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21st Century Skills

I’ve been hearing the term ”21st Century Skills” being bandied about quite a bit lately. I know for a fact I heard our president using the phrase, and since then seem to run across it everywhere. The most interesting thing about the term "21st Century Skills" is the way it speaks to people in the exact voice they want to hear.

In other words, people define the phase in accordance with their own background. Why it seemed obvious to me that it referred to the ability to use technology as well as adapt easily to emerging technologies and apply them to life and work allowing oneself and one’s country to compete better in the global economy. Since I’ve been working in projection technology for so many years, I also thought it would make a killer banner advertisement for a classroom projector: ”Project 21st Century Skills.”

Although I was laughing at myself after thinking that, I realize that I’m really not all that far off. The President's calls to teach students to learn to think creatively and act in collaboration with one another. Classroom technology allows this to happen.

In his article for the Washington Post, Jay Matthews questions if possibly teaching 21st Century Skills is just another doomed pedagogical fad— he mentions that many kids are still struggling with the three R’s of the 19th Century. Yet he does not discount the fact that respected educators report that their students do learn more this way.

Matthews quotes Matt Greenwolfe, who teaches 21st Century Skills in Cary, N.C. and who shared with him a student's reaction: "In small groups we would use whiteboards to write down ideas, draw graphs and solve for unknown variables. Using webcams I would take pictures of the whiteboards and post them on the class Web site for everyone to use as a resource. . . . Physics class has helped me look at problems in different ways so I can solve them. If I don't understand the data when it is presented in one way I am able to ask questions and change it, using a method I can understand."

Okay, so it’s not about the projector, or the whiteboard or the webcam. Good teaching is indeed about forging relationships with the students—about opening a dialogue and actively exchanging ideas. But classroom technology does help to facilitate this dialogue and engage the students so that they are ready and willing to learn.

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