When I read this essential question, I can only think about the 21st Century skills everyone keeps reiterating we need to teach our students in K-12. What are these skills? Well, after some research, I found out that the skills students need to acquire are not necessarily spelled out, and if they are, people disagree with them!
One of the major shifts in 21st Century education is the idea that students should be responsible for their own learning. How did this come about? It seems counter-intuitive. Teachers teach, students learn. It’s been the method for centuries. Well here are some arguments for this shift according to the Glossary of Education Reform. (2015)
- “In today’s world, information and knowledge are increasing at such an astronomical rate that no one can learn everything about every subject, what may appear true today could be proven to be false tomorrow, and the jobs that students will get after they graduate may not yet exist. For this reason, students need to be taught how to process, parse, and use information, and they need adaptable skills they can apply in all areas of life—just teaching them ideas and facts, without teaching them how to use them in real-life settings, is no longer enough.”
- “Given the widespread availability of information today, students no longer need teachers to lecture to them on the causes of the Civil War, for example, because that information is readily available—and often in more engaging formats that a typical classroom lecture. For this reason, educators should use in-school time to teach students how to find, interpret, and use information, rather than using most or all of the time to present information.”
When I read these statements, they really resonated with me. I’ve been lucky(?) to see the transformation of physical texts and analog media to digital resources and media. Information is literally at your fingertips! (or voice controlled) Well, as long as you have access to the Internet.
The question now becomes, how to we learn, instead of what do we learn. It’s been a challenge to get students to be agents of their own learning. It seems they don’t have the skills necessary to live in the 21st century. Tony Wagner has interviewed companies and he has come up with a list of 7 skills needed to be successful in the 21st century. Many of them a reiteration of previous class assignments.
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
- Collaboration and Leadership
- Agility and Adaptability
- Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
- Effective Oral and Written Communication
- Assessing and Analyzing Information
- Curiosity and Imagination
A few of these skills are surprising. Leadership is one that needs explanation. According to Wagner, “kids have an amazing lack of preparedness in leadership skills and collaborative skills. They lack the ability to influence.”(2008) Agility and adaptability refers to an employee “has to think, be flexible, change, and use a variety of tools to solve new problems. We change what we do all the time. I can guarantee the job I hire someone to do will change or may not exist in the future, so this is why adaptability and learning skills are more important than technical skills.”
We, as teachers, need to incorporate as many of these skills in our everyday lessons/assignments to better prepare our students for the 21st century. As much as I feel I do an adequate job of teaching math at the high school level, I can’t help but read the following excerpt and say how inadequately I prepare my students in math! (Wagner, 2008)
At the beginning of the period in an Algebra II class, the teacher writes a problem on the board. He turns to the students, who are sitting in desks arranged in squares of four that face one another. “You haven’t seen this kind of problem before,” he explains. “Solving it will require you to use concepts from both geometry and algebra. Each group will try to develop at least two different ways to solve this problem. After all the groups have finished, I’ll randomly choose someone from each group who will write one of your proofs on the board, and I’ll ask that person to explain the process your group used.”
The groups quickly go to work. Animated discussion takes place as students pull the problem apart and talk about different ways to solve it. While they work, the teacher circulates from group to group. When a student asks a question, the teacher responds with another question: “Have you considered . . .?” “Why did you assume that?” or simply “Have you asked someone in your group?”
What makes this an effective lesson—a lesson in which students are learning a number of the seven survival skills while also mastering academic content? First, students are given a complex, multi-step problem that is different from any they’ve seen in the past. To solve it, they have to apply critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and call on previously acquired knowledge from both geometry and algebra. Mere memorization won’t get them far. Second, they have to find two ways to solve the problem, which requires initiative and imagination. Third, they have to explain their proofs using effective communication skills. Fourth, the teacher does not spoon-feed students the answers. He uses questions to push students’ thinking and build their tolerance for ambiguity. Finally, because the teacher announces in advance that he’ll randomly call on a student to show how the group solved the problem, each student in every group is held accountable. Success requires teamwork.
Martinez, Sylvia Libow; Stager, Gary S.. Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom (Kindle). Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. Kindle Edition.
21st Century Skills. (2015). The Glossary of Education Reform. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/21st-century-skills/
Wagner, T. (2008). Rigor Redefined: Even our “best” schools are failing to prepare students for 21st-century careers and citizenship. [blog] Tony Wagner Transforming Education. Retrieved from http://www.tonywagner.com/244