I think that the Class of 2016 has experienced a very interesting side of 21st century learning. I arrived to a senior school with four separate Social Studies classrooms, a library full of old PC computers, and what felt like a traditional high school teaching style – I even took mandatory Keyboarding and Library Skills in Grade 8! The timing was such that the year above us missed many significant changes but the year below saw much less of the old St. George's.
The students are always the most conservative about changes, more so even than the teachers – this doesn't disqualify our feedback, but is important context for how I and many students feel about the changes that have occurred. "21st Century Learning" was touted by a lot of people as a lot of things, but I could never shake the notion that it seemed rooted in the administration and teachers' colleges, not the classroom. For me, it always seemed a magical solution sent down from on high, with questionable practical applicability. But I'm biased!
I think that many parts of 21st Century Learning were introduced poorly, but I also recognize that large adjustments take time. It will be for the Class of 2020 to decide the merits of New Learning – I can only critique by contrasting. I remember the library as a quieter workspace – now it's incredibly loud with collaboration. I remember Grade 8 Social Studies as a mix of lectures and projects, and am just realizing now that I remember it as vividly as my more recent years. The style made the information stick much better for me than pure collaboration or discussion or projects – I remember the mix of Mr. Jamieson's anecdotes about travels and projects on philosophies and holy books and debates on Israel, and together they give me a great appreciation of the humanities and history. In contrast, although I've quite liked teachers I've had since, and Mr. Becott especially is gifted in bringing a class through a wealth of information in a fun and light way, I've never felt that 21st century has complemented their courses very well. This could be teacher-dependant (individual styles and abilities) or even student dependant (individual styles of learning).
So PBL isn't my style, but I've still had fun with it. I think more important that the politics of learning are the attitude behind it. At the beginning, it seemed very forced by administration. Perhaps as it grows, this will become less true. As always, the teacher is the most important course factor.
And all of this relates, to a certain extent, to assemblies and events as well! We do seem to have them more often, and senior students especially – we miss a lot of class time for things. I've always been one for missing class for real learning, but I think the value of special events and assemblies depends mostly on how in touch the administration is with the student body, its interests, and its needs. Frankly, some presentations are a huge waste of time – not just for me, but for everyone I see falling asleep in their chairs. Other times, there's controversy, which can be great (Wade Davis Arts Week – one of my favourite presentations, everyone else's least favourite). Sometimes, a speaker is brought in who connects with the entire school.
I can speak to this angle from experience in Model UNs. VMUN has a four or five-year string of fantastic speakers. Most were not especially important political names, but all could share a message that connected with the delegates. Other conferences often bring in speakers that have a great bio, but cannot connect with an audience. I think our school administration would do good to spend a little less class time on events, but focus in on speakers with a more valuable message to share. I think these have proliferated as the administration has begun to understand the limitations of the classroom (and also because it's chic right now to tear down walls, collaborate, and bring in speakers).