from the Director's Desk

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Missing 21st Century Skill Set

Yesterday was the dedication of the Bill and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University. For the past two years I have had the privilege of being a member of its National Advisory Board. It has been an incredible professional development experience for me as I have represented the Department of Public Instruction and all instructional technology educators across the state.

(Full disclosure: This is the third year that the Friday Institute and NCSU have been the external evaluators for our IMPACT Model School Grants as well as one of our partners in the US ED LANCET Study (part of the federal Evaluating State Educational Technology Projects 3-year grant).

Today was a particularly fascinating meeting. A couple of facts you might be interested in:
• Gambling surpassed pornography as the greatest money-maker on the Internet this year.
• In North Carolina, of every 100 students who enter high school:
o 61 will finish high school
o 41 will go on to some sort of post-secondary education
o 19 will graduate from some sort of post-secondary education

I find both these pieces of data depressing for very different reasons, but depressing nonetheless. But in some ways they also fit into the keynote presentation by Chris Dede, who is Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard University. Dede talked about 21st Century skills and their relationship to economic development. The focus was on how we need to link education--K-12 education particularly--with the state’s economic development. But since “all politics is local,” this ultimately means we all need to link our individual school systems to the economic development and well-being of our individual communities.

My true ah-ha moment came, however, when Dede made the observation about where he saw the gaps in the 21st Century Learning Skills recommendations. As you well know, these skills encompass 6 key elements:
• Core Subjects (Science, Math, Language Arts, Foreign Languages, etc.
• Learning Skills (ICT [information and communication technologies], thinking and problem-solving skills, and interpersonal and self-directional skills)
• 21st Century Tools (tools to manage, construct, and communicate new knowledge)
• 21st Century Context (academic content based on real-world, authentic experiences)
• 21st Century Content (global awareness; financial, economic, and business literacy; civic literacy)
• 21st Century Assessments (high-quality standardized tests for accountability and classroom assessments for improved teaching and learning)

His contention is that we are missing those skills that can be learned, but cannot be taught. He delineates them as follows:
• Problem-finding
• Leadership
• Creativity
• Entreprenureship

Obviously these 4 skills that he has identified are the true key not just to economic development, but to economic empowerment. His question for the Friday Institute and for all of us: How do we create learning environments that do not teach specific skills, but have the tacit supports needed to help kids learn those “unteachable but very learnable” skills?

Please share your thoughts or answers to this all-important question. . .


Anonymous Joe Poletti said...

You have the incredible fortune of being plugged into the most topical conversations about education at both the state and national levels. Thanks for sharing...

The four skills that Dede says are missing from education are very right brain-ish. This coincides with a thoughtful audio cast from Daniel Pink. It is called "And the English Majors Shall Inherit the Earth."

I have the incredible fortune of spending several hours a day as an admin intern in a very good high school. I find the best opportunities for problem-finding in Horticulture II greenhouses. I find the best opportunities for leadership on NJROTC dress and drill days. I find the best opportunities for creativity in art, music and drama classes on a daily basis. (Sidebar: I must add that some of the students who land in ISS are there for being overly creative non-conformists.)

Hmmm...methinks a theme is emerging. Maybe the classes that best teach certain 21st century skills have been in schools for a long time. They are just not the ones that are tested, nor are they the usual ones (AP, honors, etc.) that add quality points for which the college-bound hunger.

When you combine problem-solving, leadership, and creativity with aggression and some good left-brain business acumen...then you have the potential for entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship has been, and always will be, the ticket for our country.

Localized eforms like small schools, specialized schools, themed schools, Learn and Earn schools are good steps for small numbers. Perhaps, the Senior Project (done properly) can help move the masses in the direction of the desired 21st century skill set.

November 12, 2005 5:50 AM  
Blogger David Warlick said...

Frances & Joe,

If you have teen age kids, who are playing certain video games, then you are probably witnessing their development of all for of Dedes missed literacies.

Halo is, a shoot-m-up game that is more gaming environment than contrived game scenario. My son bought it, connected with a handful of other Halo players and commenced to play the game, as intended, for about two weeks. Then they got board with the game. But their interest in Halo only increased when they started making up -- creating -- their own games, pushing the collaborative online environment to be things that the players wanted it to be, and overcoming (problem-finding) barriers that appeared to prevent their remixing the story for their own interests.

What is at the hart of the game and the derivative activities is collaboration. Following the rules of the game, and then inventing and coming to consensus on new rules, leading, listening, compromising, and agreeing. Finally, my son now has a web site where he posts videos that he has taken in the Halo environment, stories that he and his friends tell, and visual affects that they have crafted. He has gained, through his entrepreneurship, creds as a video geek, and dozens of parents of kids at his school are calling me, looking for advice on what kinds of recording equipment to buy for their children for Christmas.

How do we tap into this, as educators?

December 15, 2005 9:57 AM  
Blogger David Edwards, Tech Director said...

Great conversation here. I have been studying the 21st Century Skills movement and it frightens me that we've yet to connect (locally and statewide) K-12 education and economic development. The mindset it still in the 'brick and mortar' arena and manufacturing processes. If you have been to any of David Warlick's presentations, you'll know that our education system is still administratively aligned to an industrial philosophy of delivering instruction. I agree with Joe in that we've got to really get outside the box with how we reach these kids. And the trick is to integrate these 21st century skills into EVERYTHING we do. The 'creative class' is the only thing that will help NC compete in this global economy. Entrepreneurship should be interwoven in all our middle and high school studies. We're looking at doing a 21st Century Skills Summit in order to 'connect' our local officials to education again and try and paint a picture of what learning should look like and how it MUST resemble the workplace.

Again, I go back to the IMPACT model and say that making the technology "transparent" to the student and teacher is key. They should be using the tools to create projects, collaborate, etc. Isn't that how we operate? I reflect on a comment made by NACOL CEO Susan Patrick, "what if when we were students, the teacher gave out 4-5 pencils for the class to share? what if we had to share our computers with 4-5 other people in our office?" If you've never read the "Monster Under the Bed", I would suggest it - business needs education to move at it's speed and if it won't, they will create the education framework to do so. I applaud Frances for taking this stand!

May 23, 2006 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel kids furniture should include childrens desks as part of the concept furniture .

November 19, 2008 6:41 AM  

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