The uptake of STEM learning has been quite remarkable to date as educators and students agree that the collaborative, experiential factors and “the 21 CS learning principles” allow for a more interactive approach to learning. STEM has been highly effective in that it ensures students are engaged and given the opportunities to put learning into practice in a “highly effective manner”.
What are the principles of 21St Century Skills? How do 21st Century skills impact your teaching or your beliefs about teaching? Which skill is the most important or critical for students to learn in order to be successful?
My Personal Experiences and Transition – Integrated STEM & experiential learning.
In looking at and reflecting upon the work and directives in Brookings (2018) & Hebl (2015), on the “diversity, inclusion and cultural awareness for the classroom & outreach center”, now vital for STEM learning, and with a focus on 21st-century skills in education, I have looked “deeper” at my many teaching experiences to date. I have added to this topic of discussion, from a shared perspective and one that has continued to see me embrace those tools to empower a 21st-century education.
As I have continued patiently evolving, throughout my educational journey I have taken a myriad of paths and different turns and woven a tapestry of experiences that have given me “deep connections” and influences upon my teaching philosophies, and methodologies inside and outside of the classroom.
I’ve religiously adhered to my “experiential” teaching and stoically have implemented the theories of “constructivism”, “progressivism”, with a conscious mentality to align my curriculum and lesson plans within the 3 active learning domains, of the “psychomotor”, “effective” and “cognitive” to achieve active learning in STEM with inclusivity.
A majority of these experiences resonated deeply with me, as in many cases they were the result of overcoming “educational barriers” and in most cases involved me disrupting pre-existing, “educational models and systems” in order to improve learning connectedness and inclusivity.
These experiences have helped me to forge and mold my mindset with a “steely” confidence, of ensuring the “best learner engagement and inclusivity” through the notion of “sticking to my beliefs” and fighting at all costs to ensure the “best principles” of learning are consistently achieved collectively, in and “out of the classroom” for my learners.
To date a lot of the teaching disconnect, and in instructions within STEM learning and related subjects, has happened as a result of segregation of learning, ( in STEM and between science subjects). In many cases the educator has not historically understood the best learning practices of young learners in correlation with the brain development of such learners.
As mentioned by Higlet (1950), “a lack of integration of learning / instruction derives from the common belief that teaching is an art and not a Science”. As we develop and research strategies that have changed teaching practices, and in the work of Assor & Connell (1992), “researchers have had to adapt in their beliefs and actions in assessing learning. . This is the case nowadays and now that researchers have made an effort to understand the learning processes of young learners, significant change and exciting developments have unraveled. As highlighted earlier by Glaser (1990) and also by research in the report from Hong Kong Institute of Technology (2012) “instructional research can have a profound impact on the learning theories, and their applications to promote student learning and their outcomes and behaviors.” in real life learning scenarios.
Children’s learning has received increased attention to understanding the how and what of what is learned and the devotion paid to those skills that are important to be acquired and learned outside of the classroom and reinforced through engaged learning within the classrooms, as well. (Siegler, 2002, 2005)
The Integration of 21st Century Skills into learning::
With the massive evolution and uptake of STEM learning through most schools in Asia, and myself having evolved into incorporating STEM learning in most classes based on the philosophies of “experientialism” as well as “constructivism” and “progressivism” I have by default embraced the concepts and precepts surrounding skillsets for a 21st Century education. In many cases in doing so has allowed more efficiencies in learning and “disrupting” the status quo in traditional learning leading to some “decentralization” of key systems and realigning the “business models” of education to be more efficiency-driven as opposed to being pure “profit” driven.
These processes have also ensured that the administration within the educational learning environs has improved in their efficiencies allowing more support for the educator as a whole too. In addressing the needs and key components of modern education the essential ingredients for a 21st-century education can be summarized as below.
Many authorities including Robinson & Aronica, (2015), & also in the HKIED (2012) report have drawn comparisons between classrooms of yesteryear and today and have illustrated a few changes in classroom style and management.
Regardless of the common scenario of teachers standing in an instructional role and the stereotypical scene of students passively taking in information, there is a wide range of modified practices nowadays in most classrooms. It’s unfortunate that in most cases, these changes haven’t been distributed equally.
Highlighting the need for 21st century skill sets
Accordingly in most cases too, new and inexperienced teachers are sent into rural areas, and in most remote regions which have historically been the least resourced. (in terms of a school building, infrastructure, and other materials too). (Adedeji & Olaniyan, 2011; Monk, 2007). In most cases, the neediest of students aren’t fully provided for. The evolving and transient need for education to provide skills that are mobile, portable with a global reach has seen an increasing need for education to embrace those 21st-century skills.
These skill-sets include having a solid foundation in literacy, numeracy, knowledge in global societies, scientific principles to comprehend how the physical World functions, with functional and adaptive skills for life-long learning, (in immediate environments, globally & virtually too). The Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD, 2015) different employer-related organizations, the World Economic Forum (2016) & national educational systems (Care, 2018a), have all made statements regarding core competencies & essential skills that workers will need to bring to the table & workplace, now and into the future.
Regardless of socioeconomic issues, facing the World and the economy (now & into the future) there are genuine concerns over the current state of education and youth preparedness to contribute “intrinsically & holistically” to society.
There is a “growing & urgent need” for “scalable” knowledge aligned with the 21st Century approach over those from the 20th century. Brookings (2018). These are best summarized as below, with the 11 best principles of a 21st Century education ideally including, S.Roy (2020).
- Generating Curiosity
- Fostering Creativity
- Critical Thinking
- Reverse Classroom Concepts
- Exposure to Technology and Tech devices
- Communication & Storytelling
- Design & experimentation
- Perennial Growth Mindset
- Empathy and Morality
- & coding with STEM learning.
Country Emphasis on 21CS and Competencies required. Brookings, (2018)
From my many experiences in ESL schools, instructing and designing STEM courseware in Hong Kong and Thailand, I have seen a variety of the above 21st century skills utilized organically.
From my experience, the bulk of these skills are built through collaboration through peer work in the class and outside of the classroom, and on “experiential project work”. These projects are designed to “build up” skills that are “transferable” (Unesco, 2012), “transversal” (Care & Luo, 2016), with multi-skills that are diversified and equipped to handle a range of “fluid” design and “build” situations as opposed to “specific” vocational skills. The above project work also helps in building “soft skills” improving the learner’s emotional characteristics, attitudes, values, and communicative skills.
The associated project work, through “experiential learning” also assists in strengthening, “critical thinking”, “collaborative skills”, “communication”, “coding skills with STEM” “problem-solving” and also “digital literacy” skills too.
Why STEM EDUCATION?
From my experience to date, and from my transition into advocating more “experiential learning” with a “progressive” and “constructivist” philosophical approach from my time at Wall Street Institute and various STEM academies, STEM works best. I have found that educating learners in STEM, “scratch” and “drone & game coding”, organically embrace all the values and outlooks of a 21st-century education, by default. It’s highly effective too in that it incorporates a “streamlined” and “ leveraged approach” in ensuring very effective learning via,
- An actively engaging CURRICULUM which embraces all the values above with an emphasis on collaboration and “peer work”. It has a “global feel” but with an emphasis on solving issues locally.
- A student-centric PEDAGOGY, which ensures that focus is student exploration and “lifelong learning” by exploring and solving situations independently and in their “designated teams”. This helps with aligning goals to active skills acquisition, “information acquisition”, with a “student-centric approach” and “constructivist pedagogies” best-aligning 21CS learning goals.
- ASSESSMENT – As a STEM educator, and in aligning best with 21CS, I’ve advocated a transition from “summative” assessment to “formative” in that it allows a more balanced approach to assessing a student’s approach to learning and “body of work”. Utilizing the “formative assessment” also generates more “descriptive learning goal information”, more in alignment with 21CS goals. (Black & William, 2018). With the logic of a “competency standards-based system” being straightforward, it’s geared to comprehensive knowledge & content skills being mastered. (E. Care, 2018.) In aligning best to 21CS, the educator should according to (Greenstein, 2012.), follow the 5 components of the following processes.
- Understand the problem
- Brainstorm all possible solutions
- Devise a plan
- Carry out the plan
- Evaluate the results.
Mission Statement of Hong Kong & IB Principles. Brookings (2018)
In recognizing the mission statement of the Hong Kong Education Department Bureau (E.D.B) and in pivoting towards a more integrated approach of STEM within Hong Kong’s curriculum, revamps have been made to adhere more to the above, with a 21CS approach.
This is highlighted at https://www.edb.gov.hk/en/curriculum-development/kla/ma/res/STEMexamples.html & https://www.edb.gov.hk/attachment/en/curriculum-development/renewal/STEM%20Education%20Report_Eng.pdf where the focus is on, building core skills with a focus on critical & innovative thinking, with interpersonal skills / collaboration & “scratch” coding with / information literacy.
The mission statement of the E.D.B is to ensure that, “every student attains an all-round development in the domains of ethics, intellect, physique, social skills, and aesthetics, according to his / her own attributes, as stated in by E.Care (2018).
There is a need to empower life-long learning, critical & exploratory thinking, innovating & adapting to change, with self-confidence/reliance. The learner would have embraced a team spirit, a willingness to put in an effort, to achieve progress, freedom, the democracy of society with a contribution to the well-being of the nation & World at large and in Hong Kong mentioned by, E.Care (2018).
This is further strengthened in the core principles & traversal competencies as below.
IB Principles & Transversal competencies: – as according to Brookings (2018).
The following competencies are also key attributes that contribute to learning success in Hong Kong and align specifically with the “core competencies” and skills throughout STEM learning.
Critical & Innovative thinking – creativity, entrepreneurship, application, resourcefulness, applications skills, reflective thinking & reasonable decision-making processes.
Interpersonal skills – (in team peer work) – communication skills, organizational skills, teamwork, collaboration, sociability, collegiality, empathy & compassion.
Intrapersonal skills – self-discipline, ability to learn independently, flexibility & adaptability, self-awareness, perseverance, self-motivation, compassion, integrity, and self-respect.
Global Citizenship – awareness, tolerance, openness, tolerance, respect for diversity, ethical understanding, intercultural understanding, democratic participation, conflict resolution, respect for the environment, national identity and a sense of belonging.
Media & Information literacy – Ability to analyze and obtain information through ICTs, ability to critically evaluate information & media content. Ethical usage of ICTs.
Other Physical Health & Religion – Appreciation of healthy lifestyles & respect for religious values.
Understanding the Nature 21 CS & VISION statements / learning goals
In reference to the partnerships between UNESCO, the World Bank, the Global Partnership in Education as well as the UNESCO IBE, many countries’ learning objectives, from over 152 countries with their identified specific competencies/skills, learning missions/vision statements, general policy documents and learning curricula were evaluated, and expressed in, Brookings (2018). Through evaluative research, it was revealed that only 17 out of the 152 countries of the higher-ranked 11 % countries with clear competency skills that aligned with curriculum and learning objectives were on track to reach the “set learning” standards.
These include Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Mexico (which is undergoing learning reform), Iceland, United Emirates, Japan, South Korea, and a few other countries namely in Asia. These country’s curriculums provided clear pathways and guidelines to how 21 CS skills can align with the described skill progression over time, across different educational levels.
From Brookings (2018), it can be identified clearly that those skills that align with STEM and the Hong Kong curriculum as per the E.D.B are Communication skills, creativity, critical thinking & problem-solving. Generally, Hong Kong is on track, but through our STEM lessons, we have also chosen to incorporate lesson content particularly in “scratch & app coding” and “drone development” to solve global issues particularly surrounding global warming.
Recent projects have included building solutions to deliver trees and replanting the World with forests in automated ways “utilizing disruptive technologies”. We are aware to align STEM content to values that also incorporate reflective thinking, reasoned decision making, communication skills & also collaboration.
Essential Skills – collaboration & critical thinking – (Global Citizenship & Media / Information literacy)
Given that Hong Kong traditionally is an educational system that is very “teacher-centric”, “meritocratic” and highly values “high stake learning” to “examinations” whilst adhering to “meritocracy” there are an array of shortcomings and “learning gaps” in the majority of students, limiting their potential to develop optimal 21 CS. They would definitely be integrated and included within the curriculum building skillsets for collaboration as well as critical thinking.
Collaboration – Most of the collaboration that takes place in our STEM lessons are on “group projects” as well as on an array of “pilot and prototype build” before a final solution is built.
Collaboration, therefore, involves shared meaning involving iterative cycles of sharing, confirmation, repairing conceptions & managing tasks at hand too. Rochelle & Teasley (1995) & Brookings (2018).The process builds social interdependence (a much-needed skill for Hong Kong learners), interpersonal skills, task-related processes, collaboration on knowledge, skills & attitudes. Binkley et. al., (2012), Child & Shaw (2016), Greenstein (2012), partnerships for 21CS (2015) & Brookings (2018).
Furthermore, it allows – working effectively in diverse teams, (conflict resolution & team management skills), the introduction of new ideas, ability to compromise, assuming shared responsibility in teamwork, perspective-taking, and valuing / evaluation of contributions made by members. From my work to date in STEM all of the above are critical competencies that we value and have built into our curriculum and our lessons adhere to these qualities, as do our “balanced and formative assessments”.
Critical Thinking –
Given that the bulk of Hong Kong education is “teacher centric” this quality is also imperative in STEM education. As highlighted by Lewis & Smith (1993) & Brookings (2018), “critical-thinking is intentional, goal-directed and reflective. It allows for strategies, allows for judgment calls, and for learning new concepts too, as indicated by Sternberg, (1986) & Brookings (2018).
It also allows for metacognitive knowledge planning for executive processes, planning, monitoring, and evaluating. All of which are critical 21CS, as detailed by Sternberg, (1986) in Brookings (2018).
This is also critical in our STEM learning in Hong Kong, as it allows for students to think outside of the box, to “consolidate their learning” and to embrace and “exercise their faculties” to ensure all the above values & qualities are put into practice. This is vital in a learning environment such as Hong Kong’s. In mastering this skillset it would best prepare our learners for Global citizenship and “key media & information literacy” skills as well.
Given that many countries wish to adhere to the partnerships to develop 21CS in accordance with UNESCO, the World Bank, the Global Partnership in Education, the Hong Kong curriculum and E.D.B have placed quite well in key learning competencies stipulated and followed through on within their curriculum.
Through our “integrated STEM learning” we have also worked hard to consolidate the learner’s knowledge above and also instill the skillsets of collaboration, critical thinking to empower the competency skills/values of Global citizenship and mastering Media & Information literacy skills as well. We feel that with our Common Sense Ed. STEM courses and in adhering to the above this is building the necessary 21CS for our learners more effectively.
Brookings (2018). Optimizing Assessment for all. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Education-system-alignment-for-21st-century-skills-012819.pdf
Care, E., Kim, H., Anderson, K., & Gustafsson-Wright, E. (2017, March 24). Skills for a changing world: National perspectives and the global movement. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/global-20170324-skills-for-a-changing-world.pdf