3 ways to infuse 21st-century skills into instruction - SmartBrief

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3 ways to infuse 21st-century skills into instruction

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Voice of the Educator

SmartBlog on Education this month is exploring 21st-century teaching and learning. Join us for original content in which experts explore the trends and highlight best practices that can help prepare students for their future worlds of work and living.

All teachers seek to prepare students for life after high school. These days that means equipping them with the skills it will take to survive in the 21st century workplace, while also covering other curriculum requirements. What concrete examples of 21st century workplace skills like communication, self-management, collaboration, motivation and inquiry do you focus on in your classroom? As an interesting parallel, how do your examples compare with these actual comments from employees and their supervisors who participated in the Arizona K12 Center’s Lesson2Life professional development?

  1. A human resources manager at a call center who hires high-school students said candidates don’t realize their phone call to the company to request an interview is their first interview.
  2. The local electric company doesn’t require college degrees from its applicants, but prefers them, because it demonstrates the ability to set and reach long-range goals.
  3. An engineer from a well-known hardware manufacturer says their first interviews are to see how well candidates will fit in with the company culture.
  4. A public relations official from a biotech firm says the company cares more about a candidate’s initiative and participation in outside class activities than the reputation of the university he attended.

In my own classroom, I present these scenarios to students, who then listen and discuss with great interest. Although a class discussion may raise awareness of the importance of the skills, it doesn’t provide the opportunity to practice and perfect them. That’s where efforts like project-based learning, makerspaces and open educational resources can help.

In short, PBL, makerspaces and OERs enable teachers to infuse 21st century skills into content instruction. The difference between these resources includes their fundamental goals and how explicit that infusion is. Each of these practices faces challenges in implementation, so teachers must modify their traditional roles as well as cover content standards.

The fundamental goal of PBL is to blend content with process as students create a predefined and authentic product. Twenty-first century skills are among the eight essential elements of PBL, which also include significant content, student voice and choice, and a publicly-presented product. The benefits of PBL align with its challenges. Skills like collaboration, inquiry and self-management are integral to PBL, but students lacking those skills may disrupt the group dynamics. Additionally, PBL may enhance the quality of a student’s content knowledge, but it can be difficult to cover all the expected standards through projects. Finally, because teamwork is vital to PBL, it may be hard to assess an individual student’s grade.

Conversely, if the purpose of PBL is to learn content through projects, the goal of the maker movement, which has a vibrant life outside of education, is to make things you can share or sell, and learning is incidental to that goal. Adweek, defines Maker as, “The umbrella term for independent inventors, designers, and tinkerers.” For example, in PBL you might make innovative furniture to learn about angles. But in a makerspace, you make innovative furniture to show and sell in a Maker Faire. And whereas PBL is explicit regarding 21st century skills, the maker movement assumes them.

There is no thorough maker teaching method, so creating a classroom makerspace is a challenge. In Edutopia, Vicki Davis writes that resources that may help a teacher in this strategy include:  Design Thinking, #geniushour, Invent to Learn  and Learning Commons.

Like makers, many teachers like to recreate their practice with fresh content and methods, and OERs enable them to show and share their work. In fact, OERs are makerspaces for teachers themselves. Edutopia’s Open Educational Resources (OER): Resources Round Up defines OER as an open content movement that involves sharing teaching, lessons and practices under legally-recognized open licenses. The goal of the OER movement is to save time while increasing collaboration, through revising materials and sharing best practices. For example, OER Commons lets you search for general topics or refine your searches by subject, education level, or standard for lessons and projects. Challenges to OER include ensuring the quality of open content and true alignment to standards. A downloadable rubric is available at Achieve to help judge a resource’s appropriateness for its intended use.

Tension is in the air. Candidates for a highly paid job at the electric company have been given a short written test, but there aren’t enough reference materials for everyone. Your former student, a veteran of your 21st century skills infused class, negotiates with the others so they can share the limited supplies. Little does your student know that was the real test: to see who can cooperate with others in a tense situation.

And that’s just one of the success stories you might hear from students who were well prepared for life after high school.

August “Sandy” Merz III, a National Board Certified Teacher, teaches engineering and algebra at Safford K8 IB World School in Tucson, Ariz. He’s a member of the CTQ Collaboratory and writes their Digressive Discourse blog. In January, he became an inaugural winner of Raytheon’s Leader in Education Award.

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This article is brought to you in collaboration with Center for Teaching Quality.