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21st-Century STEM Skills Students Need to Know

Janelle Cox

When you’re a child living in the 21st century, there are a few skills that you’re going to have to have in order to succeed in the future: Skills such as the ability to think critically and problem solve. As teachers, it’s our job to not only prepare our students, but equip them with these essential skills that will help them succeed in their careers and in life. Today’s classrooms are focusing on STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), because the demand for these skills is rapidly increasing. In order for our youth to have a successful future, they’ll need to be proficient in these skills. Here are a few STEM skills that all students need to know, so they’ll be able to succeed in future STEM fields.

STEM Problem-Solving

The ability to problem solve is a skill that every student needs to have. No matter what field a student enters, employers are going to expect them to be able to solve a problem. Employers aren’t the only ones that will expect this skill from students, society requires it as well. Everybody will encounter problems on a daily basis, however some may be more complex than others, such as being able to do your own taxes.

In order to be good at problem solving, students will need a lot of opportunities to practice this skill. Try and give students a real-world problem to solve. The more that you do this, the better they’ll get at perfecting the skill.

Critical Thinking

Success in STEM relies not only on the ability to problem solve, but also on the ability to think critically and apply concepts to solve a problem. STEM education is where students are trying to figure out solutions to problems, and in order to do that, they must use their critical thinking skills. It’s much more than just having students solve word problems. Holding classroom debates, challenging students to solve real-world problems through project-based learning, and providing students with time to reflect upon their experiences and activities are all great ways for them to develop their critical thinking skills.

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Flexibility is the ability to adapt to new situations. This is a skill that students will use a lot in their lives. One easy way to develop this skill in students is to use a variety of different formats on a test. For example, on one test, have students switch between true/false, multiple choice, and essay questions. A student that is able to easily do this would be considered to have good flexibility skills. Another fun way to develop this skill is to have students play an educational app on an iPad or a tablet. Many of these apps require users to shift their game play at each level they advance. Students will not only learn to be flexible, but they’ll also use their critical thinking skills to help them solve problems in order to advance in the game.

Data Interpretation

Data interpretation is the ability for students to be able to make a decision based on scientific data, not just their thoughts or feelings on the topic. Students can develop this skill by collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data on a variety of different things such as reading charts, tables, and graphs, then analyzing the data. Have students practice frequently -- the more they use this skill, the easier it will be for them to interpret data in the future.

Creativity and Innovation

Teaching students to think outside of the box is one of the many ways that we can ensure students are using their creativity and being innovative. Teachers can nurture their students’ creativity by giving them many opportunities to be innovative. If students have an idea, allow them to run with it. Ask them open-ended questions, and allow the students to come up with their own solutions based on their own thoughts and ideas. Being innovative is what is going to help set them apart from others in the future. The more opportunities teachers give students get to think on their own, and run with their ideas, the more comfortable students will be with sharing their ideas.

In short, you need to prepare your students to be ready for anything. Most teachers are preparing their students for jobs that don’t even exist yet! While knowledge in all of these skills can be used throughout a student’s life, providing them with a foundation of STEM skills (like the ability to think critically and solve problems) will help them to succeed in the workforce as well as have a bright future.

How do you prepare your students with 21st century STEM skills? Please feel free to share what skills you think are essential in the future, as well as how you develop these skills in your students. We would love to hear from you!

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at

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