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21st Century Skills

Blog Entries

By Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

Technology and the Internet have created countless new opportunities for learning. Students can now read about virtually any subject from anywhere and can connect with people and places around the world. Teachers are harnessing the power of the technology to bring curriculum alive and modify instruction to meet the unique needs of every child. Technology is essential for the development of 21st century skills that will help students thrive in their chosen careers.

Technology is everywhere. We text, tweet, shop, learn, play games, plan family vacations and even worship online. Some of us even use technology to track our 10,000 steps each day, like I did during this past summer’s National PTA convention.

Personally, I love technology. I use it extensively at my job. And on my many travels for National PTA, I often use my phone to arrange for transportation, confirm speaking engagements and stay in touch with our state and local units.

But with new gadgets, social media platforms and apps coming out every day, I, like most families, don’t have the time or tech savvy to stay on top of the latest fad.

That’s where good decision-making skills that apply to any digital environment are helpful. ...

By Helen Soulé, Executive Director, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

In countless schools across the US, a new year brings new students. It also brings “wonder” tools, applications and processes. For many educators, this deluge of technology threatens to drown them in an ocean of confusion and frustration. They face hard choices, not only about which tools to purchase, but how to integrate these tools into classroom instruction in a 21st century information and media rich curriculum.

Today, savvy educators realize that technology must be more than an electronic teacher with paperless worksheets. They recognize the transformative power of technology. But transforming instruction to take full advantage of digital power requires significant risk-taking, support and new skill development. Students and teachers must acquire not only the media, information and technology skills, but also the 4Cs (communication, critical thinking, creativity and innovation and collaboration) in order to be able to build a quality 21st century learning environment. ...

While the ‘digital divide’ is well documented, studies show mixed results when trying to document technology’s influence on learning for at-risk students. In part, this is because the digital learning ecosystem is so complex. The academic realities for at-risk children, many of whom live in poverty, are also well known. More than half of all students enrolled in public schools today meet this designation. They are more likely to start school less academically prepared than their peers, fall behind throughout the summer due to learning loss and less likely to have access to technology, including computers, at home. ...

Dr. Barry Bachenheimer is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Pascack Valley Regional High School District (NJ) and a 2014 NSBA 20 to Watch Education Technology Leader. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a teacher, social studies supervisor, principal and central office administrator. He also served as Director of Instruction in the Caldwell-West School System in Caldwell, NJ, prior to coming to Pascack.

Dr. Bachenheimer values personalized learning, student voice and thoughtful integration of technology in classrooms, and he recently supported Pascack Valley’s efforts in creating a “Virtual Day” to take the place of a snow day in 2014. He was kind enough to take time to share his thoughts on these and other issues, including implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Public School Insights (PSI): Let’s start with your background. Where were you before you came to the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, and what positions did you hold that contributed to your current work in curriculum, instruction and assessment, as well as with technology? ...

By Dr. Valerie C. Bryan, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

How can technology infused into the curriculum promote the development of skills and attitudes for lifelong, self-directed learning?

In spite of the emphasis on the word “self”, Malcom Knowles (1975) suggested that self-directed learning often involved others – teacher, mentors and even friends as assistants in the learning process. Today in our digital society, with information doubling every 72 hours in an ongoing information explosion, that form of assistance may involve not only individuals that are close at hand, but individuals from around the globe. With the vast knowledge explosion there is not always a “sage on the stage” to direct the learner, but there are helpers available on the side even when they are across an ocean. ...

By Wendy Drexler, Chief Innovation Officer, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

The recent release of the 46th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools reveals a high level of public engagement in the issues surrounding public education. Americans are demonstrating greater levels of immersion and increased awareness of efforts to transform learning and teaching, such as Common Core, charter schools and assessment. However, a glaring omission from the national conversation in the poll is any reference to how teachers are leveraging the power of technology to motivate and engage students.

If we were to tour schools across the country, we would see technology in many schools and classrooms. We’d see some students using mobile devices, laptops, interactive whiteboards and tablets to learn in new ways. We’d see many more students using devices to do what they’ve always done, such as take notes and search for information. The push to digital learning started decades ago, so why, when we talk about education, do we want to separate learning and technology? ...

By Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

Self-directed learning often involves teamwork among classmates. Active, cooperative learning activities not only give students the opportunity to learn deeply, they also present opportunities to practice communicating, negotiating, and collaborating. Learning to work with others is an essential life skill, but for many students it doesn’t come easily!

Here are four complaints students commonly voice during group projects and some possible ways to respond:

“I’d rather do it on my own!”

Students who voice this objection don’t understand that working in groups provides important learning opportunities. Nearly every adult job requires collaboration of some sort, so always “going it alone” simply isn’t an option ...

By Tatyana Warrick, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

What do students need to know and do to be able to thrive in the 21st century? This is the question that P21 has been working in concert with business, education leaders, and policymakers to answer over the last 10 years. Turns out, the skills that students need to succeed in college and workplace – a.k.a. to be college & career ready – are the same ones they need to be 21st century citizens.

Just as the world of work has changed, with the advent of technology and globalization, so has the nature of citizenship. The challenges of being a responsible, effective citizen are more diverse, nuanced and complex than they have been before. Because of this, our understanding of what it means to be a citizen in the 21st century needs to be expanded. Public schools have always played an important part of shaping tomorrow's citizens and safeguarding the ideals of our democracy. That responsibility is just as vital today. In fact, as we discuss standards, assessments and teaching practices, we can't forget that our educators also carry with them the responsibility to impart to students what it means to be a citizen of this nation, this world and online. ...

By Carolyn Sykora, Senior Director of Standards, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

Common Core State Standards and the first iPad were released. Together, these changed the name of the game in U.S. education.

The Common Core assessments were designed to be taken online, requiring students to be comfortable with using and navigating digital resources. The tablet offered an affordable alternative to computer labs and carts — one that was portable enough for students to use throughout their school day and at home.

Reviewing the current body of research, ISTE found that 1:1 programs were already showing educational gains for students in special education as well as improved reading and writing skills in certain student populations, piquing the attention of decision makers. ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Once upon a time, we were challenged to find useful data about education. Not much information was collected, and it was largely inaccessible. In recent years, as public demands for greater transparency and evidence-based accountability have generated an information frenzy, we still face this challenge—but not because data are scant. Now they are overabundant, often difficult to decipher, or of unreliable quality. In this new environment, we must prepare teachers and other education leaders to be not only data literate, but also advocates for effective data use by others.

Researchers and education leaders must take responsibility for helping PK-12 practitioners and other decision makers interpret the data being generated by districts, states, think tanks, research and policy organizations, schools themselves, and a multitude of other sources—often with set agendas that taint the evidence. Too often, unscrupulous data collection and usage leads to antagonistic distractions, bad press, and worse policy decisions ...

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