Ensuring Future Success: Equipping Students with 21st Century Skills

Digital resources help students develop the skills necessary for college and career readiness
By: | Issue: November, 2014 | Web Seminar Digest
January 2, 2015

Today’s students must be able to use digital tools as they develop critical thinking, problem solving and other 21st century skills. Administrators are tasked with the challenge of selecting the right technology resources that incorporate the development of these skills into the classroom. This web seminar, originally broadcast on September 23, 2014, featured an expert on 21st century learning, who discussed the importance of equipping students with 21st century skills and practical ways for integrating those skills into teaching. Also featured was a district tech leader who explained how he implemented an engaging digital learning program without requiring additional teacher prep time.

Helen Soule
Executive Director
Partnership for 21st Century Skills

In 2013, Georgetown University conducted a study about what job growth and education requirements will be in the future. The study revealed that the kinds of skills that will be needed are originality, critical thinking, problem solving, speaking and active listening, among others. Most every study we see has similar results. This report also predicts that by 2020, there will be 55 million new jobs. For many of those, we don’t even know what the titles will be or what they will entail because of the changing nature of work. But out of those 55 million new jobs, communications and critical thinking are going to be skills most highly in need, especially in STEM and healthcare careers. And even with all these new jobs, 5 million of them will go unfilled because of the lack of these skills in the workforce.

This is a huge problem that all of the education systemÑfrom early learning all the way through higher edÑis trying to address. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), with its partners and outside experts, developed a framework for 21st century learning several years ago. What we try to do in this framework, which we affectionately call “The Rainbow,” is to outline the relationship between the knowledge that students need with all of the skills that make that knowledge even more valuable for their work and their life. The framework particularly outlines the importance of the core subjects as well as some cross-cutting themes: global awareness, financial literacy, civic literacy, health literacy and environmental literacy.

What is 21st century learning? We see it as a lifelong continuum. It begins early, and it moves through K12. In addition to the classroom, it incorporates what we call the “beyond school” spaceÑsummer school, after school, camps, and all the experiences and clubs that students are engaged in that make them stronger and that reinforce these important skills. It must be rigorous, and project-based learning is a critical component. It must incorporate real-life experiences. And then, very importantly, there must be active engagement with the technological tools that can make this happen. In many of our visits to schools, we’ve seen that the role of technology as a skills accelerator is very effective. It enables collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking, and it even challenges thinking at a much higher level.

The good news is that people are recognizing the importance of these skills, and they want to know more about it. So we’ve embarked on what we call The 21st Century Learning Exemplar program. Over the last couple of years we have visited over 40 schools in nine states identifying models that we think demonstrate 21st century learningÑschools that give real, on-the-ground examples of not just best practices, but also innovative practices. As we identified these case studies, we saw five trends that were important. One was the way that the staffing or leadership was distributed across the school. We saw lots of different patterns for that, but in all of them the teachers had a key role, as well as others in the faculty of the school. We found that giving students a voice was critically important and prevalent. In every school we looked at, the students knew what their goals were, where they were going and what they needed to work on. They felt like they had a voice in their own education.

We saw many different models of pedagogy, but all were built on evidence-based research. We saw great success when the community was very involved and engaged and understood the nature of the school, the kinds of things the school was doing, and why the schools were doing them. Lastly, there was certainly a climate of achievement that you could feel when you walked in the schools. You could see evidence of it not just in the students’ performance, but also in the attitudes of the people there.

Andy Arnold
Director of Technology
Bristol Tennessee City Schools

Over the last few years, a lot of assessments and discussions made it clear that we had to improve 21st century skills in our students. So I began looking into EasyTech from Learning.com, and we started using it in 2013. It has been a great resource that has allowed us to align all of our elementary schools so that they’re all doing the same thing. But more importantly, it’s given the proper instructions to our students so that they can develop the skills that we so long for and that they need to be successful.

We also decided to make a commitment to incorporating personalized learning at all grade levels as much as possible. Probably the biggest thing that we made a commitment to was to forge ahead with what we call our “Digital Conversion,” which began this past January. We named it that because we felt strongly that the term “one-to-one” put the focus on the wrong thing: the device. It’s hard to get the attention away from the device that you are using, but it is vital that you try to do so, because what is really important is a quality instructional method and a quality teacher. The device should be just another tool at their disposal, another tool in their toolbox.

EasyTech has been a great addition. All of our computer lab instructors get together and align their curriculum before the school year begins. We spend the first couple of weeks giving the students as many pretests as we can. They are very short, but this gives us a starting point and a benchmark so that when students complete the modules throughout the year, we can compare the assessments to their pretests, as well as their posttests. When we saw the amount of improvement that was made by the vast majority of our students, that convinced us that we need to continue with that curriculum. We’re trying to get our students ready for the job world as well as their future education. When they get a device in their hands in the third or fourth grade, it should not be something that’s foreign to them. They should be able to just roll right in there and begin using it like it’s been a tool they’ve known for some time. And a byproduct of this is that online assessments will also not be foreign to them.

EasyTech currently is almost exclusively used in our computer classrooms in grades K through 6. What we want to do now is branch out to our academic teachers to see how they can fuse EasyTech into their areas. I want to stress that no matter what initiative you try to incorporate, whether it be a digital conversion, a one-to-one, or any other type of technology initiative, the most important aspect is the teacher in the classroom. The technology is truly just another tool. The education comes from a quality teacher and a quality instructional method.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.districtadministration.com/ws092314

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