Educating Our Students in the 21st Century

May 01, 2014 | Featured
By Jessica Hale

Educating Our Students in the 21st Century

“Train up a child in the way they should go...” A commonly used proverb for both teachers and parents. A vision. A manifesto. A command.

But with the gap between the 20th century-educated teacher and the 21st century student, how exactly how do we prepare our children for "the way they should go"? How do we prepare children to impact a future for which we are uncertain? How do we prepare them for professions which do not yet exist?

In 2002, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning Skills was established to start a conversation on preparing our students for the future. What the group found was that there was a gap between what students were learning in school and the skills that they needed to be successful in the workplace. The “Framework for 21st Century Learning” was established with the focus on student outcomes and support systems.

The following outcomes were found to be areas and skills that a student would need to be adequately prepared for the 21st century.

Core Subjects: What we teach everyday: English, math, history, science. Notice these are the ‘underbelly’ of the rainbow. The Core subjects hold the ‘skills’ of the rest of the rainbow up. We are looking to integrate 21st Century skills into these subjects. Beyond the core subjects, themes such as economics, environmental studies, and global awareness are encouraged to be taught. What an incredible opportunity for us as Christian educators to teach our students what it means to be good stewards of the earth that God has entrusted us with! That we were made to have dominion but also to tend and care for limited resources. (Gen 1:26).

The upper tier of the rainbow encompasses the “skills, knowledge and expertise students should master to succeed in work and life in the 21st century.” Though not an exhaustive list, these outcomes give us key areas to focus on and prepare our students to be prepared for the 21st Century. Centering on the idea of loving God and loving others, students learn how to effectively use their creative minds to critically think, demonstrate their love for others by working together, and a whole host of other skills. Here are just a few of those skills:

Learning and Innovation: Creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. Let us think about our classrooms. How are we fostering creativity by the organization and physicality of everyday? Sometime we put so much emphasis on a schedule that students literally have no time to be creative. If we believe that God has created each of us unique with different gifts and talents, how are we fostering this in the classroom? Are we giving students enough time and space to create using the information they are learning? How are we teaching them to be effective communicators and collaborators? Are they getting an ‘A’ in the class yet, unable to socialize with their teacher and peers or work together effectively for a common goal?

Without proper communication, one’s message will never be heard. Whether it be an email, a conversation, or a formal speech, students need to learn how to communicate properly so that they are able to effectively communicate their message to the audience. One weakness of this generation in particular is their frequent use of electronic communication. Because they are so accustomed to texting, emails often are sent lacking detail and formality. While it may be ok to communicate this way with friends, it is not effective to send a teacher (or eventually a boss) an email of this nature. Furthermore, collaboration in almost every profession requires that one be able to work together effectively with a group of people. We have all met somebody that did not learn this skill well.


A Tale of Two Classrooms
How does one allow space for students to create?
Are there prompts or tools present that stimulate students to think critically?
Are there conduits for communication with the teacher, other students, and a greater
Is there opportunity for students to work together?

Information, Media, and Literacy: This is an area that tends to terrify teachers (and parents). How many of us have had students fix a computer, TV, or projector? Students are coming to us with a technological skill set that many of us do not have and are not prepared to handle. They socialize and entertain themselves with technology. Because technology is what our students use to obtain information, we are doing them a disservice if we choose to leave it out of the classroom. It is our responsibility to show them how to vet, filter, and find reliable information. To use their incredible knowledge of technology not just for socializing and entertainment but for academic purposes as well.

Life and Career Skills: When my daughter was in Korean school, her class would plant, grow, and then eventually cook vegetables at school. What an incredible life skill to learn! She certainly is not going to learn to tend a garden from me but her experience gardening in preschool taught her practical life skills.

Some of the areas emphasized in the 21st Century Framework are ‘Flexibility and Adaptability,’ ‘Initiative and self-direction’, ‘Social and Cross-cultural skills,’ and ‘Productivity and accountability.’ Imagine what society would be like if we were all able to model these skills? So many of these skills can be taught by student-teacher and student-student interaction if we are willing to invest the time and have those conversations with students.

The Framework for 21st Century Learning may be a new concept to many but most were taught Bloom’s taxonomy. In the 1990s, even Bloom’s was revised to reflect skills that students need to acquire for the new century. At the top: ‘Create.‘ When we design projects, ask student evaluate their digital communication, and analyze the validity of sources, we are moving up in the pyramid and emphasizing the 21st Century skills they need to learn!

An aspect of our love for God should be a pursuit to be excellent in all that we do. In our pursuit of loving others, we have a responsibility to equip ourselves to impact the world for change. What are we doing in our classrooms to push our students to excellence, equip them to have a lasting impact and prepare them for a future? The Framework for 21st Century Learning provides a great place to start.


Learning and Innovation:

“Designing a 21st Century Leaning Environment” -Forbes

Top Five Uses of Social Media in Education

Information, Media and Literacy:

“21st Century Icebreakers: 13 Ways to Get to Know Your Students With Technology”

“10 Techy Icebreakers for the 21st Century Teacher”

80 Online Tools, References, and Resources

“Taking the Mystery Out of Copyright” Library of Congress

“A Simple Visual Guide on How to Refine a Google Search”


Top 10+ TED Videos on Education and Learning


Classroom A: Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Flikr The Commons

Classroom B:

Revised Blooms:

Student Outcomes and Support Systems:

Comments - 4

Doug Franks on September 27, 2014

This is a concise and interesting synopsis for a framework for 21st century education. The images of the two classrooms contrast strongly.

Looking at each image I wonder, who is learning?

On the left all students are walking through some curricular sequence, but inevitably some are zoning out.

On the right students are engaged, in something. Possibly engaged in something creative. Bloom’s taxonomy shows creativity built on many foundations, foundations of remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing.

How do you balance the freedom to create with the discipline of gaining the foundation of information and skills with which to create? There are many areas needing creative problem solving that require a stronger foundation than what is needed for finger paint.

Anastasia ofosu on March 10, 2015

This is definately awesome and inspiring.

Katie Dennstaedt on April 05, 2015

Awesome article!

Vijayaraj on March 29, 2016

I appreciate your planned Christ centred education for God`s children for His glory.

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