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The Informed Parent

A Guide To 21st Century Skills In Education, Part 2

by Catherine S. Tolnai, M.A.T.
Published on May. 07, 2012

Integration Through Project-Based Learning (PBL):

Simply stated, this idea refers to the bridging of multiple curricula through the design of meaningful projects. Students bring together components of music, art, and technology with the core curricula to enhance their learning experience. Teachers are seeing more often that this method of teaching puts the child in the driver’s seat of their own education with the instructor coaching from the side. Rather than teach each subject in a vacuum, teachers are bringing complimentary components of curricula together that invigorate the learning and also meet the diverse interests of their students. For my 7th and 8th graders, they do not get sufficient amount of time in art and technology. Therefore, I design lessons in which I bring those disciplines to them along with the history lessons I am required to teach. In my recent unit on Renaissance Europe, my students studied the growth of the banking industry in Florence, Italy in the Sixteenth Century, and also learned about the art of relief sculpture. In collaboration with the art teacher, we designed a lesson in which the students sculpted various coins that would have been found in Renaissance Florence using the tools and artistic media that mimicked the art of that period. The likelihood that my students have a personal relationship with both subjects and topics is much higher now that they’ve interacted with it in so many ways. It is through projects like this that we can see children build lasting memories with the core content that they learn at school.

Diversity of Assessments:

Finally, it is important for you, as a parent, to know how your child is being assessed both formally and informally in the classroom. A true 21st Century classroom will aim to grade your child using a variety of tools: observation, writing, repetition-based assignments, oral presentations, group projects, individual projects, tests and quizzes, reading comprehension activities, and more. I appreciate when parents approach me to find out more about how I assess their child. Perhaps you might ask, “Will my child see a rubric for this project?” or “How much time will they have to prepare for the unit exam, and will you review the content with them prior to it?” These questions beg the answer of whether or not the teacher has clearly outlined  the learning goals and whether or not your  child understands them. This sounds very different than, “Why did you give my child a 70% on that assignment?” Rather, it is the proactive approach to understanding the culture of the classroom that your child spends so much time in each day. Teachers are learning that the sooner we outline the expectations, the better the products will be and the more in-control the child feels about the learning and assessment process. There is power in knowledge, and the knowledge is being shared often; you just need to know how to ask for it.

Part of being a successful participant in your own journey as a parent or professional is to be aware of the trends and language being used by leaders in your field. For children and you, it is no different when it comes to the language used in the classroom and in teacher-education circles. These terms and phrases are meant to help you better understand the push for “21st Century skills” in the classroom. Understanding the background of these terms will help you advocate for your child and your family in both the classroom and at school.

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