Wednesday, October 21, 2009

21st Century Skills and Education

There are some great discussions going on at Teach Paperless and Metanoia about 21st Century Skills and 21st Century Education. Below is a compilation of my comments that I have posted on both sites and my thoughts on the topic. There has also been discussions about this on Tech&Learning Magazine's site. I have listed more links at the end of the post.

I feel that 21st century education is more student centered. Students are given a task and then work on it, with the teacher as coach and resource. Project Based Learning is a great way to incorporate this. I am an aerospace engineer and worked as an engineer for 10 years before becoming an educator. I try to have my students do things like I did at work. I try to show them that they will have to be able to find things out for themselves. That they will have to be able to work together as a team and solve problems. I also talk to them about new business trends, world events, and new technologies. I also talk to them about new businesses that are being created.

We can never prepare our students for every specific new thing out there. But, we can give them the skills to be able to adapt to new things. Teach them how to think and solve problems, teach them how to communicate and work together, teach them how to do research and self-teach themselves, and encourage their creativity. Educational technology tools can help us teach students, but they do not automatically make it 21st century education. We can use technology to do things differently (PowerPoint vs. writing on the board), or to do different things (virtual lab or field trip). Instead of the old dioramas and posters, students can create blogs, videos and web sites. Technology can help students explore things and share their work with others.

Technology can also be used to address multiple intelligences. Instead of just written words, students can see videos, sounds, pictures, and interactive demonstrations. Text-to-speech systems can help ELL and struggling students. Technology is also more interesting to students. My students would rather do online, interactive problems than work problems on paper. Same skills learned, but in a different way.

When I think of 21st and 22nd century skills, I think of being able to utilize new technologies and work in new paradigms. However, I see too many educational types using 21st Century skills to mean: project based learning, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving. These are things that I was doing as a student many years ago. For me, I see us needing to teach students how to think critically and solve problems, learn on their own, and be creative and adaptable. We should use new technologies and show them how the world is changing so that they can adapt to new things. We can't prepare them for every specific future job or thing, but we can give them base skills that will help them be prepared for anything. I think we need to really define 21st Century Skills better so that this kind of confusion doesn't keep happening (people calling things 21st Century Skills when they are not). Too many people think 21st century skills and 21st century education just means using technology. It is much more than that.

The 21st Century has just begun. We can only imagine what it will bring. Think of the world a hundred years ago, then 50 years ago, and then 25 years ago. Things are changing exponentially and I am excited to see what the future brings. I try to give my students basic skills necessary to adapt to the changes the future may bring. I learned how to type on an electric typewriter. My first computer was a Radio Shack Color Computer. I have learned how to learn on my own. I was taught skills in college that have helped me to adapt to new careers, new technologies, and a new world. I am trying to teach these skills to my students. I'm trying to get them to be creative thinkers and imagine a better world.

One project that I do with students is to have them create a new device, technology or product. They have to talk about the physics behind it, but they can be very creative. They have come up with some great ideas. I encourage them to think about a problem or need in the world and address that. That to me is the epitomy of what the future holds. People solving the world's problems.

We need to give our students the basic skills needed to adapt to a changing world and encourage them to be creative and innovative.

Some more articles I've written on this topic:

Let's keep this discussion going!


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