Incorporating 21st Century Skills in the Classroom

The following article was contributed by Amy Duke, MS, Mathematics Department at Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, Texas.

When I first started teaching math several years ago, I remember the question I heard most was, “Why?” This question gave me the opportunity to delve into more than just a solution to a problem. More recently, it’s something that students rarely ask. Students are satisfied to learn how to do a problem and go no further. And, for a while, I too was satisfied.

Until, during one of our Professional Development sessions, my colleagues introduced the 21st Century Skills – create, communicate, collaborate, and critically think. It was then I realized my error; my students must leave our classrooms not only being proficient in various subject areas, but they must be able to apply these skills as well.  Learning how to ask questions and incorporating subjects learned to solve problems (not just math ones) is a major life skill. To me, part of bringing the 21st century skills into my classroom is making the topic applicable to the “real world.”

Since being introduced to the 21st century skills, I have flipped my Geometry classes. The lecture is no longer the focus of the class. My students lead discussions, argue about how to solve problems and collaborate on answers. They share what they know; the students have even created videos to show others how to work problems. Later this semester, they’ll be designing the classroom of the future. They’ll receive dimensions of the classroom, what each it must include, and a budget. I’m looking forward to seeing their creations.

In my pre-calculus classes, my students create elevator pitches for topics that we are learning. They have to boil down everything they learned about a subject, discuss its importance and real life application in 60 seconds. Their group members usually patiently listen until one says, “You forgot about….” Then, the improvement begins. Some of these elevator pitches become memes, and we hang them in our classroom.  Later in the semester, my students will be talking to an electrical engineer by Skype; they’ll be writing the interview questions.

Allowing students to be active learners is also part of the 21st century skills. Allowing them to have choices allows them to realize that they are in charge of their learning. One of my colleagues gives her students the choice of what science topics they want to learn first; an English teacher allows his students to choose what Shakespearean play to study. Those decisions drive excitement in the classroom and allow it to be more student driven.

You can incorporate 21st Century Skills into all subject areas at any level of learning. Attend the NCEA Conference in St. Louis this April. Join us to gain more insight into 21st Century Skills. My colleague, Beth Burau, and I will be presenting: Create, Communicate, Collaborate and Critically Think – Incorporating 21st Century Skills in the Classroom. You’ll learn how to integrate creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills to develop successful, independent, and innovative students.