Maine’s Teacher of the Year on 21st century skills

Maine 2016 teacher of the Year Talya Edlund recently shared some thoughts about teaching 21st century skills. Her article appeared in the Bangor Daily News January 9-10, 2016.

Teaching important lessons beyond curriculum

I recently visited Texas Instruments in South Portland with a group of teachers. Our purpose was to gain an understanding of the skills employers seek when hiring today’s high school and college graduates. Touring the semiconductor plant, we learned that engineers work in teams to create improved templates for technology and to solve efficiency problems.

One of the head chemical engineers told our group that a stand-out on resumes is the amount of lab time an applicant has under her belt. She explained that lab time indicates an applicant has likely developed skills beyond those that are measured by papers or exams. In short, they are looking for applicants with 21st century skills.

What is 21st-century learning?

This type of learning is a framework for teaching that is often referred to as the four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. Using these skills can connect curriculum to experience, as well as encourage students to take greater ownership of their learning.

There is an increasing body of evidence in educational research showing that students who develop 21st century skills are better able to apply content learning to real-life situations. Ultimately, this leads to deeper engagement and understanding of taught material. Moreover, practicing 21st-century skills helps build the resilience, accountability and ingenuity that will carry today’s students into careers of the future.

Twenty-first century learning in an elementary classroom

Keeping a focus on 21st-century skills has caused me to elevate my instruction to include more rigorous questions, more time for trial and error, and more time for reflection. My students now have richer conversations about literature and are able to synthesize information from expository texts.

In math, students explain their problem-solving approaches, and they have more opportunities to reason and wonder. Within a 21st-century learning framework, the content has not changed, but the level of engagement and rigor has skyrocketed.

Overcoming challenges together

Twenty-first century learning can certainly happen without modern technology. I recently observed a fourth grade classroom that was bursting with the 4 C’s, and yet there was not a computer in sight. On the day of my visit, students were working in research groups to study weather topics. Teams of students dispersed throughout the room, organizing materials, determining goals for the day and pouring over their notes.