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Science, Geography, and 21st-Century Skills

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The 21st- century skills movement is making a push into the world of science and geography, with two organizations that support teaching in those subjects unveiling curriculum "maps" aimed at blending academic content knowledge in those subjects with practical skills.

The maps seek to give teachers examples of how 21st Century skills—which emphasize problem-solving and communication skills—can be meshed with specific lessons. The maps provide a desired "outcome" for students by topic and grade level, then an example of how teachers could work toward that outcome in the classroom.

For example, at the 12th grade level, the science curriculum map says that students, as an outcome, should be able to "explain why mathematical equations and formulae are used as representations of scientific phenomena and as a means of communicating scientific ideas." As an example, it says a teacher should ask students to design an observational or experimental investigation to "explore mathematical relationships commonly applied in science" at an appropriate difficulty level by collecting and analyzing data to support an evidence-based description of a mathematical relationship. In an algebra lesson, students might explore change over time by measuring the initial circumferences of several balloons filled with helium and several filled by air exhaled from their lungs, make additional measurements at intervals, plot the changes in size versus time, discuss the different rates of change for the two types of balloons, and determine the mathematical equations describing the results.

The maps are the product of a collaboration between the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the National Science Teachers Association, and the National Council for Geographic Education. Maps for social studies and English were released last year.

Once you've had a chance to explore the outcomes and skills described, give me your opinion. Should teachers be nurturing these skills in science and geography lessons? And are these documents going about it in the right way?

9 Comments

As an education practitioner (read: teacher as professional), I am thrilled with the 21st Century Skills Science Map! I appreciate the Big Picture view of the Outcomes as well as the flexibility and possibilities offered as suggestions in the Examples. What I take from this is an image of myself using this map as a guide along with my professional judgment as a compass to make decisions on behalf of my students as we navigate the 21st Century science world together. With over 20 years of teaching experience with children ages 3 to 8 years old, I know how inspiring and motivating it is to the teacher and the students to be active participants in a community of learners. This science map offers us all the chance to do exactly this as we engage socially and intellectually in the creative processes of science. Awesome work!

Laura Stuber
Teacher, Solana Beach School District
Solana Beach, California

Hmmm. If you want to know 21st Century Skills, let's have a few words from the business quarter, those who have sent us into an economic blackhole.

Notwithstanding, we can start with the job descriptions of "all" of their employees, the tasks employees perform daily and the skills expected of them.

Most skills will likely not require much beyond the 9th grade. And, there will certainly be little, if any, application of the example given in this article. What we have here is a curriculum mis-match.

Effective teaching to provide students with the 21st century skills must necessitate clear explanations of the origin of scientific formulas or phenomena, and the connection of these formulas or phenomena to the reality most precisely to students real life situations. Once students realize the relevancy of the lesson or the concepts, they will make more use of them in the future; and that is effective learning.

Mapping various contents while teaching is extremely beneficial and relevant for students, but time must be allowed for teachers to plan with each other for cross curricular teaching to occur. With budget cuts and excessive testing, I don't see the feasibility of this exemplary style of teaching.
Susan Olive
Middle School Science Teacher
Fowler, Ohio

How is the balloon exercize any different from a lab that could be found in many physics classes?

I glanced at the 8th grade expectations, I am going to need a lot more than 42 minutes a day. And audio, video and computer technology. And what about science content? Are we free to choose whatever we feel appropriate? Oh ... they mean do this in additional to everything else I already can't do? Sigh.

Maps are important tools for teachers. It could be useful to have a blog just for teachers using the map to reflect on their practice. The blog could be a source of ideas and lesson plans.

The less than enthusiastic comments above need to be taken seriously. We are still a long way from having equitable access to current technology, and that is necessary to bring new teaching and learning to scale, at least in the public school setting.

After reviewing the Supporting Structures for 21st Century Skills, it's clear that NCLB has got to go! We can't do the same thing that we have been doing for the last 20 years. We need to be assessing our student's thinking abilities. The facts will follow with the integration of content, technology and collaboration.

Thank you for this map. I'm going to post it in my classroom to remind myself of where I need to lead my students. I will use this map to create & change my teaching this year.

Middle School Math & Science
Livermore, Ca

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