How Are You Engaging Learners in 21st-Century Skill-Building?
Can educators teach 21st-century skills and content in the classroom? Is there room for both? The answer is yes, they can do it all, and at this point, they must do both.
Let me ask you a question. What do you think is more valuable, skills or content knowledge? I argue that you can’t have one without the other, and it is one of our greatest responsibilities as educators to provide opportunities for development in both.
To be a wildlife ecologist, my career before teaching, I needed to understand concepts such as carrying capacity, predator/prey relationships, symbiotic relationships, migration behaviors, etc. — the content. An ecologist might also need to know how to utilize mapping software, write a technical report, read and produce charts and graphs, and present their findings to scientific peers — hard skills.
Once learners have memorized the buzzwords, have a basic understanding of the content, and have developed some relevant hard skills to get them started, are they all set? Are they obstacle-free? Are they competitive in their line of work? Are they healthy, responsible, and productive citizens?
To make it as a wildlife ecologist, I also needed to be able to problem-solve. I needed to be able to communicate and collaborate with stakeholders, even those that I didn’t always agree. I needed to know not just how to solve a problem, but how to identify one. I had to accept failure and grow from it.
I needed to be able to ask important and relevant questions. It is a rare occurrence to be handed information, discrete facts, outside of a classroom environment. I have had to troubleshoot, find answers, and reach conclusions on my own as a wildlife ecologist, educator, blogger, curriculum writer, mother, daughter, friend, citizen, and everything else I am or have become.
These are important skills that are often forgotten about or glossed over in 21st-century classrooms. Some educators lack the confidence to teach content AND skills, don’t find value in including skills in their curriculum or don’t believe there is enough time to do both.
I find these hangups to be particularly present in secondary classrooms. The pressure on teachers is high. Lack of time is a misconception, though. It’s easier to work around time constraints when you choose learning activities that promote both skill and content development.
Project-based learning is one example. Students learn content while also engaging with the community, networking, problem-solving, presenting, and locating credible resources, all essential skills that wouldn’t be gained from lectures, worksheets, or textbook readings alone.
I see many educators trying project-based learning as well as STEM, STEAM, experiential learning, design activities, inquiry, nature-based learning, and play-based learning, among many others. The students of these educators will thank them later.
These are all strategies that help learners develop content knowledge AND build the skills they need to be happy, confident, passionate lifelong learners. Check out my ready-made resources and teacher tools for experiential learning activities that help students learn concepts and build 21st-century skills.
Whether you are a primary teacher, middle or high school teacher, an alternative educator, a home educator, a traditional or progressive educator, you need to ask yourself, “What am I doing to engage my students in 21st-century skill-building?” Do some serious, honest reflection. If you are delivering content, and content alone, reassess and make some changes. Kids deserve better. It’s never too late to start!
As I said earlier, I believe another reason for glossing over skill development in classrooms is the lack of confidence on the part of the educator. I for one have always been intimidated by STEM. That insecurity held me back for a long time. Eventually, I just decided to go for it. I slowly started adding a few STEM activities here and there until both my students and I had more confidence. STEM activities help students practice teamwork, critical thinking, creativity, tech literacy, and more.
I talk about 21st-century skill-building quite often, and I do so because it is essential and it is my job to prepare my students for life in the 21st-century.
I encourage you to check out introductory posts to my learning 21st-century skills blog series including the benefits of teaching 21st-century skills and how to add 21st-century skill-building activities to your curriculum.
Visit Experiential Learning Depot to browse more articles, peruse resources, and reach out with questions about experiential learning, including 21st-century skill-building.