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Twenty-First-Century Skills
in Everyday Teaching
by Wayne Thornes
veryone today wants to know if we’re need to be able to communicate and work
teaching twenty-first-century skills in collaboratively, they need to develop a better
our schools. you hear it in the news, read understanding of other cultures, they need to
about it in educational publications, and be better and more creative problem solvers,
talk about it with the local parent-teacher and they need to be well versed in the basic
association. My district, the Catalina Foot- tools that are used in business today.
hills School District in Tucson, Arizona, The core academic subjects are still the
has answered these challenges through the foundation of a strong curriculum, but team-
adoption of a twenty-first-century learning work, global awareness, critical thinking,
framework for implementation across the technology, and systems thinking are key
curriculum. But just what is twenty-first- components across the academic curriculum
century learning, and what does it mean for and are critical for student success in school,
teaching? at work, and in life.
What’s different? Changes for the students
A twenty-first-century learning environ- Another key aspect of a twenty-first-
ment isn’t much different from what every century learning environment is that it makes
teacher strives for. Self-directed students, learning, and the classroom environment,
excited about what they’re doing, are actively more enjoyable. The current drive towards
These skills
engaged in learning. By and large, most of high-stakes testing has a tendency to make
these skills are not new. good teaching inte- learning a lot less fun. But in my experi-
are requiring
grates these skills into learning opportuni- ence, students genuinely enjoy learning when
students to
ties for students on a regular basis, whether twenty-first-century skills are regularly inte-
interact with
you call them “twenty-first century” or not. grated into the curriculum. These skills are
each other, and
As a society, though, we’ve been focused on requiring students to interact with each other,
the basics (reading, writing, and math) for a and they allow more creativity and choice
they allow more
long time—and while those skills are impor- than the traditional learning environment
tant, in order to be successful in today’s allows. We know young people are social;
and choice. world, students need to leave school with they are comfortable using technology, and
more than a mastery of algebra and the abil- are curious about interacting with their
ity to write a cohesive paragraph. Students world. Applying twenty-first-century skills
taps into that, and when we do it right, we
encourage teamwork, use cooperative learn-
ing environments, and teach students how to
effectively interact and communicate with a
broad audience.
Additionally, technology is used as a tool
to facilitate collaboration, develop presen-
tations, and solve problems. It encourages
students’ natural curiosity and creative
thinking. Students are still getting the basics,
but the inclusion of authentic environments
that students are familiar with make it both
meaningful and fun!
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