Thursday, February 10, 2011

What are 21st Century Skills Anyway?

In our school district, the latest and greatest buzz phrase is 21st Century Skills (you might have noticed this is a tag on every one of my posts!).  Recently, I had a teacher ask me if we could talk more about these 21st Century Skills at a future faculty meeting.  Loaded question...  and one that we will address at a future faculty meeting (more to come soon!).  One of my typical responses to this question is that students are different today... their learning styles and educational needs are different.  They walk into our classrooms used to being engaged in technology and digital media (my 5-year-old loves the iPad!).

My boys are 2 & 5 and are already learning to use a laptop and iPad.  For a while, I was worried that my 5-year-old might need a desktop at home so he could 'get used to using the mouse'.  But last night, he asked me to "Log onto Playhouse Disney" (his words!) to play some games.  His intuitive use of the touchpad mouse amazed me.  I only had to tell him once to 'click' with the left button.  My kids are 21st Century Learners.  I don't think they will have textbooks when they go to school.  I don't think they will use much paper.  I may never need to buy them a pencil...

But 21st Century Learning is more than just technology...

I sit here, typing this blog post from a conference that I think is addressing some of those 21st Century Skills (Free Tech 2011), getting ready to present on blogging (I would like to think blogging is a 21st Century Skill), surrounded by hundreds of other fantastic educators interested in learning more about these same skills.  Many times, I think that we get these skills mixed up with technology -- i.e. 21st Century Skills = Using a computer/mobile phone/iPad, etc.  While tech is an important skill for students today, it is not the end all, be all.

In my opinion, 21st Century Skills extend beyond the standard 3Rs and other core content.  Today's students are going to need more.  We are preparing them for jobs that don't yet exist in a global market that extends beyond our small community.  So in my mind, its all about teaching students life & career skills, communication, problem solving, and collaboration all with an undertone of technology and media literacy.  Its not about flash and dazzle.  Sure, we have to entertain students to keep their attention, but more importantly, we need to ENGAGE the students in their own learning.

I just had a conversation with a group of teachers yesterday that centered around student interest in their particular content.  We all eventually came to an agreement that we would only be able to capture their attention if the content became important and valuable to the students in some way.  THIS is 21st Century Learning -- its education that matters to the student.  Not because its on the test, or because 'I told you its important'.  Learning that means something (personally) to the student that they are engaged in is 21st Century Learning.

What does it mean to you?


  1. "My kids are 21st Century Learners. I don't think they will have textbooks when they go to school. I don't think they will use much paper. I may never need to buy them a pencil..."
    This is a great thought and I fully support you in getting that to happen. The fact of the matter is unfortunately, we have too many teachers employing 19th century methods while using 20th century tools to teach kids for the 21st century. It is no wonder that many are calling for education reform. It also begs the question,why are so few answering?
    Please keep trying to get us there.

  2. Tom --

    I appreciate the feedback and input. As educational leaders, all we can do is talk the talk, and walk the walk. I try to lead by example for my teachers and many are making the effort along with me. In my opinion, many of those teachers that are using '20th century tools to teach kids for the 21st century' have good intentions, but are unaware of the gap they are creating.

  3. I fully agree. That is also the strongest argument for incorporating relevant Professional Development into teachers' schedules. We can no longer have PD as a matter of choice.