Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
Teaching 21st-century skills is essential for 21st-century learners. That is the truth of it. Content knowledge is important, but soft skills are as well. As the world around us transforms, the value of and need for particular skills shifts.
Ken Robinson talks about this at length in his book "The Element", which I encourage you to read. He makes note of the need for certain skills when the Industrial Revolution was just beginning. Skills in science and math, for example, were essential at that time, and education in schools developed around an industrial economy.
Now where are we? We are not only in a digital revolution, but that revolution has only just begun. Who knows what the future holds? Think back only 10 years ago. Every one of us has a funny or nostalgic story about theterrible tech" that we had to deal with. Dialup internet wasn't that long ago. If you are 30+ that sound will be firmly fixed in your brain for the rest of your life!
Yet schooling hasn't changed or evolved very much to compensate for these changes. Schools have come around in some ways, such as adding ed tech to the classroom. But there also needs to be a shift in priorities. Leaving out 21st century skills learning for the sake of content-only instruction is a disadvantage to 21st-century learners.
If we want our students to have a chance at a happy and successful future, we need to participate in getting them there. Employers are looking for creativity, the ability to innovate and solve global problems with cutting edge solutions. Content can be explored with the touch of a finger. Collaboration, critical thinking, and inquiry skills on the other hand, don't come that easy.
We need to give our 21st-century learners an advantage by putting as much weight on those skills in our curriculum as we do content, if not more.
Soft skills are important in so many ways. I encourage you to read my blog post Why Teach the 21st Century Skills to 21st-Century Learners before moving on
Let's talk about the how. How can you make 21st-century skill-building a part of your curriculum? Start by making these "skills" a part of your daily lexicon. Give the skills whatever term you desire - 21st-century skills, soft skill, etc. - and bring attention to them often.
Acknowledge what 21st century skills will be practiced before every activity, in the goal-making process, throughout learning experiences, and again at the reflection and assessment phase. Create learning activities AROUND the 21st century skills, and content knowledge will naturally follow.
How to Add the 21st-Century Skills to Your Curriculum
Bring skill-building to light right from the start. Educators can and should make goals part of the process for any learning activity. My project-based learning resources, particularly my self-directed project based learning starter kit, include goal writing in the personal learning plan and project-development phase. Encourage students to create at least one goal per experiential learning activity that is skills-based.
Ex: I will work on communication and collaboration skills by contacting at least one community expert for this project to shadow or interview.
2) Experiential Learning Activities:
Growing in 21st-century skills is far less likely to occur as a result of lecture, worksheets, packets, and other teacher-centered learning activities.
I talked with a parent the other day that defended worksheets with repetitive math problems. He said, “well it’s practice right?” My answer was that that depends on what it is he would like his son practicing? If these math problems were given in isolation, what he would be practicing is rote memorization, a strategy that might result in the "correct" answers, but not necessarily an understanding of the concepts.
Rote memorization is unnecessary and ineffective if deep learning is the dominant objective. Practicing math problems in this way might help learners build muscle memory, but learning would be far more effective if those reviews were offered in conjunction with activities for learning 21st century skills.
There is a plethora of teaching methods and learning activities out there that emphasize content AND promote 21st-century skill-building, an ideal combination of outcomes. You don't need to choose content or skill-building. Take them both on by trying some of these tactics.
I offer a variety of tools to help with these activities in the form of blog posts and resources. Peruse my experiential learning activities for teaching 21st century skills.
Try pairing my 21st-Century Skill-Building Portfolio with any number of learning activities. I have put together tool kits for many of those activities such as project-based learning lesson plans, activities with design thinking, problem-based learning and more into one 21st-Century Skills Learning Activities for 21st-Century Learners.
Then take a look at some of my blog series on experiential learning activities that naturally incorporate skill-building. I recommend starting with Three Transformative Experiential Learning Activities and Getting Started with Self-Directed Project-Based Learning.
This graphic organizer is meant to help you or self-directed students brainstorm learning activities that would help build specific skills. For example, if a student's goal is to improve tech literacy, they might try a new computer program to build a project final product or take a free digital marketing course if they have an entrepreneurial spirit.
Grab this free 21st century skill-building activities concept map from my experiential learning activities resource library.
Work 21st-century skills into any assessment. Rubrics are great assessment tools that can include relevant skills as an assessment category such as public speaking, use of new tech, creativity, etc. My student-generated rubric leaves room for self-directed learners to add their own assessment criteria. Students would consider their goals made in the design phase of the project as a category in their self-generated rubric.
Reflecting is an essential part of the experiential learning process. If students are making goals about 21st-century skills, those goals aren’t relevant unless they’re revisited and reflected upon. Include reflection opportunities in as many learning experiences as you can, experiential or not. All of my resources offer learning reflection questions.
There are many ways to build 21st-century skills. Life in itself is the best learning tool. Give learners an advantage, a head start, by making 21st-century skill-building the norm in your curriculum. Help students build the skills they need to succeed in their academic, career, and personal lives as they relate to the 21st-century.
This is not the same world that it was 100, 50, or even 20 years ago. Give them the tools to adapt as the world continues to evolve.
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Observe. Question. Explore. Share.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.