The sci-fi nerd inside of me truly believes robots will live amongst us within the next 40 years. I’m not really sure how we will be able to compete with their machine brains, but I have to hope they won’t be able to think creatively or critically.

Although we can only imagine how the complex global world and economy will be shaped and reshaped in the coming years, we do know that our young people’s success will be determined by their ability to compete, not only with potential future robots, but with their peers to get into college, to land their first job, and to reach their goals throughout life. What skills and knowledge will young people need to meet our goals for them and to meet the goals they set for themselves? How can the education we offer them best prepare our youth to succeed and thrive in the 21st-century world and beyond?

To answer these questions, a growing number of educators and policymakers are now focused on ensuring that schools engage students in different type of learning. A new report by the National Center on Time & Learning, Time for Deeper Learning: Lessons from Five High Schools, helped me wrap my brain around this ‘deeper learning’, what it means, and what it requires of today’s schools. For approaches like deeper learning to be successful, the report makes clear that educators need to rethink how both teachers and students focus their time in school.Deeper_Learning_TSC_blog

The report describes five deeper learning priorities (right) that drive and shape learning time across the featured schools. What stood out to me throughout the report was the emphasis put on connecting the content students were learning in the classroom to real world applications. A great example of this is “One World Week” at High Tech High in San Diego, California. During one week every March, the entire school replaces its regular schedule and students and teachers are immersed in experiences outside the school, both locally and globally. Students create art at local museums, travel to developing countries, cycle for hundreds of miles, camp in the desert, and build musical instruments. Service learning, fieldwork and deep partnerships with community-based organizations – all elements emphasized under deeper learning and made possible through ELT – immerse students in their communities, helping them to not only find their passion, but to also discover a habit of learning for its own pleasure.

We know that today’s students will need to do more than just repeat knowledge learned for an exam in order to be successful in the world tomorrow. They will need to analyze information and communicate it, both orally and in writing. Students will need to be able to work collaboratively and think outside the box. But most importantly, they will have to be continuously thirsty for new knowledge and new solutions. Successful schools must find ways to deploy learning time so that their students can build deeper learning skills while also mastering grade-level content and standards. And it’s not just the students – we too must get creative with how we use people, space and time in our schools to ensure that when we hand our students a diploma at the end of 12 years of schooling they are able to be the game changers we need them to be.