3 Road-Tested Tools and Tips to Help Students Master 21st Century Skills

By Jenny Burns, Community Coordinator for Allen Distinguished Educators
September 29, 2016

Between snaps, apps, naps, and class, high school students are considering their next steps after graduation. The job market is increasingly influenced by transformative technology, global communications, and complex problems that require collaborative solutions. Teachers working within the confines of traditional school settings often face challenges as they look for ways to equip students with the “21st century skills” they need to be successful. Allen Distinguished Educators, facing similar challenges, have developed “Roadmaps” with practical, tactical solutions to overcoming these challenges. These ADE Roadmaps offer road-tested advice and guidance for  teachers based on their experience.

Discover new teaching strategies and practices by following three Roadmaps below.

1) Turn Resource Limitations into Enabling Constraints

Limited resources and traditional school buildings hardly invite new approaches to teaching and learning. However, as ADE awardee Patrick Dempsey reminds us, limitations can actually spark ingenuity. “The kick starter to creativity is restriction,” explains Dempsey, “When you can only operate within the four walls of this box, you have to get creative if you’re going to have kids do the real work that you want them to do.” As a science teacher at a public middle school in Missouri, Dempsey figured out how use the constraints at his school to motivate students to find solutions to real problems by equipping them with the tools to improve the world around them.

In a video Roadmap produced by the ADE program, Dempsey shares three practical solutions for classroom innovation:
  1. Ask yourself: what can kids make to help them understand the curriculum?
  2. Think about class periods as project steps.
  3. Maximize your budget by thinking like a maker.
Watch Dempsey’s ADE Roadmap on: Practical Solutions for Classroom Innovation

2) Use Technology to Connect Students with Faraway Places, People, and Cultures

Video conferencing and collaborative technologies are commonplace in present-day workplaces yet they are rarely used in K-12 schools. Forward-thinking teachers, like ADE awardee Dawn DuPriest, are giving their students an edge by embracing this technology in the classroom. “21st century learners are global citizens and so they need to understand how to be a part of this world and how to be an active, empathetic participant in this society,” says DuPriest. However, unreliable tech support and time zone challenges can be hurdles for teachers looking to employ these technologies. As a computer science and electronics teacher at a public middle school in Colorado, DuPriest and her colleagues have learned how to manage these and other glitches so that their students can learn and collaborate with students around the world.

In a video Roadmap produced by the ADE program, DuPriest shares five tips with educators on how they can set up global collaborations in their classrooms:
  1. Use local resources to connect internationally.
  2. Encourage ongoing and frequent communications in many different forms.
  3. Work with an IT specialist to facilitate international communication.
  4. Be patient, flexible, and creative when working around time zones. 
  5. Set up Skype norms to ensure clear communication during sessions.
Watch DuPriest’s Roadmap on: How to Set Up Collaborations with Partners in Other Countries.

3) Implement a Proficiency Grading System in Schools that Rely on Traditional Grades and Report Cards

Bartlo-and-Student-Proficiency-Grading.JPGImplementing true mastery learning can be difficult for teachers in schools that rely on traditional grading systems and report cards that parents understand. ADE awardee Chris Bartlo, a high school computer science teacher in Oregon who is passionate about promoting K-12 computer science education, developed a thoughtful approach to proficiency grading at his school. Among other factors, Bartlo’s approach considers learning standards, scheduling logistics, and includes advice for securing student and teacher buy-in. 

In a video Roadmap produced by the ADE program, Bartlo shares four tips with educators on how they can set a proficiency grading system in their class:
  1. Think about proficiency as the skills that merit a C grade.
  2. Make 70% of the work proficiency and 30% mastery.
  3. Align your standards with your school’s schedule.
  4. Get students and parents on board at the beginning of the year.
Watch Bartlo’s Roadmap on: Using a Proficiency Grading System.

If you found these Roadmaps helpful, share them with teachers in your network or bring them up at your next professional development workshop. Are you already implementing similar practices at your school, are you interested in trying something similar, or does this spark a new idea? Share your feedback in the comments below.

Discover more Roadmaps and open-educational resources from Allen Distinguished Educators

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