The year in review

Actually no I am not going to torture anyone with a reflection on my 2008! But it does permit me to look forward into 2009, and comment on the future of education. Phew. Ready?

The phrase that closed out the year is “21st century skills” and it is certainly to be heard again in 2009. I heard it at MassCUE’s keynote and Apple showed the “rainbow” in its opening presentation at the road show. I have done work with BATEC and TechBoston and other local IT education organizations in integrating work-force skills with industry-standard technology curricula, both in an effort to align high school IT standards with community college IT coursework, and to simply get IT jobs for Boston teens. The efforts have been there for years, but now it has become a state initiative, and a framework has been developed.

The wake-up call to America that came from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) in November is that our schools are not preparing its students to be successful in today’s workforce, and a call to action was made to change the way we educate our students. This involves putting into place support systems such as professional development for the teachers as well as pooling projects and assessments that implement the standards. Governor Deval Patrick outlined Massachusetts’ mission in partnership with P21, as the belief that “people must not only master content standards but also possess technical/technological and employability skills and abilities that reach beyond traditional academic disciplines.” It is an ambitious agenda, and the Commonwealth’s Department of Secondary and Elementary Education is already looking for schools that are exemplifying the teaching of 21st century skills. There is a need for the documentation of these projects, for establishing partnerships with industry and collegiate leaders, and for sharing all of these resources across the state. Such a system does not even exist now for the teaching and learning of core content areas (math, science, english, etc.)! For now, educators are being asked to create an account at Route 21 ( and submit their examples, and an Advisory Board has been named to oversee the mission.

So what are the “21st Century skills”? They are grouped into 4 major categories that make up the “rainbow” :

    1. Mastery of the core subjects interwoven with the themes of global awareness, financial, civic and health literacy
    2. Learning and Innovation
    3. Life and Career
    4. Information, Media and Technology

      Each category is further divided into strands, and within each strand, specific student outcomes are listed.

      As an example, in order to demonstrate a mastery of Learning and Innovation skills, a student must demonstrate mastery of the 3 strands : Communication and Collaboration, Creativity and Innovation, and Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. A student demonstrates mastery of the Communication and Collaboration strand by showing evidence of mastering the following outcomes :

        1. Articulating thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively through speaking and writing
        2. Demonstrating ability to work effectively with diverse teams
        3. Exercising flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal
        4. Assuming shared responsibility for collaborative work

          A possible project for this strand could be : a team of students collaborates on a single writing assignment. But other 21st century skills can be demonstrated in this one project with a few tweaks to the assignment. The writing process addresses core English standards. If the topic is about a global issue discussed in class,  the 21st century theme of “global awareness” is integrated into the project. The document itself could be written in a wikispace, thereby addressing the ICT strand of Information, Media and Technology skills. Finally, any number of Life and Career skills can be assessed, such as Productivity and Accountability for simply meeting the deadline!

          But what would a rubric for this project look like? In many projects already assigned in classrooms, 21st century skills are being learned. The challenge is in showing evidence. Naturally, the term “mastery” comes into question : how is each outcome assessed? And this may be the greatest challenge of the initiative. What are the universal benchmarks? Who creates these common rubrics and how are they shared? Here is what Route hopes to facilitate by collecting assessments that exist and then providing universal guidelines and most importantly professional development to help schools develop their own 21st century projects and assessments.

          I think the place to begin is in the graduation portfolios. Here is where a school can look at the whole student and ask whether they have prepared that student in align with not only their own school’s social and academic expectations, but now with the state’s 21st century skills, and ultimately answer to preparing that student for successful life and work in the 21st century…for 2009 and beyond!

          Happy New Year!

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