Teaching since Fall 2001 – 3rd year in 2nd grade

Posts tagged ‘21st Century Skills’

21st Century Skills – what does it mean

A chemist pours from a round-bottom flask.
Image via Wikipedia


The above argues that the call for 21st century skills is just a fad.

I disagree with several points made in the article

  1. 21st century skills advocates don’t think students should have to learn facts.

    I think there are 2 broad categories of facts. The first are facts everyone should know. These would include things like math facts, a basic understanding of the order of history (American Civil War comes after the American Revolution, that there is more than one civil war), Grade School/Middle school understanding of basic science.

    The second category of facts includes the ones that can or even should be double checked before they are used- specific dates in history, formulas in math and science, more detailed understanding of Science.

    These two categories are fluid. As people advance in their education and specialize the facts they need to recall move from the second category to the first for them.

    My mother refused to have a digital clock in the house until Sis and I both learned to tell time on an analog clock. She drilled not only basic facts into our head, but insisted that we mentally add up purchases as the cashier keyed them in. She frequently found mistakes this way. She insisted that our memorizing songs, poems and such was necessary to exercise our minds. I’ll never forget her demanding a meeting with the heads of Math and Science departments and our grade level principal. We were required to memorize a semesters worth of formulas for our finals. She sat them down and explained she was a chemist, a research scientist, and that she would never trust a mathematician or scientist who did not verify the correctness of the formula s/he was using. After that meeting we were allowed to write out a list of formulas to use on the test. We still had to pick the correct formula and use it correctly, but we would have the correct formula to use. Mom got the difference between facts that you need to internalize and those that must be checked each time.

  2. 21st century advocates say we spend too much time on content and need to focus on the skills instead.No – if we teach skills side by side with content students are more likely to retain it. I remember learning science in 5th grade. I remember the texture of the rocks, the order of the body systems as I put them back in the model, and the slickness of the inside of the shells contrasted with the spikes on the outside.What do I remember about 6th grade – Doing worksheets after worksheet about stuff I knew, Bobby licking the cow’s heart, The teacher getting down in my face and screaming at me that not everyone had Mrs. Lincoln for 5th grade science, Bobby saying everyone in this room did (I thought her head was going to explode at that). (3 of these things happened the same day). BTW Mrs. Lincoln was the world’s best science teacher.I hope that my students will remember the content because it is connected with them making something from the facts. I want them to remember the texture of the soil, the smell of the mint, and recording the sound of our water feature when they recall the life cycle of the butterfly
  3. Critical Thinking isn’t a new skillOf course it isn’t, but we have new tools that allow students to explain concepts, express themselves, and get feedback from real people. That is a huge motivator for kids.
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