If you keep up with trends in education, you have likely heard of the 21st Century Skills movement. Those who carry its flag argue quite compellingly that exponential advancements in technology and the changes they have wrought require those of us in schools to re-examine what and how we teach. With unlimited content always just a few clicks away and with an economy in a perpetual state of flux, isn’t the proverbial “guide on the side” teacher, the one who curates personalized technology-infused learning experiences, better equipped to shepherd our young people into the future? Doesn’t tomorrow demand a curriculum that focuses equally on technological know-how and softer skills like creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration?
The answer is definitely yes, but framing the question as a choice between past and future is a bit misleading. While there are more than a few useful technical skills unique to our time, the reality is that the world has always demanded higher-order thinking skills from Falmouth Academy graduates. And Falmouth Academy has always delivered. Look no further than our Arts Across the Curriculum program as an example of creativity and interdisciplinary thinking in action. Look no further than Declamation Day or Ms. Hough’s rhetoric class or even my own Mock Trial class (shameless plug!) as examples of our long-standing commitment to developing communication skills.
Last Thursday, I (along with several curious seals) bore witness to a “class” that even the most ardent 21st Century Skills enthusiast would cite as an exemplar, and it occurred in a technology-free classroom that extended for miles. I am referring to, of course, our beloved Marconi Beach Day, a day so sacred in the calendar of FA students past and present that senior Tyler Harmon even wrote and performed a song about it! Every year, students are divided into multi-grade groups of ten or so. Under the leadership of their seniors, each group collaborates on the design and construction of an elaborate sand sculpture that is topical and theme-based. Among this year’s entrants were:
A replica of the Very Hungry Caterpillar in celebration of the life and work of of Eric Carle,
A very accurate model of Falmouth Academy, located perilously near the incoming tide titled, “FA 2121?”,
A Martha’s Vineyard Ferry,
A replica of Morse Hall complete with a live all-school meeting,
The Lorax, surrounded by a forest of truffula trees…
And so many more creative and current designs.
The project is no “day at the beach”; it requires the essential skills of project management, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity that are the hallmarks of a progressive education. Students even get extra points for collecting and making creative use of the many “unconventional materials” that one can find on the beach on any given day!
In this morning’s all-school meeting, one of the groups was presented with the “golden shovel,” the trophy given annually to the sculpture that best meets the criteria outlined in the rubric. It is, for a short period of time, a highly sought after prize and a point of pride among the students but no one really remembers who won, nor do they really care, because it is the memories that were made, and perhaps the all-too-fleeting feeling of returning to nature and to the parallel play moments of early childhood that will endure long after this year’s sculptures have washed away.