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SPUEDTC6535 – Week 4 – 21st Century Skills

October 25, 2010
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The readings for class this week centered around the need to focus on the development of 21st century skills in the students that we teach. The Partnership for the Development of 21st century skills produced an informational document outlining the reasons behind the need, the steps that have already been taken, and the next steps that need to be taken. In fact, the document calls for a “fresh approach to education” as it is necessary to the economy: “Our ability to compete as a nation—and for states, regions and communities to attract growth industries and create jobs—demands a fresh approach to public education. We need to recognize that a 21st century education is the bedrock of competitiveness—the engine, not simply an input, of the economy.” (p. 3)             That “fresh approach to public education” is needed to boost and encourage the American economy, and as such, education needs to focus on two things: technology and innovation (p. 7-8). From there, the necessary (21st century) skills can be further broken down as follows: critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, collaboration and communication, and innovation (p. 12).

My personal reflection is that this is a worthwhile goal, and that it’s a great thing for us, as educators to strive for. We are constantly faced with the questions “How is this going to help me?” or “When/Where am I going to use this in the ‘real world’?” so it only seems natural that we should be working to make this as clear as possible for all involved. Of course, perception and practice are two very different things: yes, it’s a great idea – and a definite are of need – but implementation is a completely different ball game.

Unfortunately many questions go unanswered:

What does that mean for the curriculum?

What kind of standards are trying to be met?

Where will the money for training and professional development come from?

Where and how do teachers integrate assessment?

That same article by the Partnership for the Development of 21st century skills introduced a brief foray into this field by explaining the following:  ‘To prepare students to be competitive, the nation needs an “NCLB plus” agenda that infuses 21st century skills into core academic subjects. This is not an either–or agenda: Students can master 21st century skills while they learn reading, mathematics, science, writing and other school subjects.” (p. 10) In short, 21st century skills are not an addition to the curriculum, they are a means of delivery.  For example, GLE 1.1.1 expects students to: “Generate ideas and create original works for personal and group expression using a variety of digital tools.” Generating ideas, working in groups and working with different forms of expression are not new ideas – they have been ways of delivering curriculum since the beginning of education – but doing the same thing with technology is the means of incorporating 21st century skills.

In the article Which came frist – the technology of the pedagogy? The author, Schaffhauser, explains the idea of incorporating 21st century skills (specifically technology) by citing another professional:  “The formal expression of this is ‘technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK),'” Bull says. “TPACK says that you have to know three things to use technology well. You first have to know the content…You also need to know the … instructional strategies that will be effective. Finally, you need to know the innovation or technology that you’re going to then use.” This suggests that the successful approach to incorporating these skills is a three-way weave: a triumvirate of knowledge that pulls together content pedagogy and technology into one cohesive and coherent educational experience.

But there’s a problem… (Isn’t there always)

Here’s my rumination: teachers don’t see a need. Technology and 21st century skills are not a priority in schools, districts, or the nation as a while. If the administrations at the various levels don’t push them, if the teachers don’t see a strong drive in one direction, then the movement will be ignored. The reason is very simply because teachers see that they can convey the information that they are contractually obligated to teach without integrating technology and 21st century skills: they have the content side; they have the pedagogy side, but the final piece of the triangle is missing. There is no pressing need to focus on technology as well.

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