As an educator of more than 20 years, I have seen a lot of changes in education. For many of my first years of teaching, I kept myself in isolation and only put into practice strategies and tools that I was familiar with and that worked well for me. Back then, the technology was still quite limited and it was comfortable to keep teaching the way that I had always taught. Luckily I broke away from that isolation and by becoming more connected as an educator, I see how much I had been missing out on by staying isolated. And what is worse, I was limiting the opportunities for my students that would best prepare them for the future. Now that I know better, I do better, in the words of Maya Angelou.
As educators, we are often engaged in discussions focused on teaching methods, designing our classroom “space,” setting homework and grading policies and trying to keep up with constant changes in the world of education and work. We must know more than our content, we must understand the types of skills our students will need to be successful in the future. While we cannot predict the types of jobs that will exist, we know that today’s students will need a variety of critical “21st-century skills.” We must ask ourselves: What are the best ways to provide all students with authentic and innovative learning experiences that will foster the development of the essential skills? How can we prepare students for those jobs which may not exist yet world?
These are the two questions that come up in discussion in educator communities and that I ask myself as I think about how to prepare for class each day. Besides teaching my students the Spanish language, what else should I work to embed into the curriculum that will better prepare my students?
For years, teaching only the content was comfortable. However, while it may be comfortable, it limits the learning potential of our students when we don’t take risks with learning and share these experiences with our students. We need to empower students to take the lead in the classroom and we can do this by moving away from being content providers and instead, shifting to facilitators and co-learners in our classrooms. But how?
We create more opportunities for students to design their own learning paths, to explore areas of personal interest, and to become creators rather than consumers. When we do this, our students will see learning as a process, they will be more engaged in what they are learning and will feel valued and supported in the classroom. By the types of activities and resources we offer, they will build vital skills for the future but skills which they need today as well.
Here are five ideas that will provide students with opportunities to build essential skills for the future.
Collaboration Skills: Students need to be able to work as part of a team and also need the skills to collaborate beyond the time and space constraints of the classroom. There are many ways to promote collaboration both in the physical classroom as well as in the virtual learning space. Students can work together from anywhere by leveraging different digital tools or through teaching strategies. Learning stations when used in the classroom open up more possibilities for students to be social, to build their SEL skills, and to engage with the content in more authentic and personalized ways. For extending classroom discussions and interactions, building skills through digital tools like Buncee, Flipgrid, Padlet, Synth, and Wakelet, help students to express their ideas, communicate and collaborate with peers from around the world. Preparing students with these types of learning experiences now, will help to prepare them for the future, when they may need to work on a team remotely or to take an online course, for example.
Project-based learning (PBL): I started PBL a few years ago and II have seen my students develop many skills beyond the language that they are learning. They have worked independently and collaboratively, struggled with questions that do not have an easily located or specific answer, and now focus more on the learning process rather than the product. PBL promotes creativity, communication, critical thinking, global awareness, problem-solving, and amplifies the learning potential for students because it is a more meaningful experience.
Artificial Intelligence: With an estimate of close to 40% of the jobs being replaced by artificial intelligence in the future, we will all benefit by exploring these areas in our classrooms. In my classroom, we explore the topic, look at some videos and then students have time to try Google AI experiments such as Quick Draw and many others. Using these activities and discussing with students how they think that AI might impact education and the world of work will benefit educators and students. By learning about AI and exploring on their own, it will hopefully engage students more in learning and lead them to possibly creating their own AI, or use for AI. It can also promote higher-level thinking, especially through the class discussions about the impact of AI and even talking about the ethics surrounding AI in education and potential uses in the world.
STEM/STEAM activities added into every classroom will help students to develop many of the skills that will be needed in the future. It is important that we provide experiences for all students throughout their K through 12 education. By adding in STEM or STEAM curriculum to all courses, will build the essential skills that our students need, especially when it comes to creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. We need for students to develop their own understanding of how things work, how to plan, fail, iterate and set new goals.
Global awareness: It is important that we provide opportunities for our students to learn beyond the classroom space. We need to help our students learn about what is happening in the world and one way to connect them with global issues is through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Teach SDGs). Students can explore challenges around the world, work as teams to brainstorm solutions or look into their community to identify similar issues and connect with more authentic and meaningful work. Through these experiences, we will promote problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, and empathy, all critical skills, and characteristics for our students to develop.
We have to take some risks and try new ideas, especially ones that will stretch us personally and professionally. When we do this, we can experience the productive struggle that often comes with learning and can be uncomfortable for our students. We must continue to connect with other educators and keep building relationships with our students. When we work together, we will all be prepared for whatever changes may come to the world of education and work.
Rachelle Dene Poth
Rachelle Dene is Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle Dene is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a master’s in Instructional Technology. She serves as the President of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. Author of 'In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking," "The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead," "Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU". Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @rdene915.
In Other Words: Quotes that Push Our Thinking This book is focused on quotes and using them as a way to reflect. In Other Words shares stories around the importance of growing ourselves as educators, knowing our why, as well as learning from and embracing failures and taking risks with learning so we can become our best selves for those we lead and learn with. Many stories shared with guest chapters and a chapter co-written by two of my seniors! A great read for anyone, not just for educators.
Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU: Unconventional will empower educators to take risks, explore new ideas and emerging technologies, and bring amazing changes to classrooms. The book is for anyone looking to get started with new ideas in the classroom ranging from promoting SEL, starting PBL, trying genius hour and edcamps, using augmented and virtual reality, making global connections, building digital citizenship skills, fostering relationships and more.