Friday, December 11, 2009

What 21st Century Skills should look like in a school/classroom

I was challenged to express my opinions on what 21st Century Skills should look like in a school/classroom. My blog on the subject appears below:

There are three commonly accepted categories of 21st century skills:

1. Information Media/Technology skills

2. Learning and Innovation Skills, and

3. Life and Career skills

They have been widely adopted across a number of states and are being implemented pedagogically with success. The following blog will briefly review examples and my opinions of how these skills should be integrated into curricula.

I will begin with the category for which I am most familiar, Information Media and Technology skills. This category includes a curriculum with an emphasis on a building a student’s understanding of information, technology and media literacy.

As we embark upon the 21st century, school systems remain slow to change to adjust their curricula in order to address the technological demands of society. To build students appreciation and capacity to engage in computing, schools will need to be more open to emerging trends in technology and introduce these aspects more readily in the classroom. Therefore it remains critical to train teachers in the first year of their career in an effort to reduce their apprehension and try out new technologies early; in the hopes that they will be more open minded when the opportunity arises.

Research suggests that because today’s youth are more engaged in social networking and the consumption of rich media over the Internet, educators need to place a new emphasis on teaching methodologies that incorporate digital media production as a tool for classroom inquiry.

However, whereas the use and consumption of technology is critical to its understanding it remains just the beginning for both students and teachers. In both the education and computing fields there is still a critical need for students to embrace an appreciation of how to construct and design new media at an early age. Schools that place an emphasis on media education should go a step further and provide students with the experience to compose their own software applications using design and composition software that is readily available. This leads me to the second skill category Learning and Innovation Skills.

This category includes a curriculum that strengthens a student’s ability to think critically, solve problems, collaborate, be creative and innovative and then be able to communicate effectively.

There are a great number of examples where teachers are developing students’ ability to think critically. I will speak mainly on examples that can be found in lessons on technology and media. In today’s classrooms students are being exposed to digital media in ways that in just 10 years ago would be hard to imagine. Students are developing gaming software, texting, twittering, editing HD video, and creating simulations. As advanced as these concepts may be, it is important that we as educators do not teach them in isolation. We must be careful to engage the student in ways that foster critical thinking through new challenges. This may include infusing a multiple number of subjects into the creation of one video game or the use of software creation to encourage the memorization of complex mathematical concepts. Research suggest that students remember algorithms faster and get more excited about course work when an experimental approach to computer science is incorporated into instruction within a lab type environment. These types of innovative approaches to instruction are just a few examples of ways to tweak a students learning and innovation skills.

The final category, Life and Career skills, develops a student’s intrinsic ability to be flexible, adaptable, and self-directed. These skills also include a student’s sense of responsibility, social awareness and accountability. Educators must provide opportunities that foster students’ future goals by involving them in programs during the school day that have real-life applicability and relevance to classroom lessons.

In these programs, the school could provide a mentor from the students chosen career path and give the student access to professional conferences. This would be done in order to show to the student the direct relevance their classroom activities have to their desired profession. It would also develop self-direction in the student by creating an understanding of the importance in choosing a given career and make certain associations back in their own communities. Such programs develop a responsible student who is accountable for their own learning.

I welcome your comments and opinions on this topic.


Forrest said...


Biernat, M. J. (1993). Teaching tools for data structures and algorithms. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 25(4), 9­12.

Peppler, K., & Kafai, Y. (2005). Creative coding: The role of art and programming in the K-12 educational context.

Prensky, M. (2009). What works in public education.  Edutopia The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Retrieved April 2, 2009 from:

Scott Armstrong said...

I agree with the need for our students to learn all of these skills. But as important as these skills are, are first-year teachers the only ones that should be emphasizing tech in the classrooms? And can students afford to wait to cross paths with these teachers?

Part of the problem I see with some teachers' distrust/resistance to technology is they see it as a generational or age issue, as in "I'm too old to learn this." This strikes me as odd when people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are in their 50s...

Marlo Gaddis said...

Great point Scott! I hadn't thought about their ages! LOL.

What I find concerning lately is the lack of knowledge coming from the university systems on how to integrate technology effectively in education. True, college students (most) are comfortable with using social media in their lives. The problem is that no one is teaching them appropriate use personally or professionally.

Research is starting to prove that age really doesn't play a factor in the use of technology in schools. What is having a greater effect is good teachers learning to tap into technology as a tool. Give a struggling teacher technology, they are most likely still a struggling teacher. What matters most is that the teacher uses effective instructional practice.