If you are looking for the embodiment of the 21st century learner, you need to look no further than Hermione Granger, famed friend of Harry Potter.
Though fans of the Harry Potter series may claim Hermione’s academic years at Hogwarts occurred during the late 1900’s, Hermione was clearly ahead of her time as a scholar who broke the mold of the traditional student. She may be a fictional character, but Hermione Granger demonstrated the 4 C’s of the 21s century learner before anyone dreamed of using those words to describe students receiving preparation for a rapidly changing world.
Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity (the 4 C’s) were not the norm in classrooms around the world when Hermione appeared on the scene. But let’s have a closer look…
Hermione speaks the above words to Xenophilius Lovegood, the considerably less discerning editor of The Quibbler magazine. Hermione is known to be skeptical about anything that cannot be proved by research, and advances the trio of friends through many quests using the knowledge she gained from a book. Her critical thinking skills are a powerful weapon, and those same abilities are essential to 21st century learners who must navigate through the overwhelming quantities of information available in today’s world to separate the wheat from the chaff.
How can we make sure our students are as prepared as Hermione to make judgements about information reliability or other decisions that require careful evaluation?
Here are some resources for educators seeking to help students develop proficiency in critical thinking:
01. Hoax or No Hoax: a fun lesson to practice accuracy and trustworthiness
“Hoax or No Hoax?” from readwritethink.org is a fun lesson to use with students to practice assessing websites for accuracy and trustworthiness. It includes the infamous tree octopus site, one that adheres to many of the rules of reliable sites, yet is completely fictional (just in case you weren’t sure).
03. Quandary, a game to teach ethical decision making
Quandary is a free online game designed for students 8 and older that teaches ethical decision making through the use of critical thinking skills and multiple perspectives. BrainPop provides lesson plans for teachers interested in using Quandary in the classroom.
04. Would You Rather Math, a great site to practice critical thinking and problem solving
Would You Rather Math poses questions where a choice must be made based on math and research evidence. It’s a great site for older students to practice their critical thinking and problem solving skills. In fact, it’s such a wonderful concept that I made up some of my own “Would You Rather” questions for elementary students.
Empathy is another strength of Hermione Granger, and it is this ability that enables her to be the strongest communicator in her group of friends. She defends and becomes the spokesperson for the besieged house elves, gathers together Dumbledore’s Army, and creates a charm to enchant coins as a method of communication for the Army members (the Wizarding World’s form of the instant message). In a place where the slightest communication misstep can result in instant paralysis or being turned into a toad, Hermione excels – though she did make a few mistakes, herself.
The 21st century learner must also be taught the importance of careful communication because lack of it can cause damaged reputations and even more unfortunate circumstances. We do not have magic, but we have technology, which can do just as much damage in the wrong hands.
Here are some ways to ensure that students are aware of the good and bad uses of communication:
05. Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship: Lessons to emphasise the dangers and responsibilities of digital communications
Use Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship lessons to emphasise the dangers and responsibilities of digital communications. With interactives for the students, videos, and lesson plans, this site provides everything you need to prevent things like cyberbullying and imprudent photos and texts.
06. Digital communication: the best practices for the use of technology as a communication tool
Give students plenty of practice in the classroom with digital communication. Set expectations, and allow them to use backchannels like Today’s Meet, Twitter chats, or comments in Google Docs so that they can see best practices for the use of technology as a communication tool.
Friendship is not necessary for collaboration, but the friendship among Hermione, Ron, and Harry allows for this important 21st century skill to be used to its full extent. This Prezi by Joseph Garza explains the benefits of the trio’s collaboration as they are able to combine their different strengths to tackle their many challenges. It is difficult to imagine Harry Potter’s adventures having any success without the contributions of his collaborators.
Even though many might claim that the internet and other technological advances have made humans less dependent on each other and more solitary creatures, this is far from the case. 21st century learners need to develop collaborative skills in order to help each other to solve the new problems humans create each day.
Some of the best examples that I’ve seen of collaboration have been as a co-sponsor of our campus Robotics Club. Our students use the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robots, and are usually grouped 3 to a robot, rotating through different roles such as programming or testing the robot. Though there are the usual problems of students not performing their tasks, tiny squabbles seem to disappear when we go to events like our district Showcase, where they are timed for each challenge.
10. Breakout Edu, a great activity to encourage collaboration with your students
Breakout Edu, which I’ve mentioned before, is a great activity to encourage collaboration with your students. As they attempt to discover the combinations to several locks, they must work together to decipher clues placed around the room. My students also really enjoy the digital version of this game.
11. Minecraft Edu: the perfect game to develop 21st century skills
Speaking of digital collaboration, you might be voted Teacher of the Year by your class if you bring in Minecraft Edu for your lessons. Up to 30 students can collaborate at a time with this tool, and it’s not “just a game” as some people might think. Here is a fabulous presentation on using Minecraft in the classroom to address education standards and develop 21st century skills.
13. Other Digital Tools
Students don’t always need to play games to collaborate. Google Docs, Padlet, Answer Garden and many other digital tools allow for both asynchronous and synchronous communication with partners so they can work together in the same classroom or from completely different countries. Even Google Slides can be worked on by multiple group members.
Avid fans of Harry Potter know that Hermione Granger is not prone to be a rule-breaker. However, she rightly judges when they need to be broken, and that is what creativity is all about. Creative thinkers recognise when rules should be bent and broken, whereas less divergent minds continue to adhere to the “way it’s always been.” Hermione routinely uses spells in creative ways, such as the Protean Charm to turn coins into communication tools and the Undetectable Extension Charm to fit everything she could possibly need into a small bag (though she may have stolen that idea from Mary Poppins).
As educators, it can be difficult for us to encourage our students to “break the rules.” But we are doing them a favour if we can show them how and when it’s appropriate to do so. Otherwise, they will settle into doing things the way they have been told instead of becoming innovative, independent thinkers.
14. Creativity in the Classroom
A good place to start is this article by Anna Guerrero that suggests 20 ways to promote more creativity in the classroom. Many of her ideas involve making the classroom environment one that encourages creativity. This can be done with the physical setting, but also with the choices the teacher makes for lesson design and assessments.
15. S.C.A.M.P.E.R., a creative thinking tool to jump start their quests for new ideas
Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to Another Use, and Eliminate. These are the words that make up the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. acronym, a creative thinking tool used by students and executives to help them jump start their quests for new ideas. My young students love the example I give of the book, Cinderella Bigfoot, where the author refreshed a popular story by modifying Cinderella’s traditionally tiny shoe size to one that was so large 3 people could sit in her glass sneaker (another use of S.C.A.M.P.E.R., where the sneaker is substituted for the glass slipper).
16. City X Project: designing new inventions to solve problems
To introduce your students to Design Thinking, try the City X Project with them. In this free curriculum, students are introduced to a fictional community on another planet that needs their help. After choosing specific challenges, students must design new inventions to solve the problems of the characters in City X.
17. Creativity Kickers, quick activities to liven things up in your classroom
And, finally, if you just need some quick activities to liven things up in your classroom, Jeanne Muzi has two detailed lists of “Creativity Kickers” that she shares, which include such ideas as a Brain Breaks Cup and “Yes, and” cards.
Ready to Defeat Voldemort, Global Warming, and Any Other Threat
Hermione Granger, the student who adores learning and continues her education even as she is trying to save the world from wicked Voldemort, is the ideal 21st century student – in a fictionally magical 20th century setting. Her passion for reading along with her clear-headed logic make her an excellent critical thinker. Empathy for others, including giants, house elves, and red-headed friends named Ron, helps her to be a superb communicator amongst her peers and with adults. A sense of loyalty and friendship turns a once-lonely and isolated schoolgirl into a collaborative partner who contributes her strengths to each challenge while being willing to accept the help of others in areas of weakness. And her fantastic ability to identify what rules are meant to be broken, and the best way to do so, allow her to shine creatively when she could have easily avoided risk.
Although I certainly wouldn’t wish the trials that Hermione and her friends suffered on any student, it should be the goal of educators everywhere to prepare our students for the Dementors, Malfoys, and Voldemorts of our own increasingly complicated world. New quandaries present themselves as quickly as new solutions are created, and the most powerful Shield Charm we can call upon is a good education.
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