Today's chat, "Making Sense of 21st-Century Skills," is open for questions. Please start submitting them now.
The chat itself will begin at 2 p.m. Eastern. Thank you for joining us.
Thursday January 21, 2010 10:30 Edweek Producer: Jennifer
Hi, everyone! This is Stephen Sawchuk, your EdWeek reporter-cum-moderator for today's chat. Today we're discussing the '21st century skills,' specifically how they might be incorporated into the subject disciplines and into instruction.
We're awfully excited to have you with us. We've got lots of questions in the queue already, so let's start off by having our two great panelists introduce themselves briefly. Patte and Craig?
HI Stephen and everyone -- Thanks for joining us today. I'm Patte Barth, the director of the Center for Public Education, the research arm of the Center for Public Education. I have had a deep interest in this topic for twenty years. I'm ready to chat!
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:01 Patte Barth
Great! We'll start off with a question from Brigid. Craig, why don't you take first crack at this one.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:01 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Bridgid Bridgid : ]
One of the key components of 21st century skills is being able to work effectively with others in groups. Do students benefit from direct instruction in the communication and problem-solving skills necessary to accomplish this? If so, are teachers in such subjects as math and science willing to incorporate this kind of teaching into their curriculum?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:02 Bridgid
@Bridgid That's a great question, and a difficult one! There's a lot we still don't know about the effectiveness different methods for teaching each important 21st century skill. When it comes to complex communication, the balance of evidence seems to suggest that a mix of direct instruction and various forms of practice work best, just as with most skills. I don't want to speak for math and science teachers, but my guess would be that if we give them lots of support and help them understand why this is important, most will be willing to take it on.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:04 Craig Jerald
Patte, do you know of any approaches to teaching collaboration and problem-solving skills that seem to be effective?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:05 Stephen Sawchuk
[MORE ... ] But that comes with a caveat I should mention: Researchers have found that direct instruction alone is insufficient to teach/learn critical thinking and problem solving. There are a lot of programs out there that just try to teach kids an isolated set of "steps" for thinking analytically and solving complex problems, but they don't work because students need sufficient background knowledge and practice with lots of problems to improve those skills.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:06 Craig Jerald
As with most of the 21st century skills, they are taught best when they are taught alongside academic content. Project-based learning is a great way to bring in all kids of skills, even while students are exploring particular topics. You can do them collaboratively or independently. Interestingly, sports can play a big role in developing collaboration abilities and leadership.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:07 Patte Barth
Here's a follow-up about project-based learning for you, Patte. Perhaps you could help outline the core features of that instructional approach.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:08 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Marybeth Marybeth : ]
What do you see as the differences between service-learning and project-based learning? And are there quality standards for PBL as there are for service-learning (see nylc.org/standards).
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:08 Marybeth
Project learning generally has 4 parts, the 4 P's: a research paper, a product, a portfolio and an oral presentation. It could have a service component but it's not a necessary characteristic. Service learning tends to be collaborative and includes some kind of outreach. Both can be real effective.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:09 Patte Barth
Here's a great question about assessments of 21st century skills. Craig, how can we use assessments to help support new types of instruction?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:11 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Steve Blumsack Steve Blumsack : ]
Since assessment is so important these days and it seems to be very expensive to include free response questions, what are some ways to assess problem solving and critical thinking skills at a reasonable cost?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:11 Edweek Producer: Jennifer
Hi Marybeth -- just to add, a handful of states are now requiring graduation projects. North Carolina, for example, has developed some pretty good rubrics that highlight specific features for scoring. You can download these from the NC Dept of Ed website.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:11 Patte Barth
@Blumsack The kind of project-based learning Patte described is one solution, because it builds assessment into the project. But speaking more generally, So far there have been few attempts to develop comprehensive assessments of 21st century skills for use in K-12 education. But there are a few notable examples that are worth looking at: The international PISA tests also try to assess some 21st century skills (mostly critical thinking and problem solving), and some of the published PISA sample items offer good examples of what it looks like to assess these skills with traditional pencil and paper methods. In higher education, the Council for Aid to Education and the Rand Corporation developed the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), which assesses critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem solving, and written communication. They now have a high school version called the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA), which you can find out about at http://www.cae.org/content/pro_collegework.htm. The European Union is plowing some significant R&D dollars into developing an assessment of “learning to learn,” but the last I checked a field test in six countries showed they still had a lot of challenges to iron out. [MORE …]
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:12 Craig Jerald
Other places are taking the next step to develop interactive, computer-based assessments. For example, Harvard’s River City Project uses an interactive computer simulation to assess 21st century skills in the context of middle school science; see here: http://muve.gse.harvard.edu/rivercityproject/. But this is going to take time and significantly more R&D funding than anyone’s been willing to invest so far. Here’s a great Ed Week article on that from a little over a year ago: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/11/12/12skills.h28.html [MORE ...]
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:13 Craig Jerald
And just one more thought: Right now teachers are in a bind. They're being asked to teach 21st century skills, but haven't been given a lot of guidance and resources to do so---and the biggest gap is in assessment. We need to invest more to develop usable, widely available assessments teachers can use in the classroom.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:14 Craig Jerald
Some great resources there. Thank you, Craig!
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:15 Stephen Sawchuk
We're getting a lot of great questions about the appropriate integration of technology into instruction. Here's an interesting anecdote from Linda. Patte, what advice might you offer her?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:16 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Linda Linda : ]
I have a question...I'm a high school library media specialist, and I recently collaborated with a biology teacher on a project. I set up a wiki for students to use, and they also used Google Docs. Feedback from students indicated that they enjoyed using the wiki, but they were quite upset to learn that only one person can edit it at a time - This compromised the flexibility they expected to edit when it was convenient for them. They found Google Docs more trouble than it was worth. They said they would prefer to simply collaborate in person! How do you advise me to respond to that?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:16 Linda
Hi Linda -- you sound like the kind of media specialist we need in schools. I noticed that there are a lot of questions addressing technology. But I think you're story highlights what we need to focus on -- in the case of your biology project, the purpose of the task was on the biology and collaboration, which could have been done in person. Technology is a wonderful way to make learning vivid and more efficient. But it is one -- clearly effective -- way to deliver the knowledge and skills young people need for the 21 st century. 21st century learning can happen without technology, with the possible exception of calculators.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:20 Patte Barth
That's a wonderful lead-in to our next question, from Nancy. She has a question about the balance between background knowledge/foundational skills and project based learning. Craig, want to tackle this one?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:22 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Nancy White Nancy White : ]
I think some of the difficulty in visuallizing students working in groups when learning facts and formulas in math or science comes with the fact that teaching science and math is usually compartmentalized. It makes more sense to have students work in groups when they are engaged in real-world problem solving. Somehow, there needs to be opportunities in a school day for cross-curricluar, real-world problem solving.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:22 Nancy White
While Craig writes that up, here's Linda with more on her project, and some advice from Leigh Ann.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:25 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Linda Linda : ]
Actually, the project was to research climate change. Students used the wiki to house their research findings. Then, in small groups, they were to use Google Docs to compose a letter to President Obama before his climate conference in Copenhagen. We wanted to take advantage of both technologies to educate students and to facilitate the project using some out-of-school time.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:25 Linda
[Comment From Leigh Ann Sudol Leigh Ann Sudol : ]
@patte @linda Students often rail against artificially created settings, even if those settings are designed with particular educational goals in mind. Next time try collaborating across grades, or between different class periods, or even with another local high school. Use the distance to motivate the use of the technology.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:25 Leigh Ann Sudol
@NancyWhite You've hit on a very significant challenge in teaching 21st century skills. First, though, it's important to remember that learning content (facts, ideas, theories, formulas, procedures, etc.) is important in and of itself. Cognitive scientists have found that people need sufficient knowledge about a topic before they can think critically about it or solve problems related to it. And, if traditional methods work well to teach content, then perhaps those methods, even within a traditional disciplinary structure, shouldn't be entirely abandoned. However, we do need to build in opportunities in the day for students to apply what they are learning --- to collaborate and solve problems across content areas. Some schools have used team-teaching structures and block scheduling to do it, but there's no single solution.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:27 Craig Jerald
Patte, let's hear your take on this, too. What are the mechanics to getting this type of instruction done well, so that the projects deepen rather than trivialize the understanding of content?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:30 Stephen Sawchuk
[MORE ... ] Some new school designs seek specifically to integrate content across areas as well as technology. For example, High Tech High, which you can find out about there: http://www.hightechhigh.org/
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:30 Craig Jerald
I hope I didn't sound like a technological Luddite! There are many exciting thinga that technology can do to make learning authentic, and Linda & Leigh Anne you cite good examples. I do want to make the point, though, that 21st c. ed should be about what students know and can do that will serve them well in today's world. The technology we use today is bound to be very different even a couple years from now, so student need to know how to find the tools they need for the problem they want to solve. We also have to keep in mind that these resources are not available to many our our students at home, and so we need to provide alternatives.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:30 Patte Barth
Craig -- you said it better than I could. We do have to keep our eye on the learning we expect out of the project, task, lesson, whatever. And use the tools available. And there is no single solution, except to acknowledge that if students learned what was intended, it works!
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:33 Patte Barth
Here's a great curriculum question for all you teachers. How do you KNOW when kids are exhibiting critical thinking? Craig?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:35 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Guest Guest : ]
What does a critical thinking skills rubric look like?
Where are the best examples of 21st century skills with rubrics to allow teachers to determine when students are actually acquiring/practicing, etc. these skills?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:37 Guest
There are a lot of different, competing rubrics for assessing critical thinking. I would look at the CLA and CWRA instruments which I mentioned above. Also, I think the United Kingdom has developed a nice rubric for evaluating critical thinking to go along with its new "A-Level" test in that subject: http://www.criticalthinking.org.uk/
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:39 Craig Jerald
And Bernice weighs in with this comment:
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:40 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Bernice Bernice : ]
Critical thinking requires that the learner present his/ her own perspective and assess the relationship between data and that perspective.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:40 Bernice
And here's one from Jamie:
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:41 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Jamie Burnett Jamie Burnett : ]
I am going to weigh in on the comments concerning (mis)use of technology in the classroom. One of the most important skills concerning the use of technology is the ability to recognize limitation concerning content on the web. Being able to search Google, or some other engine, for topic relevant information, is a rudimentary skill. Evaluating the difference between pseudoscientific "fact" and/or opinion and true scientific research and fact is essential and requires both direct instruction and applied problem solving.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:41 Jamie Burnett
[MORE ...] There are fewer examples when it comes to other skills. As I mentioned, the European Union has developed a rubric and experimental assessment for "learning to learn." Here's a report they did on "Learning to Learn: What Is It and Can it Be Measured?" Again, I'm not sure that that is ready for prime time yet!
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:42 Craig Jerald
I mentioned the NC graduation project rubrics earlier. These describe evidence of such things as how students use evidence, how they communicate their findings, how they present them -- so skills like communication skills, information literacy come into play. I see Craig is referring to the work being done in the UK. Australia has also some good assessment models. These are by no means the only ones, but a good beginning.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:42 Patte Barth
Lisa has a question about professional development.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:43 Stephen Sawchuk
Patte, let's have you address this one.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:43 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Lisa Lisa : ]
I provide PD for teachers throughout our district. What do you think is the best way to incite teachers who do not usually use technology with their classroom to give it a try?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:43 Lisa
@ Jamie Burnett -- you raise a point that I think is one of the major issues facing us today in education. How do we make students into good, critical consumers of information when much of the infomration around them has no filters. We need to teach them to always ask, who says so? when confronting new information. This will require background knowledge as well as the capacity for critical thinking, but as far as I know, no one has come up with the magic formula. But it is an absolutely vital skill in the 21st c.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:46 Patte Barth
A related question from Rebecca while Patte writes up her answer:
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:49 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Rebecca Rebecca : ]
My teachers are willing to try technology within their classrooms, but often use it as "icing" rather than an organic component of their teaching "cake." How do you suggested scaffolding this transition into more meaningful technology use?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:49 Rebecca
HI Lisa -- I see I'm getting out of sequence with my responses. I don't envy your task. I'm sure you've tried to sit these resistors down and let them play with it. My fall back is always -- the data made me do it. If you can show that their tech-savvy colleagues are getting results, whether in student learning or student engagement, it's hard for them to say "I'm not going there." If on the other hand, the not-techies are still getting results, who are we to argue?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:49 Patte Barth
@Lisa In my limited experience, I think there are two key strategies for reluctant teachers: First, they have to be excited about technology as a tool. So they need opportunities to learn how to use technology and to "play with it" in non-threatening situations. (My mom, a recently retired active reader, resisted all digital technology until I bought her a Kindle. Now she gets it!) Second, they need opportunities to visit classrooms where teachers are actively using technology to see the benefits for themselves.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:51 Craig Jerald
@Rebecca The issue might be an underlying lack of comfort with, or lack of enthusiasm about, the various technologies themselves. We need to give teachers the opportunity to become "fluent" and active tech users themselves. Just as with math teachers: If you are uncomfortable with math and don't see the value of it, how can you teach it well?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:54 Craig Jerald
We've got time for one more question...
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:55 Stephen Sawchuk
...and it comes from Bill, who has a forward-looking one about common standards.
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:57 Stephen Sawchuk
[Comment From Bill Novak Bill Novak : ]
How confident are you that the new Common Core standards will adequately address the 21st century skills needed in our classrooms?
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:57 Bill Novak
Let's hear both our wonderful panelists' 2 cents!
Thursday January 21, 2010 2:58 Stephen Sawchuk
@BillNovak Ah, a politically loaded question! But a hugely important one. I know that this has been a central issue in the development of the Common Standards because everyone recognizes that it's a big landmine, and the groups involved are working hard to strike an appropriate balance. Folks who hold extreme views of 21st century skills --- on either side of the question --- are likely to be dissatisfied. But I think moderates like Patte and I will more or less find that they get the balance mostly right.
Thursday January 21, 2010 3:00 Craig Jerald
Hi Bill -- you ask the money question. From what I have seen so far, the ELA and math standards have done a pretty good job of integrating the so-called 21st c. skills with the subject matter. But the proof will be in how they are taught and how students are called on to demonstrate that they have learned. And of courese, the politics will be complicated. There are two points I want to make about 21st c. learning. First, we have to prepare all students for postsecondary education. We know a lot about what that looks like. Second, the traditional curriculum won't be enough. We need to also pay attneiton to the skills more explicitly than we have and so that all students master them. And on that point, we still have more to learn. But we can certainly begin with the models we talked about here.
Thursday January 21, 2010 3:02 Patte Barth
Patte, you've got the last word today!
Thursday January 21, 2010 3:02 Stephen Sawchuk
Thanks, Stephen and Craig!
Thursday January 21, 2010 3:02 Patte Barth
This has been a really rich conversation. I want to thank you all for joining us, especially our great panelists. Our chat expert Jennifer has a few housekeeping items on where you can find additional resources.
Thursday January 21, 2010 3:03 Stephen Sawchuk
Edweek Producer: Jennifer:
Thank you for again to our guests Craig Jerald and Patte Barth, and to Stephen Sawchuk for
moderating today's chat. A complete transcript of the chat will be
available shortly on this same page.
A lot of readers submitted links to online resources in comments that
we did not have a chance to post. All of those links will be added to
the bottom of the transcript within 24 hours.
Thursday January 21, 2010 3:03 Edweek Producer: Jennifer
Thursday January 21, 2010 3:03 Edweek Producer: Jennifer
Live Chat: Making Sense of 21st-Century Skills
Thursday, January 21, 2 p.m. Eastern time
Few education reform ideas are as influential—and as polarizing—as “21st-century skills.” Read our in-depth discussion of whether and how collaboration, technological literacy, and critical thinking can be fostered within core academic-content areas.
Guests: Patte Barth, director, Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association
Craig D. Jerald, president, Break the Curve Consulting
Stephen Sawchuk, staff writer, Education Week, moderated this chat.
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