New Hampshire leads the way in teaching students 21st Century skills

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Sanborn Middle School

Jobs for the Future and Students at the Center published a lengthy report on the nation’s evolving goals for education as we move from industrial-based jobs to a more dynamic and global 21st century life.  The authors write about how we can better prepare our students for their post-graduation path:

Recent research findings strongly suggest that in order to succeed in college, careers, and all aspects of adult life, young people require more than just a command of academic content. They also need to be able to solve complex real-world problems, collaborate, communicate effectively, monitor and direct their own learning, and develop an academic mindset.

This holds true across a range of domains. On the personal front, adults need to be able to navigate among plural identities, to confront complex ethical questions, and to make informed decisions in the face of uncertainty (Kegan 2003). On the civic front, they need to be able to articulate and advocate for their perspectives, to engage in productive dialogue across ideological divides, and to decide among imperfect options (Levinson 2012). On the professional front, they need to be able tackle open ended problems in critical, creative, and collaborative ways (Murnane & Levy 1996; Trilling & Fadel 2009), and to engage in ongoing learning that allows them to adapt to the needs of a rapidly changing job market (Wagner 2008). All of these domains require not only “hard” skills but also the disposition to make use of such skills in an ongoing and context-sensitive way.*

These life skills aren’t always learned in the “traditional” school environment. Education needs to be more dynamic, the researchers argued: students need to be challenged in rigorous instruction that’s tailored to their individual needs and interests, while taking an active role in deciding what their academic path will be.  Learning will often need to take place outside the classroom. And,rather than moving on because they didn’t “fail,” students should be required to demonstrate mastery of skills and content before going on to the next concept or grade or course. These are the key tenets of what is sometimes called “deeper learning” or “21st Century skills.”  After visiting over 30 schools in various states, the researchers found that this kind of learning happens in individual classrooms, but it’s harder to make happen on a school-wide scale.

Many New Hampshire schools do show how that can be done.  The PACE pilot districts transform the one-size-fits-all, bubble-test model of education into a rigorous, meaningful, competency-based environment where students prove that they fully grasp concepts through project-based assessments.

Sanborn Regional High School’s global studies teacher Mark Giuliucci challenged his students to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty, saying:

“Performance assessments like this have real-world applications. Students need to sort through vast amounts of information, make hard decisions, negotiate, adapt on the fly and assess their own progress. It’s far more rigorous than any paper test could ever be.

“Learning is not about what students can cram into their short-term memories. I’m interested in what they can do with information.  How can they interpret it, analyze it, sort it, create with it?”

Pittsfield Middle High School students pursue their passions in real-world environments through Extended Learning Opportunities and summer courses like working with local police departments, learning more about the environment in outdoor classrooms or producing community theater productions.

But the goal is always the same – challenging students to be articulate, creative, and collaborative.

Download the report here.

*Citations can be found in the full report.