Skills for the 21st Century

January, 2013

Happy, happy 2013!  Did I just write 2013??? Don't miss the free song download and a related powerpoint, too, on the Downloads page.

I was having lunch with some professors at the College of Charleston recently and one topic was the “preservation of childhood.”  You all know how I feel.  Yes, technology is important, but it needs to be balanced with play, hands-on activities, centers, social experiences, songs, stories, movement, oral language, etc. Someone mentioned a study that found children between the ages of 11 and 16 are more comfortable communicating with technology than in person.  Whoaaa!  We’ve got an issue here that needs to be addressed!

The future holds many challenges, so this month I will focus on Skills for the 21st Century.  In reality these are skills for all centuries.  An advantage of traveling the Education Highway for over 40 years is that I’ve been through this revolving door before.  Many activities (critical thinking, group projects, self-directed learning, integrated themes) have been around for years.  Yes, even before my time Dewey and the “Progressive Education Movement” in the early 1900’s emphasized these strategies.  During the 1920s, when education turned increasingly to "scientific" techniques such as intelligence testing and cost-benefit management, progressive educators insisted on the importance of the emotional, artistic, and creative aspects of human development.  De ja vu!  (John Dewey and American Democracy by Robert B. Westbrook, Cornell Univ. Press, 1991).  Futurist Alvin Toffler said, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."

The Partnership for the 21st Century Skills was where I embarked on my research.  The Partnership recognized the gap between the knowledge and skills students learn in school and what is needed to succeed in the work place.  Their goal is to align classroom environments with real world environments by fusing the traditional 3R’s with the 4 C’s.  The 3R’s are the framework for Standards and core subjects, while the 4 C’s suggest the skills needed to be successful in career and life.
3Rs include: English, reading or language arts; mathematics; science; foreign languages; civics; government; economics; arts; history; and geography.
The 4Cs include: Critical thinking & problem solving; Communication, Collaboration; Creativity & innovation. 

The Partnership recommends districts and schools ask if they are helping students become:

         • Critical thinkers?
         • Problem solvers?
         • Good communicators?
         • Good collaborators?
         • Information and technology literate?
         • Flexible and adaptable?
         • Innovative and creative?
         • Globally competent?
         • Financially literate?

The Partnership further suggests these principles:

  1.    Authentic learning - learning from real world problems and questions
  2.    Mental model building - using physical and virtual models to refine understanding
  3.    Internal motivation - identifying and employing positive emotional connections in learning
  4.    Multi-modal learning - applying multiple learning methods for diverse learning styles
  5.    Social learning - using the power of social interaction to improve learning impact
  6.    International learning - using the world around you to improve teaching and learning skills

I smiled when I read these principles for effective learning because it sounded like EARLY CHILDHOOD IN ACTION!  Centers, field trips, providing children with choices, working in small groups, multi-sensory learning, discovery based learning, authentic play activities, multi-cultural education, oral language, connecting emotionally with the child… sound familiar?  I will admit that I am not a researcher, but I am a practitioner!  How can you take the 21st Century Skills and implement them in your classroom this coming year?  The good news is that you are probably already doing many of these things, but read on and I promise you’ll find a few more simple and practical ideas for 2013.



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