21st Century Learning: Skills & Standards

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

This lesson will provide an overview of 21st century curriculum and skills. These will include themes for broadening traditional curriculum in classrooms, as well as the skills necessary for students to implement these themes in classrooms and beyond.

21st Century Learning Standards and Skills

We live in a period in history where we are confronted every day with how our world has changed. The majority of us can reflect back on when cell phones were a luxury, not a standard. Some of us can remember the days of slow, dial-up Internet service. Others remember the long-gone days of DOS operating systems, and true floppy disks. The reality is that the world has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Our education system must change to prepare children for success in this vastly different environment. 21st century skills are a framework intended to help educators design curriculum to prepare students for success in this new world.

21st Century Curriculum Themes

English, math, science, and social studies have long been and will continue to be the four core subjects in nearly any school in America. Few would argue that these courses are fundamental to preparing students for college. However, under 21st century skills, several new themes for instruction are considered equally relevant. These include global awareness as well as financial, civic, health, and environmental literacy.

The curriculum themes were developed based on outcomes students need to be successful in the changing world in which we live. It is no longer enough to be competent in reading, writing, and mathematics. Rather, these themes and related skills focus on teaching students to be contributing members of society.

21st Century Curriculum Themes

Global Awareness

Global awareness is one such theme. We do not work in isolation, but live and work as members of a global community. The standard of behavior in one culture does not necessarily translate to a global scale. Students must have a foundation of cultural understanding, no matter their own cultural background. This knowledge will enable them to communicate and ultimately collaborate with other cultures around the world. This includes having an understanding of non-English languages used in countries with which they will ultimately collaborate.

Financial Literacy

Financial events of the last decade, including the crash of the housing market, have driven home the need to teach a curriculum that includes financial literacy. Students need to know how to manage money and pay bills so that they can eventually become self-sufficient members of society. History has shown that living in a global economy means that financial decisions have not only individual ramifications, but also a collective impact. Therefore, it is important that everyone learns how to manage finances responsibly. Students need to learn financial basics, including balancing a bank account, budgeting, and understanding and using credit responsibly.

Environmental literacy

Students need to be prepared to live in a world where environmental issues are increasing and impacting the world in diverse ways. Environmental literacy involves teaching students to understand the environmental issues we face due to population growth and resource consumption. These are complex issues to analyze in order to develop safe and effective solutions, so we have to teach students to take action to address the environmental challenges we experience.

Environmental Literacy

Learning and Innovation Skills

Closely tied to the 21st-century curriculum are the skills that are necessary for that curriculum to be put into practice. All the knowledge in the world is useless if students don't possess the skills to put this knowledge into action. These skills are related to creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and technology.

Creativity and innovation refers to teaching students how to apply different strategies to create new ideas. This includes simple steps such as brainstorming, but also communicating those ideas to a broader audience. Additionally, critical thinking and problem solving are skills necessary for all occupations. Every day we are confronted with new situations and experiences. As we work through those experiences, we need to be able to reason effectively to gauge how we will react.

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