By Teachers, For Teachers
Too often, I hear colleagues whining about the mystical “they” adding another set of expectations to our already overflowing plate of responsibility. I don’t disagree that “they” seem to ask more and more of educators while the concept of "pay raises" seems a distant, mythical memory.
Thus, we are told to achieve more with fewer resources due to the mismanaging of educational financing and get paid less on top of it. It gets tough, and positive morale is difficult to maintain.
Yet, when it comes to teaching 21st century skills, the cry of, "Please, not another thing to teach” does not fly. The 21st century skills are embedded in the instruction of the core curriculum.
If a teacher sets up a hands-on science activity correctly, what 21st century skills are not practiced?
Science, by its nature, is inquiry based. Inquiry is one of the abilities for which the promoters of 21st century skills clamor. When an activity is designed as a group experience, collaboration and communication fall right into place.
It takes creative thinking and innovative actions to investigate science. In order to process the data that students generate, they need to reason, make judgments, decisions, and solve problems. Rarely does a science activity progress according to plan and yield the expected outcome. Thus, systems thinking needs to occur and that’s where problem solving skills are utilized. In order to solve those problems, it takes critical and creative thinking.
All the while, the team needs to clearly communicate their ideas with each other. That definitely will require that students use flexibility and adapt to change as they uncover ideas that contradict their own. In order to accomplish the goals of the activity, students must interact effectively, work independently from the teacher and become self-directed in their learning.
If the task is to be accomplished, the goal of the experience must be managed. In order to do that, time management has to be an integral part of the process. If carried through to completion, results will be produced and often, it is the leadership of the members of the group which bring the task to its completion.
Once the learning experience has been completed, the information needs to be distributed. That’s where the technology thread enters. The students have many options in sharing their information.
A simple Power Point presentation can be created, podcasts can be made, the use of a wiki is a possibility or creating a blog about the findings could be the avenue of distribution of thought. The information that students create uses the 21st century skill of media literacy.
Finding the best use of technology to deliver the findings to the world requires the ICT portion of 21st century skills as students learn how to effectively use technology. There might even need to be some research involved with the activity, so information literacy becomes a slice of the process as well.
Depending on the type of science activity that the students are experiencing, adding elements of the interdisciplinary themes would not be much of a stretch either.
Most topics can be slanted toward global awareness. Simply looking at how the results of the study might affect different parts of the world could bring some great thinking skills to the class. Adding the financial/economic theme is easy as nearly anything can be hooked into economics, with a little creative problem solving by the teacher.
Environmental issues are science, so hooking that theme into a hands-on activity is inherent in the discipline. Examining implications of the activity on health, whether it be personal health or the physical health of the community, might be a connection that can be made. That might even suggest some ethical issues, which could be tied to the theme of civic literacy.
Granted, some of the connections might be a challenge, but all that needs to be done is to ask the students to find those connections and support their ideas. They will do it. They will do it with excitement because the learning is in their hands. They will be motivated, and they will be excited to show their innovative thoughts.
The 21st century skills will be used to develop the connections with the themes, and in so doing, deeper levels of thinking and knowledge will be created.
It is evident that no extra teaching would need to be done to have students practice and perfect 21st century skills when science is the subject. A teacher who simply follows science protocol cannot help but fold the skills into a lesson. Thus, the idea of adding one more thing to teach simply holds no merit.
The challenge lies within the other subjects. Yet, when one looks at the skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communicating, collaborating, innovating and self-direction, shouldn’t any decent program have those as integral components to a successful classroom?
It shouldn’t be hard, if the teacher has the skills of critical thinking, problem solving and innovation, to find areas to implement the 21st century skills. But then, if a teacher doesn’t have the skills, how is he or she expected to teach them? How can that person be in charge of young minds to begin with?
Teaching 21st century skills is not a challenge; the challenge is narrowing the scope of focus for each lesson as the skills so seamlessly fall into place within any lesson. That’s the way it should be.
How do you integrate 21st century skills into your teaching? Share in the comments section!