Let’s stop calling them “21st Century Skills”

So here’s the thing.  We are 17 years into the 21st century at this point, making it kind of embarrassing to talk about teaching “21st Century Skills” to our students. I mean, the kids in school today were BORN in the 21st century, so one would hope teaching 21st century skills is a GIVEN, not a special achievement.  Right?

But some folks say that we are still teaching for the 1980s.  Or the 1890s? There have been quite a few articles about how our education system was designed for the industrial age, how we group our kids by manufacturing date (age) and move them along an assembly line, teaching them one subject, then the next subject, and down the line, all day, finally giving standardized tests once yearly to see if they are ready to move on to the next grade of the “education assembly line.”  Some say this is a “model of education where one mold fits all,” turning learning into a “dull, repetitive, and tedious process.” So even if we quit calling them 21st century skills, let’s make sure, as educators, we are motiving our students and preparing them for the world in which they will spend their post-industrial career.

And what world is that?  We have all heard the sensational concept that we are educating kids for jobs that don’t even exist right now.  There is some truth to that, but you know what?  We are also educating kids for jobs we do know about.  There are students who will grow up to be doctors, lawyers, CEOs, small business owners,  counselors, and hopefully a whole host of students inspired by us to be teachers!  It doesn’t have to be a terrifying concept for teachers like us to teach a kid who’s going to grow up some day.  But that doesn’t mean we should stagnate.  Just because jobs we know will still exist doesn’t mean the those jobs aren’t changing.  Things change all the time.

person-using-smartphoneJust look at your own life! Do you text? Keep an online calendar?  Wear a personal fitness device? Have a smart phone? Shop online? “Google” things?  The past decade has brought great changes in the way we communicate, learn, organize, socialize, coordinate, exercise, take pictures, watch TV, listen to music, buy our coffee, and entertain ourselves.  Let’s face it: this is the Digital Age.

And this Digital Age is more connected.  Have you ever ordered anything from a perfectly American sounding website, had it arrive in a domestic-shipping type of timely manner, and learned that it was actually shipped from Asia?  You had no idea you were ordering from overseas.  Our students will grow up to work in a world that is increasingly connected and getting smaller.

What skills do our students (and we) need in order to thrive in the next decade or two? ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education, recently revamped their Standards for Students.  In the past, their standards focused on students learning how to use technology tools.  However, in this latest iteration, the emphasis has shifted to learning, creativity, and innovation. From the ISTE Student Standards ebook, “Yes, students still need to be proficient in foundational technology skills, but that’s not the end. It’s the means to an end where the expectation is that students will use technology when appropriate to take charge of their own learning.” Hear, hear! Did you get that? Technology isn’t the point. Rather, it’s a tool to help us do things. The 2016 ISTE Student Standards identify 7 categories of skills students need to thrive in an increasingly connected, digital world.

1-empowered-learnerStudents need to be able to set personal learning goals and leverage technology to achieve them.  They need to build networks and customize their learning environments.  They should seek feedback through technology that informs and improves their learning, and should reflect on the learning process in order to better their learning outcomes.  Students need to understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, be able to use and troubleshoot current technologies, and be able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.What does this mean?  I’ll offer examples (and welcome feedback in the meantime) in my next blog post, but for now, here is an overview of the remaining six categories.2-digital-citizen

Students cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the digital world.  They engage in positive, ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions.  They respect the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellection property.  They manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security, and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their online navigations.3-knowledge-constructor

Students use effective research strategies to locate information and resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.  They can evaluate the accuracy, credibility, bias, and relevance of information.  They can curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and create a portfolio that shows meaningful connections or conclusions.  Students build on their knowledge by exploring real-world issues, developing ideas, and seeking solutions.4-innovative-designer

Students understand and use a deliberate design process to  generate ideas, test theories, create innovative artifacts (e.g., portfolios, multimedia presentations, papers, projects, videos, demonstrations, etc.), or solve authentic problems.  They use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that consider design constraints and calculated risks.  Students develop, test, and improve prototypes as part of a cyclical design process (like the engineering design process). They exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance, and the ability to work with open-ended problems.5-computational-thinker

Students are able to precisely articulate a problem suited for technology-assisted methods in finding solutions (using technology to make the solution easier or more efficient).  They can collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to help solve problems.  They can break problems into smaller parts, extract key information, and develop models to understand complex system or facilitate problem-solving.  Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.6-creative-communicator

Students choose appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creations or communications.  They create original works or responsibly repurpose digital resources into new creations.  Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models, or simulations.  Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.


Students use digital tools to connect with others from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning.  They use collaborative technologies to work with others, such as peers, experts, or members of the community, to examine issues and problems from a variety of perspectives.  They contribute constructively to project teams, assuming various roles and responsibilities to work toward a common goal.  Students examine local and global issues and use collaborative technologies to work with others and explore solutions.

For extended details, explanations, and definitions of terms, I encourage you to explore ISTE’s presentation of the student standards.  Meanwhile, doesn’t a student who meets these descriptions sound like an incredible, well-rounded person you would want to hire?  Are you terrified at the thought of teaching that person?  You shouldn’t be.

YOU are an empowered learner.
YOU are a digital citizen.
YOU are a knowledge constructor.
YOU are an innovative designer.
YOU are a computational thinker.
YOU are a creative communicator.
YOU are a global collaborator.

You might not know it, but you are.  Because you are a teacher, a learner, and a role model. You have the power to guide children to become digital age learners.

Stay tuned for in-depth posts on each of the 7 ISTE skills categories, coming soon.



One comment

  1. I really enjoyed reading this and agree with your ideas. It is exciting to see you starting a blog! Looking forward to the next entry and perhaps a lunchtime discussion!!


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