or need
  • don’t always give grades as this can lead to a “right” or “wrong” approach mindset
  • create choices for students to tailor their learning
  • add constraints – e.g. you can only use these materials and nothing else
  • offer students real world problems to solve
  • provide opportunities to watch creativity in action
  • D.I.R.T – dedicated improvement reflection time

What’s D.I.R.T.?


Image Source: TES

  • Students are given a piece of work to complete.
  • Once completed, the teacher/peer/student will evaluate the work and provide feedback.
  • The student will review the feedback and make improvements.

How can parents help?

  • Encourage children to talk about their work. Ask ‘Why’? questions without aggression.
  • Change routines – drive a different way to school, try different foods, introduce novelty.
  • Try things out – scuba diving, music, making things. Creativity can come in different forms.
  • Encourage sleep – dreams help us solve problems we’re stuck on.
  • Embrace failure – if children are too afraid to fail, they will never try anything new. Being creative is about trying new things.

Relaxation & Creativity: The Science of Sleeping on It – Big Think

  • Dreaming as an integral part of the creative process – it’s not just about the problems of everyday life, it’s about solving them.
  • “A problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” – John Steinbeck
  • Dreaming allows us to think in a different biological state. When we dream, the brain is busy rearranging beliefs, playing out hypothetical scenarios and solving problems.

Sleep Inspires Insight – Nature

  • Subjects performed a cognitive task requiring the learning of stimulus-response sequences, in which they improved gradually by increasing response speed across task blocks.
  • The task was designed so that they could improve abruptly after gaining insight into a hidden abstract rule underlying all sequences.
  • Some subjects worked without sleep, others were given a chance to sleep.
  • Subjects that slept were more likely to figure out the hidden rule compared to those that did not sleep.

By restructuring new memory representations, sleep facilitates extraction of explicit knowledge and insightful behaviour.

The “Committee of Sleep”: A Study of Dream Incubation for Problem Solving – Dreaming

  • The study used dreams to solve everyday problems.
  • Subjects picked a problem to work on. They reviewed the problem in this minds before falling asleep.
  • Half the subjects dreamed about their problem. Some of those dreamed of a solution for the problem.

CreativityResources for Developing Creativity

  • Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques – from the linear to the intuitive, this comprehensive handbook details ingenious creative-thinking techniques for approaching problems in unconventional ways. Through fun and thought-provoking exercises, you’ll learn how to look at the same information as everyone else and see something different. Hundreds of hints, tricks, tips, tales, and puzzles that will open your mind to a world of innovative solutions to everyday and not-so-everyday problems.
  • ThinkPak – Use SCAMPER:
    • Substitute something
    • Combine it with something else
    • Adapt something to it
    • Modify or Magnify it
    • Put it to some other use
    • Eliminate something
    • Reverse or Rearrange it
  • How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day – drawing on Da Vinci’s notebooks, inventions, and legendary works of art, this book introduces the seven Da Vincian principles which are hailed as the essential elements of genius. Discover an exhilarating new way of thinking.
  • The Really Useful Creativity Book – provides approaches and ideas that will enable children to develop their creativity.
  • Design Cards – see image below…

* These are my notes (with personal annotations) from a workshop we had at school on Using Real World Problems to Develop Creativity.