20 Ideas and Resources Promoting 21st Century Skills Through Project Based Learning


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I thought you might enjoy another post devoted to Project Based Learning.  In the last post, I described how content standards are so important to effective PBL. In today’s world education must go beyond content and address the important life and success skills sometimes referred to 21st-century skills or the 4 C’s  I do hope you enjoy this process driven article. Also, please take a moment to subscribe to this blog by RSS or email and  join me on twitter at mjgormans . I have some great posts coming your way involving PBL, STEM, tech integration, and a continuing series on Professional Learning Communities!  Most of all, thanks for being one of those over 25,000 visitors a month and over 10,000 subscribers. Also, remember that I can come to your conference or school district and provide engaging authentic and purposeful professional development . See booking info and please contact me anytime at (mjgormans@gmail.com). Thanks so much.  Michael Gorman (21centuryedtech).

Quick Notes – PBL Opportunities you may want to be aware of:

BLC 16 …. I will once again join Alan November at the BLC conference in Boston in July. I have my own pre-conference master class. It will be an informative and action packed  PBL Splash for Teachers and Leaders. Check out both the conference and my pre-conference. This PBL Splash Master Class is almost filled. Sign up soon. I will also be providing some wonderful concurrent sessions to share at the conference.

Making Learning Happen…New York  PBL  – Join me in Syracuse, New York in August for some exciting PBL workshops. I plan on providing sessions that integrate PBL with STEM, Makers, Differentiated Instruction, Inquiry, Deeper Learning, and Technology Integration. This conference will be filled with amazing speakers and workshops. Hope to see you there!

Using Games, Play + Digital Media To Build Your Own Maker Culture – If you are going to be at ISTE in Denver this summer be sure to stop by this session. Join me, the Institute of Play, and PBS Learning Media. (Wednesday, June 29, 10:15–11:15 am CCC 201)

20 Ideas and Resources Promoting 21st Century Skills Through Project Based Learning

It is important that Project Based Learning provides students with wonderful opportunities that allow them to take part in a culture focused on rich activities and experiences. It promotes those important 21st-century skills while balancing this acquisition with important content knowledge and standards. The lessons and activities are intentional, aligned, and mapped to curricular standards. The standards and skills are constantly assessed in a variety of ways involving numerous stakeholders.  Most of all, there is an alignment between standards, skills, and assessment. By incorporating these indicators teachers are ensured that they have provided a project process that is built on standards and proper skill acquisition. The four areas that serve as indicators for grounding PBL  in standards are below.

  1. Curricular Content and Standards
  2. 21st Century Skills
  3. Formative and Summative Assessment
  4. Intentional and Aligned

In this post, I would like to focus on those 21st-century skills which I feel work side by side with the content standards in order to provide a powerful learning environment for students. In my work with teachers across the country, I often hear that it is difficult to work on 21st-century skills given the over-abundance of standards. Having spent over thirty years in the classroom I do understand the demands of curricular content and I invite you to read the preceding post. Let’s take a moment to understand those 21st-century skills.

First, I feel that sometimes we have overused the idea and label of 21st-century skills. In many places, these skills are referred to as the important process, success, and life skills. Others refer to them as the 4Cs including critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. I sometimes think of them as Blooms higher order or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. In fact, these very skills have been important well before the 21st century. I am certain that when something broke on the farm over one hundred years ago there was a child watching and learning, as someone improvised a solution without the assistance of the local hardware or big box home and lawn center. It is this spirit of perseverance and  innovation that provided for the wonderful successes of prior generations.

So why such an emphasis on these skills in education today? It might also be due to over-programming of kids’ schedules. Years ago I took part in an activity called “Going Out To Play”. In this activity, I remember practicing and learning the 4 Cs. A lot can be learned during a summer adventure with your friends and no adults. It might also be that too much time is spent with one-way media that also provides short and unrealistic resolutions packed within a predetermined time slot. Perhaps it is due to twenty years of standards-based curriculum built on not leaving any child behind resulting in a lot of “what” and not enough “how”.

John Dewey said, “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”

It is the above quote that really defines Project Based Learning. It is the “doing” that allows students to practice and become proficient in those important success attributes we often refer to as the 21st-century skills. These skills have always been a part of our standards in the verbs we find written in the curriculum. Words such as compare, contrast, present, analyze, and create provide the doing along with the facilitation of success skills. Take a look at your standards and you will find them. The standardized test has blinded education through its focus on the “what”, and not allowed educators to take the time with the “how”. PBL allows teachers to once again balance content and important skills by allowing students to do. The doing which is at the center of PBL ultimately provides an avenue for real learning which includes the “what and the how”. Best of all it puts the student at the center! Remember…

John Dewey said, “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”

Please take a moment to look at the ideas and resources below that will help you to ensure that you are including important 21st-century skills in your PBL. I am certain you will enjoy the ideas and the links. Please share with others so they can emphasize content through the promotion of 21century skills!

  1. Balance the process with the content. Just as plans can lead to an overload on content without the understanding of the “how”. We can also spend too much time on the “how” and never connect and demand that students know the “what”, or content.
  2. A lecture or reading really is OK. As students start doing and inquiring, they will need guidance and facilitation to stay in the constraints of learning and understanding of the content. They may even need some foundation of content in order to find success in doing!
  3. In today’s technology rush, make sure to not get caught up in the digital shine. Sometimes old fashion analog is really OK! Why have students finger paint with an iPad App when you can get your fingers in the real paint. Take a moment to watch Caine’s Arcade.
  4. Look at the standards in your curriculum and find the verbs. It will give your students a license to do! Read my blog post entitled, Part 3… Beyond the Technology Shine… Content Standard Verbs and Blended Learning Possibilities.
  5. Visit the wonderful 21century rubrics made available for free at the BUCK Institute (BIE). Not only is BIE a great place to learn about PBL, these rubrics will allow you and your students to assess these important success skills. Access to rubrics may require signing up for a free BIE account.
  6. When using any 21st-century rubric become familiar with the subsets of each of the 4 Cs. Creativity is actually made up of many components, one being risk taking. Of course, empathy is an important part of collaboration.
  7. Have your students reflect and journal, plus assess themselves as they  immerse themselves in success skill acquisition.
  8. Visit P21 (Partnership for 21st Century Learning) to learn more about the exciting world of 21st-century skills and how you can facilitate your students in the classroom. You will find a wonderful collection of resources and ideas. Be sure you have some time as you find a treasure chest of possibilities including this page on the 21st-century framework. Also, take a look at this poster PDF for further inspiration.
  9. While Edutopia is a must visit site for numerous articles on 21st-century learning in the classroom, be sure to check out this awesome PDF filled with resources to facilitate these skills in the classroom.
  10. The people at ISTE provide not only great ways to integrate technology in your classroom, their set of ISTE Student Standards really make 21st Century learning come alive!
  11. You will want to spend some time looking through all the possibilities at the Institute of Play. Here you will find an amazing collection of possibilities.
  12. Are the 4 Cs just not enough for you? Then be sure to take some time to browse  the 21st Century Skills Definition from the Institute of Museum and Library Services 21st century skills area. You will get some great ideas as you also take a look at the rest of the site.
  13. Take a moment to investigate this PDF file put out by the California After School Resource Center. You will find some great connections to games, play, PBL, and the 21st Century Skills.
  14. The website Deep Play provides some great ideas and resources to merge the 21st-century thinking into the classroom use play, games ,and project. In fact, take a look at their projects’ page.
  15. You will want to become more familiar with all the resources from Habits of the Mind. It is an outstanding program that has an important emphasis on metacognition and related skills.
  16. Edutopia provides a wonderful article providing further explanation and resource links to explore.
  17. Do you like those higher levels of Bloom? Then perhaps you will like to explore this interactive site relating to Blooms and the higher order.
  18. If you have found that the verbs are a great way to incorporate doing and the 21st-century skills then check out these verbs that relate to the levels of Bloom. Perhaps you might like this diagram that turns those verbs into possible activities.
  19. The Maker Space movement in education plays a big role in providing an arena to facilitate 21st Century skills. A great place to learn more can be found at Maker Ed. Take some time to check it out.
  20. Of course, one of my favorite places to learn more about 21st-century learning is right here at https://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com . I invite you to continue to visit as you facilitate those important 21st-century skills and PBL in your classroom!

Project Based Learning really does promote that important balance between content and process. It facilitates that “how” while also providing that important “what” in a way that will be understood and remembered. Not only will students be ready for those high stake tests, they will be ready for the world!

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” … John Dewey

Thank you for joining me and I hope you found this information something you can use in your school and useful to share with other educators.  As always, I invite you to follow me on twitter (mjgormans). Please give this post a retweet and pass it on to someone who will benefit. To ensure you do not miss a future valuable post or other resource covering PBL, Digital Curriculum, STEM, 21st-century learning, and technology integration please sign up for 21centuryedtech by email or RSS. Have a great week… enjoy the Websites! – Mike (https://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com/

Booking Info – It is time to think about your school or conference needs.  Are you looking for a practical and affordable professional development workshop for your school or conference? I have traveled the country delivering PD relating to technology integration, PBL, STEM, Digital Literacy, and the 4 C’s. I have delivered hundreds of workshops and presentations. Check out my Booking Page.  Please contact me soon if you have an interest. I am now  almost booked through October and the rest of the 2016 calendar is filling fast. In fact, it might be time to begin thinking about next January! Look for contact information at the Booking Site.

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