The ABCs of 21st Century Skills

By Brusic, Sharon A.; Shearer, Korbin L. | The Elementary STEM Journal, May 2014 | Go to article overview

The ABCs of 21st Century Skills


Brusic, Sharon A., Shearer, Korbin L., The Elementary STEM Journal


Educators are bombarded with new content, pedagogies, and strategies on a regular basis. What's popular now may be passe next year. And, what will be important during the next five years could very well be something that hasn't yet been conceived. Some things seem to dominate the education stage for a longer period of time, such as the No Child Left Behind legislation and Common Core Standards. But, one thing is for certain: there will always be something "new" on the horizon. And some of the "old" things may cycle back around again, too.

the 21st century skills movement

Today there is a concerted effort to promote "21st Century Skills" for all students through a collaborative effort known as the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), which collectively focuses on a mission to: "Serve as a catalyst to position 21st century readiness at the center of U.S. K12 education by building collaborative partnerships among education, business, community, and government leaders" (P21, n.d., [paragraph]1). Since 2002, P21 partners and leaders have been advocating for local, state, and federal policies and support that would enable all schools to better prepare students to live and work in 21st century communities. In short, this effort aims to link core subjects with new content or themes that are often underrepresented in schools, including global awareness, financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy, civic literacy, health and wellness awareness, and environmental literacy. It also emphasizes life and career skills, learning and innovation skills, and information, media, and technology skills. For a full overview of the P21 efforts, visit www.p21 .orq.

The current focus in schools on promoting 21st Century Skills for all students is actually not a novel idea. Many educators have strived to encourage problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and many of the other 21st Century Skills for generations. Moreover, there have been numerous efforts to promote interdisciplinary learning and teaching as a critical approach to helping all students to become better prepared consumers and citizens.

In fact, the modern field of Technology and Engineering Education, with historical roots in Industrial Arts Education, has actually been a huge proponent of these interdisciplinary and practical skills for many decades. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) funded the Mission 21 program in the 1980s and early 1990s with the goal of preparing "... children to handle the technological demands of life in the 21st century" (Brusic & Barnes, 1992, p. iv). This program, geared toward students in Grades 1-6, used a thematic approach and open-ended problem solving to engage students. The program touted an interdisciplinary learning environment that stressed collaboration, teamwork, relevant content, and an emphasis on building basic skills such as creativity, problemm solving, and critical thinking. Sound familiar?

Further, Mary-Margaret Scobey published her book, Teaching Children About Technology, in 1968. In its introduction, she cites that it is her "... hope that it may contribute to the increasingly complex task of educating children who must make an effective adjustment to a democratic society and a scientific-technological culture" (Scobey, 1968, p. xiv). Scobey (1968) goes on to provide teachers with useful information and guidance on how to do this. As another example, Kirkwood and Foster (1997) edited the Elementary School Technology Education yearbook, a collection of chapters written by various experts in the field that focused on defining and explaining how technology education should serve an integral role in elementary schools. In the Preface to this volume, they state:

Professionals in the field of technology education have struggled for the past three-quarters of a century to provide elementary school teachers with ideas, resources, and inspiration to employ constructional, technological activities to help achieve the objectives of public education in the U. …

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