Teaching 21St Century Skills

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					During his first 100 days, President Obama hit the ground running with three key
priorities: the economy, healthcare, and education. In the wake of the No Child Left
Behind Act 鈥檚 hyper-focus on testing, educators, parents and students need a
reason to be hopeful, and the new administration promises an education that will help
students to acquire the 21st century skills needed to compete in an increasingly global
economy. In a March 10th address to the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,
President Obama proposed a new vision for 21st century education by 鈥渃 alling on
our nation's governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and
assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test,
but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking
and entrepreneurship and creativity.鈥?What does a 21st century education mean, in
practical terms? What are 21st Century Skills? The term 鈥?1st century skills
鈥?implies a new, modern approach toward educational instruction and a new set of
competencies. However, the skills included in a 21st century education are in
evidence in high-performing classrooms across the world. The Partnership for 21st
Century Skills, the leading advocacy organization for infusing 21st century skills into
education, has developed a framework that includes four key elements for 21st
century skills: Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes: core subjects like math,
English-language arts, science, history, arts and government are essential to student
learning. In addition to these basics, teachers must also integrate global awareness;
financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy; civic literacy; and health
literacy. In light of the current economic crisis, financial literacy skills are more
important than ever, and have been, for the most part, overlooked as part of traditional
classroom instruction. Learning and Innovation Skills: work environments are
becoming progressively more complex, requiring creativity, critical thinking, and
effective communication. Attributes like collaboration, teamwork, and multi-tasking
are rarely innate and are best retained when taught as real-life skills during core
subject instruction. Information, Media, and Technology Skills: in a global economy,
workers 鈥?use of technology is multi-faceted and requires a range of critical thinking
skills. Technology is changing with increasing speed, and yet, schools have been slow
to keep pace. Funding provided to states through the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act (ARRA) offers schools an unprecedented opportunity to upgrade
classrooms with current technology. Life and Career Skills: the modern workplace
requires far more than just content knowledge 鈥?workers must be able to adapt to
varied work environments, responsibilities, and changing priorities. They must also be
able to work both independently and as part of a team, to prioritize, plan and manage
their own work (often remotely), and to seamlessly 鈥渃 ode-switch 鈥?when
working with colleagues of other cultures. An Integrated Instructional Approach In
years past, competencies like life and career skills were relegated to home economics
classes, but the work world of today requires an entirely new set of skills. Given these
increasing expectations, how can teachers be expected to fit it all in? Educators and
policymakers at the highest levels of the education field advocate for an integrated
approach 鈥?one that infuses core subject areas with 21st century skill instruction.
Still, without more attention to teacher training and more time in the school day for
instruction, American schools may continue to be left behind.
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