21st Century Skills

In the book, 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, the authors highlight what our schools need to be teaching. I was quite cynical at first (but I am usually that way anyway) since the organization Partnership for 21st Century Skills gets a lot of its funding from major corporations, by the time I finished the book, I thought it was pretty balanced. As with Tony Wagner’s book, see previous post, most of these skills are not new. We all know that effective oral and written communication skills as well as critical thinking and problem solving are a given. Unlike some wild and wacky books, this one makes sense in that it does not trivialize the importance of the core curriculum. It’s how that curricula is learned that is important. The four main ideas are this:

1. Mastery of core subjects and 21st century themes. Core subjects include English, reading or language arts, world languages, arts, mathematics, economics, science, geography, history, government and civics.

Themes for the 21st Century such as Health Literacy, Environmental literacy, Global awareness should be woven through this core.

2. Learning and Innovation Skills

Learning and innovation skills are what separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in today’s world and those who are not. They include:

Creativity and Innovation Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Communication and Collaboration (not new skills in my mind)

3. Information, Media and Technology Skills

Today, we live in a technology and media-driven environment, marked by access to an abundance of information, rapid changes in technology tools and the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. Effective citizens and workers must be able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills, such as:

Information Literacy, Media Literacy, ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) Literacy

4. Life and Career Skills

Today’s life and work environments require far more than thinking skills and content knowledge.The ability to navigate the complex life and work environments in the globally competitive information age requires students to pay rigorous attention to developing adequate life and career skills, such as:

• Flexibility and Adaptability • Initiative and Self-Direction • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills • Productivity and Accountability • Leadership and Responsibility

For those who think that this is all additive and question where we find the time to teach all of this, the authors really stress integrating all 4 components.

Again, I feel lucky to work in a school where I feel we are already doing most of these skills. Our mission is a great outline for points 2 and 4. I think the core curriculum is strong at our school, but isn’t stated in our mission so we are free to find balance in that core. It’s point 3 that I think we could improve on tremendously in big ways. Part of my impetus for starting this blog was to make sure I was using the technology out there and making it meaningful and useful to me. How could I ever expect my students to do something I’m not familiar with. I’m hoping to blog more about technology and some of the things I’ve been discovering in my new pursuits.

I have a copy of the book, but you can visit the P21 site and download their framework.  Some organizations like the NCTE are framing their curriculum around these 4 big ideas.

Brain Rules

Over the past decade, there has been plenty of research on how the brain functions in terms of learning. I’ve been to conferences and workshops that have shown how brains differ in gender, how brains are wired differently, how our brains remember things, and so on. Recently I read a book called Brain Rules by John Medina who sums up all of those findings neatly into 12 simple rules.

  1. Exercise boosts brain power
  2. The human brain evolved to survive (we learned to build relationships, solve problems, learn from our mistakes)
  3. Human brains are wired differently (we learn differently, at different rates, and have different capacities)
  4. We don’t pay attention to boring things and we cannot multi-task
  5. Repeat to Remember for short term memory. Repeating helps with declarative memory – things we can declare like 2+2=4. (Our short term memory only holds about 7 things for 30 seconds, if we want to remember it, we need to repeat it)
  6. Remember to Repeat for long term memory
  7. Sleep well, think well (the brain needs rest – Siesta anyone?)
  8. Stressed brains don’t learn the same way (there’s good stress and bad stress – long term stress is REALLY BAD)
  9. Stimulate more of the senses (those in multisensory environments always do better than those in unisensory ones)
  10. Vison trumps all other senses (use visuals when you teach)
  11. Male and female brains are different (a little too generalized in this book in my opinion)
  12. We are powerful and natural explorers.

The book’s an easy read with Dr. Medina’s suggestions for how these rules might be applied in schools and a pretty quick read. Even quicker you can go to his interactive website and explore the rules for yourself.

I think most of us are familiar with this, but the question that remains is: how does this inform our teaching? Have we made changes based on what we know?  Good food for thought.