Tuesday, September 8, 2009

21st Century Skills

(cross posted at http://www.techlearning.com/blogs/23342)

"21st Century Skills" is an often used phrase to describe the skills that educators and employers feel that students need to learn in order to be successful in school, careers, and life. I've argued that many of those skills have been needed and taught for decades.

If you think about it, students have always needed to be able to communicate, work in teams, follow directions, solve problems, and find information. I was taught these skills in high school and college and I was doing projects back then also. I graduated high school in 1988 and college in 1992. 21st Century Skills and Project Based Learning are not new ideas. The difference is that these skills need to be applied using new technology.

I was in college when the internet was young. We had text based FTP, email, and newsgroups. In my first engineering job, we started to use the internet for research and communication. Today, everything can be done using the internet and anything and everything can be found on the internet. When I was in school, we had encyclopedias and other reference books that were considered acceptable, reliable and peer reviewed. Today, we have the internet with information published by anyone. This means that today's students need to know how to find the information they are looking for and analyze it to see if it is reliable.

When I was in school, we had to go to the library, or hope our textbook or the encyclopedia at home had the information we needed. Today, students can find information on the internet from home, school, or anywhere using WiFi and even their phones.

This instant access to information means that students don't have to memorize as much information to get things done. They have to know how to find it and analyze it to see if it is reliable or not. We should be teaching them this. Instead of content memorization, we should be teaching content processes.

I feel that critical thinking, problem solving, communications, and teamwork are not 21st Century Skills. They are critical skills that humans have needed throughout our history. I would say that 21st Century Skills would include finding and analyzing data on the internet and using new technologies to do things better and more efficiently.

To do this, we should incorporate projects in our curriculum that require students to use technology to complete the project. We need to go beyond just web research and PowerPoint and have students create and interact. Blogs, web sites, online discussions, videos, and more can all be used in a project. The project then teaches the critical skills mentioned above, as well as the 21st Century Skills.

Projects should be based on real life issues, not just a topic from class turned into a project. To get ideas, look in the newspaper and news stories, as well as hot topics online. You can also talk to local businesses about issues that they are working on. You can even ask the students if there are issues or projects that they would like to work on. Be creative.

Educators need to teach content, critical skills, and how to use technology to find information, solve problems, and achieve goals. Projects are a great way to do this.

For more information on 21st Century Skills and Project Based Learning:
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