21st Century Skills

By: Jan Mazotti and Susan Snowdon Issue: Education & Workforce Development Section: Inspiration

More Than Just Learning To Use A Computer

21st Century Skills 21st Century Skills are more than learning to use a computer. These skills are a mastery of core subjects with an infusion of life, career, innovation, and technology skills interwoven within the learning environment of curriculum, professional development, and standards and assessments.

To prepare students for the 21st century, schools are more actively using technology as an integral part of the instructional day as they prepare students to become the employees of tomorrow.

Emerging technologies and outside collaborative efforts to host business and government professionals is prevalent throughout schools in the U.S. and is proving useful in student and teacher engagement.

As we advance in this globally connected age, we have shifted expectations to include more than the traditional reading, writing, and arithmetic fundamentals. We have begun to demand aspects of learning and innovation skills such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration/teamwork; information and technology skills; and life and career skills such as flexibility, self-direction, cross-cultural social skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership for our students.

At Timberline Elementary, in Aurora, Colorado, they understand this. They are teaching technology, workforce, and life skills on a daily basis.

During 2008-2009, the Cherry Creek school district and Timberline were the recipients of several Smart Boards courtesy of a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Smart Boards provide students the opportunity to interact with websites, math manipulatives, and a multitude of instructional aides, while improving gross motor skills. Susan Snowdon, principal of Timberline says, “These Boards get the whole class involved and provide immediate correctional feedback mechanisms, especially in math programs.” “In fact,” she goes on, “we’d like to incorporate Smart Boards in all math instruction going forward.”

“Our kindergarten teachers are part of a district-wide grant that allows kindergarten students to take their teacher home with them. In this program, lower-performing or ESL students’ teachers record activities, then the students take the iPods home, listen to the lesson and complete the activities with their families.” She notes that this program, while new, is really beginning to show improvements with students in terms of phonics and reading, which is leading to better student interactions in the classroom.

Older students are actively participating in writing blogs. These interactive blogs give students the opportunity to evaluate each other’s writing, offer suggestions and enjoy their peers’ writing. Snowdon notes, “We are seeing great value in these blogs. They seem to be very motivational and engaging, especially for boys.” She says that the blogs are allowing boys to share their interests in various types of literature, especially science fiction, with other students and that it is allowing them more of an ability to become ‘engaged’ in the conversation when eyes aren’t directly on them.” With the growing needs of students, the partnership between communities, businesses, retired citizens and parents is vital to the success of schools.

Outside of the pure technology occurring in the school, Timberline has a large peer-tutoring program, which supports teamwork and problem solving skills for students. The Reading Together program, sponsored by a grant from the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation is active in all district elementary schools. Twenty-six second and third grade students are paired with fourth and fifth grade tutors. These students meet twice a week to read together and discuss the literature selection. In addition, tutors commit to another day of training each week. Programs such as these are a great way for students to interact with each other, but also could serve as a great community collaborative between adults and students.

Recently, Timberline began participating in the Educator for a Day program, which provides opportunities for professionals and business people to teach in a school for a day. During the program, Timberline hosted a city council member, a news reporter and an engineer who taught kindergarten, third and fifth grades, respectively. “It was a fun way for adults to understand what expectations are within a school, while gaining first-hand knowledge about student learning and teacher responsibilities,” Snowdon said. She went on, “Being an educator for a day is a great way for the community to be involved in schools and for students to hear about how the skills they are learning today impact the jobs of tomorrow.”

Timberline is no different from elementary schools across the country.

Each school has its own programs, needs and opportunities for collaboration.

In today’s world, we are expecting – or demanding - our students to become engaged digital citizens in a global marketplace, yet we are just beginning to embrace and implement the technological, as well as social innovations and life skills needed to be and/or remain competitive in a global economy.

We must support our schools and education professionals, as they too begin to participate in the global economy.

Timberline Elementary is a four-track, year-round school in the Cherry Creek School district (CCSD). Timberline, and all of the CCSD schools, strive to provide a balanced education that includes rigorous academic instruction and extracurricular activities. Community support is essential when it comes to providing many of these opportunities for students. Through Parent Teacher Organizations, we are able to support science projects, additional supervision for recess and lunch, author visits and assemblies. Grants from various sources are one way that we are able to broaden our impact and to extend learning beyond the regular school day. By contacting your local school, you can certainly learn about ways to affect student achievement.