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Three skills 21st century students need

The 21st century may not have exactly brought flying cars to the mainstream, but it has dramatically changed the skills that are needed to be a successful and productive member of the American workforce, and educators are beginning to adapt their instruction accordingly. Although the Common Core State Standards are doing their part to prepare students for college and the careers of the 21st century, teachers and administrators should pay particular attention to cultivating these skills in students:

1. STEM learning
A great deal of emphasis is being place on science, technology, engineering and mathematics as of late, particularly because these subjects cultivate skills in students that are needed in many 21st century careers. Many of the world’s fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs are in STEM fields, so the modern student has a greater chance of financial success in the working world if these subjects are a part of his or her 21st century learning experience early on. Today’s global economy is largely knowledge-based, and many experts argue that American students will need a strong foundation of STEM knowledge if they are going to compete with their international peers. STEM isn’t just about technology or mathematics – although these are both a part of the broad range of knowledge that students will need – it’s also about problem solving, and that is a skill that 21st century students can apply no matter what career path they choose.

2. Technology literacy
It’s undeniable: Technology is everywhere. It’s in the smartphones we so heavily rely on, the computers that keep information flowing, and in the classrooms that teach 21st century students. Because of our digitally reliant world, it’s more important than ever that students become technology literate. Being tech literate means having the ability to access, evaluate and create digital information. Although this definition is broad, so is the spectrum of what can be accomplished by a technology literate student – everything from finding strong research to back an argument in a paper, to computer coding. While many students can be considered “digital natives,” in that they grew up in our media-infused world, their knowledge of technology needs to go beyond video games to how it can be used to innovate and further their knowledge.

3. Creativity
This skill may seem contrary to more left-brain activities such as the study of STEM subjects, but the two are inextricably linked. Students who have had a chance to foster their creativity will be able to brainstorm new ideas, evaluate and refine those ideas, and share them with others. Creativity is a cornerstone of innovation, and that is what the careers of the 21st century are all about. Students can be encouraged to be creative in all aspects of their education – not just art or English class. With the skills needed to produce original and unique ideas, combined with their STEM knowledge, 21st century students will be able to create important innovations that could transform their futures. Given an active role in their education through personalized learning, students will be well prepared to take their creativity out into the world. Who knows? We may get those flying cars after all.

Jessie Woolley-Wilson