Science, Geography, and 21st-Century Skills

By Sean Cavanagh — June 30, 2009 1 min read
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The 21st- century skills movement is making a push into the world of science and geography, with two organizations that support teaching in those subjects unveiling curriculum “maps” aimed at blending academic content knowledge in those subjects with practical skills.

The maps seek to give teachers examples of how 21st Century skills—which emphasize problem-solving and communication skills—can be meshed with specific lessons. The maps provide a desired “outcome” for students by topic and grade level, then an example of how teachers could work toward that outcome in the classroom.

For example, at the 12th grade level, the science curriculum map says that students, as an outcome, should be able to “explain why mathematical equations and formulae are used as representations of scientific phenomena and as a means of communicating scientific ideas.” As an example, it says a teacher should ask students to design an observational or experimental investigation to “explore mathematical relationships commonly applied in science” at an appropriate difficulty level by collecting and analyzing data to support an evidence-based description of a mathematical relationship. In an algebra lesson, students might explore change over time by measuring the initial circumferences of several balloons filled with helium and several filled by air exhaled from their lungs, make additional measurements at intervals, plot the changes in size versus time, discuss the different rates of change for the two types of balloons, and determine the mathematical equations describing the results.

The maps are the product of a collaboration between the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the National Science Teachers Association, and the National Council for Geographic Education. Maps for social studies and English were released last year.

Once you’ve had a chance to explore the outcomes and skills described, give me your opinion. Should teachers be nurturing these skills in science and geography lessons? And are these documents going about it in the right way?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.