Thursday, November 18, 2010

21st Century Learning Skills...Tools for Making it Real

My kids do a lot of problem solving in the games they play. They play online games such as World of Warcraft and Wizards 101 where they work in teams with other players to complete quests. Often the tasks can only be done through collaborative strategy, problem solving, and communication. Lack these skills, a player is mercilessly booted from the team to make room for someone who can fit in this group concept.

They play Farmville with their grandmother. The Facebook game is about growing crops and raising livestock, and selling products for "money" to expand the farm. They barter and exchange goods. They tutor their grandmother in the nuances of the game to gain the most output from their farms.

My youngest used the Nintendo DSi to record podcast stories with friends, sometimes grabbing the digital camcorder to shoot video tales. In Little Big Planet, they create new levels, which are uploaded via the PS3 to share with a global user group.

Many schools politely tell children to leave these tools and skills outside the building.

In unstructured time, they use 21st Century Skills but lack deep understanding metacognitively. How can anyone hone expertise if they don't know the structures for what they do? In school, where they spend 7 hours a day--almost half of their waking time, these skills are little practiced. Often instruction is the conversation between teacher and student, or content is delivered by the teacher with few opportunities for students to discover the content themselves through inquiry. Students need "mucking about" time with concepts. Traditional teaching tends to be a "I told you about xyz". Telling is theoretical. Doing is permanent.

Here are a variety of tools that can support students practicing communication, collaboration, and critical thinking with in a learning context, which benefits them for academic achievement and life skills in a global community.

Team Building
Students need practices in these skills, especially communication and collaboration. Teambuilding and icebreakers can be effective when students do multiple experiences, and reflect after each session.

Free Online Communication

Voice or video chat: Now students and outside experts and mentors can have conversation around the work anywhere, anytime, and for free. Students can maintain collaboration experiences while not in the same building or country.


Rubrics are excellent tools for assessing students' growth in 21st Century Skills. It's important that students are part of the evaluation process, both of themselves and their team members. A good rubric brings clarity to expectations.


Blogging is a way for students to comment to a broader audience, publish works and ideas, and engage in relevant dialog. Blogger integrates well with users of Google tools and apps. WordPress also has great functions.

Reviewer Publications

Students need avenues to voice their opinions. Shape and express ideas to a general audience based on their learning of the current curriculum and learning targets.

Collaborative Editing & File Sharing

Resources for asynchronous sharing and real-time editing of data are important for developing and refining ideas during and outside of school.

Survey and Polling Tools

During inquiry, students need tools to more efficiently gather data from peers and other audiences who can inform their explorations of study. All are online.

Creating, Collaborating, and Publishing Content

There are social network tools that students use to exchange ideas and develop content such as Twitter and Facebook. Wikis are great for developing a Social Education site where students and teachers can share ideas, develop content, and problem solve. All within an environment used for learning and exploration through the 21st Learning Skills. (Example would be this very site)

Web 2.0 Tools

To develop 21st Century skills as educators we need to learn and use the tools ourselves.