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'21st Century Skills' for STEM education

In 1991, money spent on Knowledge Age goods — information and communication technologies — exceeded Industrial Age goods — materials for agriculture, mining, manufacturing,  etc. The $5 billion difference marked a shift in the U.S. economy from nuts-and-bolts to information-driven.Unfortunately, not much really changed in K-12 education to echo that shift. But it needs to, and soon,  or the economy won't be able to keep up with itself. The elementary age students of today will face a completely different job market in their adult lives than the one our educational system was designed to support. They will be knowledge workers relying on digital tools, creativity and an ability to work collaboratively with people from all over the world. We'll need more thinkers and less tinkers. 

That's a perfect match to STEM education, where an innovative technological workforce is the primary goal. "21st Century Skills" like critical thinking,  creativity, communication and innovation have long been sought after,  especially in the sciences. Now, however, their importance has become deeper and more urgent as we watch the world change more quickly than our textbooks can keep up.  

We can create a system that supports the new world we're already building. 

That presents another problem though: how do we prepare the teachers? This classroom of the future is not managed in the traditional ways teachers are taught in school. Curriculum is structured differently, projects are more independently lead and assessment can take many forms.  

Luckily, there are professional development opportunities available. For example, I took part in the three-day training workshop held by Innovative Designs for Education (IDE). There I experienced a Knowledge Age classroom first hand, learning by using the same methods I needed to model to my students. Combined with the IDEPortal, a resource of how-tos and lesson plans, I had a new toolkit to take back to my school.  

In the next several posts,  we'll explore these 21st Century skills through the lens of STEM education,  specifically highlighting a framework set forth by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills,  a national organization that advocates for 21st century readiness.  

The future is already here.

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