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

Posts tagged ‘School Time’

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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Sitting Still

Compact Disc

Image via Wikipedia


Angela Maiers asked in a post “Is sitting still a 21st Century skill?”

Good question – a host of stereotypes comes to mind.

  • Isn’t this the couch potato generation
  • Aren’t kids plugged in and tuned out
  • Or is it the ADHD generation
  • Kids today need a constant stream of input
  • Kids are over programmed
  • Kids can’t disengage

Do I think 21st century students should be sitting doing nothing but busy work – No

Do I think 21st century students need to be able to concentrate for a period of time and do something on their own? Yes.

I also think the ability to unplug and simply be quiet is something necessary for all human souls.

Of course as I write this I’m typing listing to CNET’s Loaded podcast and making backups of our Math CD’s

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Math Wars

Three multiplied by four is twelve.Image via Wikipedia

Frustrated parents sneak ‘old math’ to kids

And as for the concepts-before-procedure argument, she quipped: “Would you want to go to a doctor who’s learned about the concepts but never done the surgery? Would you want your doctor to say, ‘I had the right idea when I removed your appendix, though I took out the wrong one?’ “

Thus, when a parent is asked to multiply 88 by 5, we’ll do it with pen and paper, multiplying 8 by 5 and carrying over the 4, etc. But a child today might reason that 5 is half of 10, and 88 times 10 is 880, so 88 times 5 is half of that, 440 — poof, no pen, no paper.

What struck me as funny about this article is that my mother had the same argument with my teachers but in reverse. She objected to the having to do math in a step by step predetermined formula that did not take into account basic number sense. My mother knew there were many different ways to solve math problems and as long as they were sound and gave me the correct answer she saw no reason not to use them.

My teachers on the other hand were very wedded to the idea that there was one way to solve a division problem. My mother was very adept at mental math. I can remember her adding the cost of an entire basket full of groceries faster than the clerks could punch in the numbers at the register.

I’m glad that our master math teacher presents concepts in multiple manners to the students and allows them to use whenever mathematically sound math method works best for them. This includes the old fashion algorithms parents are used to seeing.

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