Monday, February 24, 2014

What do schools need to do to prepare students for the 21st Century? Discuss your opinions.

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by Jennifer Rita Nichols, TeachThought Intern
As educators, we constantly strive to prepare our students for the ‘real world’ that exists around them. We teach them how to read, write, and calculate. Then, of course, there are the less tangible skills we teach; such as how to work in a team, think critically, and be curious about the things they encounter each day.
We want to prepare them to lead productive and successful lives once they leave us and enter into the realm of adulthood. But what lies ahead for our students in the future? Did educators of twenty years ago know that so much of our world would be based on computers and technology now? Could they have known what skills would be needed in the job market today? Unlikely, but yet they had to do their best to prepare their students for this world anyhow. Nowadays, educators are still charged with the same complicated task – preparing students for the unknown.
Tony Wagner of Harvard University worked to uncover the 7 survival skills required for the 21st century. To accomplish this, hundreds of CEOs in business, non-profits and educational institutions were interviewed. A list of seven skills that people will need to survive and thrive in the 21st century was compiled from their answers.
We may not know exactly what lies ahead for our students in the future, but we have the advantage of knowing what skills they will need once they get there. Here are the 7 survival skills of the 21st century, along with how they may look being purposefully applied in a classroom.
Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Preparation: Students will need to develop their skills at seeing problems from different angles and formulating their own solutions. Regardless of the field they choose to enter for their careers, the ability to think and act quickly is an indispensable tool for the future. To practice this, teachers should present students with situations in which they need to figure things out for themselves – where skills that they have already developed can be drawn upon and applied to help them figure out a problem.
The problem should ideally lend itself to multiple solutions, as we do not want to teach students that there is only one answer available, but instead that problem-solving can be a creative and personal experience. Situational problems in mathematics provide a good example of these skills at work.
Skills: Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
Preparation: Not every person is born a natural leader.
However, the ability to lead others can definitely help a person to advance and become successful in their chosen career. Also, finding a job where you don’t need to be able to work closely and harmoniously with others can be quite a difficult task. To best prepare students in this area, more than just the typical teamwork is required. Instead of simply getting into a group and splitting the tasks with each other, students should instead be encouraged to take on different roles within their group for each task within the project.
Sometimes they can be the ‘manager’ and at other times they can be an ‘organizer’ or a ‘graphic designer’. There are many different roles that students can fill during a project with their peers that allows them to work with others in a more collaborative way than just breaking apart a project and then putting it back together in the end.
Skills: Agility and Adaptability
Preparation: If we look back at the last twenty years we can see how much has changed in the workplace and the world.
Our students need to be comfortable with the idea of change and be willing to adapt to the changes around them. Teachers can create a very dynamic environment within the classroom that can help to prepare students for the future. Varying the teaching strategies we use, the setup of the classroom, the ways that learning is demonstrated by students, and even the guidelines for group work or homework can help students learn to adapt.
Have students create a storyline, for example, then surprise them with a mandatory element to incorporate, or even have them switch work and complete a task based on the preparations of another. They might grumble at first, but the skills will serve them well!
Skills: Initiative and Entrepreneurship
Preparation: Students need to be able to take initiative and contribute to the world. We should encourage these skills within our classrooms and our communities. Our students can be incredibly creative and interested in shaping their experience in the classroom, so we can ask them for much more than a list of classroom rules and consequences.
Let them know that you are available and willing to listen to any of their ideas about improving the classroom or school. Help them organize their ideas and put them into practice – even if an idea may fail. It can be a valuable lesson about how to analyze what went wrong and consider how to improve the idea. Students should never be afraid of trying because they are afraid of failure.
Skills: Effective Oral and Written Communication
Preparation: Despite advances in technology, these skills never diminish in importance. Think of a boss or manager sending you an email full of grammatical errors or presenting a new business plan while speaking too low and reading the entire presentation off a sheet of paper. What would you honestly think? Consider some of the best communicators you have seen – what makes them rise above the rest? We need to teach our students how to speak confidently and clearly.
This doesn’t come naturally, but with practice; enunciation, speed, volume, gestures, and eye-contact can all be taught and learned. The same skills that help in drama can help in oral communication. Take a moment one day to begin teaching a lesson in a very ineffective way and see how long it takes your students to ask what you’re doing… they should be able to tell you exactly what’s ‘wrong’ with your communication skills! As for written communication, we need to continue to emphasize the rules while also teaching students how to use the technology available to them to help check their writing. The difference between formal and informal writing is quite important for students to learn and start applying.
Skills: Accessing and Analyzing Information
Preparation: Students have access to unimaginable amounts of information today. The Internet provides an incredible research tool that can be their best friend or worst enemy. Accessing information is easy, but accessing good information tends to be more complicated. Students need to be taught how to sift through the millions of web pages available on a topic and find what they need (and be able to trust what they find). They need to learn the difference between factual information and factual-sounding opinions.
Many students today will check ‘answer’ websites to gather information, not really thinking about how the information was written by a person who may or may not be correct or truly knowledgeable in a subject area. In the same way a teacher can ‘think-aloud’ reading strategies, we can think-aloud Internet searching strategies. Project your screen on the board and learn about a topic with your students. Show them how to search, and how to use those ‘answer’ sites without being misled!
Skills: Curiosity and Imagination
Preparation: Our students come to us naturally curious about their world and wanting to explore it. Their imaginations are vast and untamed, creating endless amounts of practical and impractical things. Our task as educators has less to do with teaching them how to be curious and imaginative, and more to do with not taking that away from them. We need to continue to encourage them to develop these skills, as well as teach them how to apply them creatively and purposefully. Imagine the little boy who loves soldiers and robots, but hates princesses.
How do you react when he shows you his freshly-drawn picture of a soldier using a robot-inspired weapon to destroy a princess? Do you celebrate his creativity in the same way you celebrate the world-saving-robot drawn by the student next to him? Is his picture hung on the wall? We don’t all like and appreciate the same things, so an educator must be very careful about how they nurture and develop their students’ creativity and imagination. We can teach them which things are appropriate in which situations without making them feel like their ideas are wrong or bad. Besides, the greatest horror writers have to begin somewhere!

In your opinion what are the two most essential skills needed in order for students to be successful in the 21st century. Why?

Of the ten skills students will need to be well-educatied in the 21st century according to the Council of 55, I feel that the two most essential are:

• Being self-disciplined, acting responsibly, applying ethical principles and setting and assessing goals.

• Job success skills, including good interpersonal and human relations skills and the ability to work as a part of a team.


The study points out the today's children are bombarded with examples of unethical behavior from the media and bad examples set by adult acquaintances. Schools must provide instruction and opportunities for students to practice and learn the skills of self discipline, responsibility, setting and assessing goals, and ethical behavior.

I tell my fifth graders that being an honest, understanding person with integrity is more important to me than the academics. Students need to be actively taught respect for self and others. I believe that if students are good and kind and accept responsibility for their actions the academics will follow. In today's society, children often are not taught responsibility at home, so it becomes the school's job. Hand and hand with responsibility is the ability to set goals. Many students do not think beyond today. It is important that they see the significance of setting goals and working towards them. By setting goals and assessing the progress of meeting goals, students will better understand the concept of acting responsibly. Responsibility is the key. Responsible students makes for responsible adults.

Getting and keeping a job in the 21st century, according to the study, will require interpersonal, human relations skills, and the ability to work as a team. Interpersonal skills will divide the workers from the achievers. The ability to communicate, be it face to face or electronically, will determine a student's success in the future.

As a teacher, I feel that the ultimate goal is to get my students ready to be contributing adults in society. This means that they will need whatever skills necessary to get and hold down a job. In order to be successful in the job market of the 21st century, communication skills are of utmost importance. Technology will not replace personal involvement. I found the quote, "We want to hire students who are better prepared for our world. We want them to be customer-oriented, to work in team environments, and we want them to understand work as a result of processes," by John Kelsch in a 1992 Wall Street Journal article very insightful as to what will be expected of today's students in tomorrow's job market.

2. What are some of the ways you feel you could incorporate in your teachings to prepare your students for the 21st century?


I believe that, at Haiku School, we are on the right track. We believe in the importance of character education. Through STAR -Success Through Accepting Responsibility, our character ed program, responsibility for one's actions is reinforced school wide. Students are asked to Stop, Think, Act and Review as part of responsible decision making model. This year we have been asked to actively teach good behavior. We are not to assume that our students know how to behave properly. We are to give pre-corrections, informing our students of appropriate behavior. Also, we have streamlined our school rules from a list of ten to a list of three with the underlying theme of respect which I have found very effective. Our three school rules are:

1.) Respect for self. 2.) Respect for others. 3.) Respect for property.


My class is set up in cooperative learning groups which change monthly. Changing the group dymanics gives students the opportunity to work under different conditions. It has been my goal to assign at least one project per quarter that requires teamwork. and collaboration. I believe that working as a team develops respect for others. It also requires students to take active parts in planning, decision-making, communication, and fosters interpersonal skills which include conflict resolution and negotiation skills. By working as a team, students develop adaptability and flexibility. Students are often required to conduct research and interpret and apply data. I value the process more than the products. I see my students being problem solvers, communicators, team players, all of which were are important job success skills that will help to make them successful in the 21st century.

Are we preparing our students for the 21st century?
Our school’s need to adapt the most effective educational methodologies to produce literate, technologically superior, and democratic citizens for the 21st century.

“Kids spend much of the day as their great-grandparents once did: sitting in rows, listening to teachers traditional classrooms lecture, scribbling notes by hand, reading from textbooks that are out of date by the time they are printed” written by Claudia Wallus from Time Magazine author of How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th century .

The new 21st century school should be a true student-centered approach within the classroom. Students need to learn to think and apply information from a plethora of disciplines and new technology. Students need to be taught what’s reliable and what is not in this digital age of endless technology and information.

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Check out this great article from the Huffington Post  written by Lisa Nielsen from her blog called The Innovative Educator  or find her @InnovativeEdu

According to Lisa Nielsen from Innovative Educator: our school’s must catch up to the 21st century by encouraging teaches and students to create:

1. Personal Learning Networks
Perhaps the core of passion driven, self-directed learning is the development of personal learning networks which can be developed through blogs, social networks like Facebook, Ning, or, Twitter, and discussion boards. Read “5 Things You Can Do to Begin Developing Your Personal Learning Network,” “The PLN Matures. The Progression of the 21st Century Personal Learning Network” and “5 Ways to Build Your 1.0 and 2.0 Personal Learning Network to learn how to get started.”

2. Skype an Expert
You can make your classroom a global communication center for free with Skype by connecting with anyone around the world about topics of interests. These experts may be people you have conversations with or perhaps they are people you learn from. Author, blogevangelist, teacher, thought leader and father, Will Richarson uses Skype to supplement his children’s learning. Paul Bogush, an 8th grade social studies teacher not only supports his students in doing this, they take it up a notch with a program they produce called Lunchtime Leaders. Students interview leaders from around the world on their opinions about what they should do to be prepared for the future. Paul and his students do most of their interviews using Skype and they turn the interviews into Podcast. You can listen to their podcasts at  where students choose to interview experts in topics they are interested in and then turn their interview into a podcast.

3. Authentic Publishing
In the 21st century, irrelevant hand-it-in teaching should be a thing of the past. If a student’s work has no authentic audience beyond the teacher, it shouldn’t be assigned. A student who is self-motivated to do something, counts, btw. A teacher directing him/her to do it does not. Most 21st century kids love to share with real audiences and are doing it outside school already. Inside school, work should not sit lifeless on a computer, or even just the school website. Support students in finding real audiences for their work in their Global Community. If you’re not sure how find out by reading, “21st Century Educators Don’t Say, ‘Hand It In.’ They say, “Publish It!”

4. Use YouTube and iTunes to Learn Anything
It’s rather outrageous that many schools still block one of the most powerful tools for learning available for students today: YouTube. While iTunes is a powerful option for learners on the go, YouTube adds the visual element, making learning even more powerful and FREE! With YouTube Education and iTunes University, more and more colleges, universities, and their professors are sharing content for free. While some schools are paying for pre-packaged online learning options, they’re really all already out there for free. Empower teachers and/or students to design their own learning and learn about whatever they want with these free resources. Not only are these good resources to go to learn from others, they’re also a smart place to ask for help like this student did who needed help with his bowdrill set.

5. Develop Authentic Learning Portfolios
When done right ePortfolios can be a powerful tool that not only helps remind students of all their accomplishments, but it also enables them to share these with the world. In the 21st century, creating an ePortfolio is free and easy. Student simply select a container (blog, wiki, website, Google site), decide how they’d like to organize it, and then post their work. I strongly advise against using any paid for portfolio site. It is important that students have ownership of their own work and that it can travel with them wherever they are. When it comes to ePortfolios, Helen Barrett is the go-to person. To learn more, visit her blog  where she shares fantastic ideas.

In our globally connected world, it is no longer acceptable for teachers to teach the way they were taught nor is it okay for administrators to allow it. It is also no longer acceptable for administrators to take the easy way out and require connected kids to learn in a disconnected environment where they are banned from accessing sites or bringing to school the tools and technologies they love and need to succeed in the world. In the 21st century, if we truly care about student success we will lift the bans, unblock the filters and connect our students to the world so they can learn effectively.

PreParing StudentS for a new world of
work in the 21St Century

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