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

Throughout her life and career, Jessie Woolley-Wilson has been driven by a singular belief that all children need and deserve high-quality learning opportunities, regardless of who they are or where they live. She believes that by supporting great teaching and learning, everyone wins: kids, families, communities and the world. Jessie has worked in the education technology space for nearly 20 years to support school and district leaders to improve learning and life outcomes for K-12 students.

Jessie joined DreamBox Learning® in 2010 as Chair, President, and CEO. The startup software company had pioneered Intelligent Adaptive Learning™ in 2006 and began partnering with schools soon after Jessie joined. Today, DreamBox serves nearly 3 million K-8 students and approximately 120,000 teachers. The company provided more than 350 million math lessons across the U.S. and Canada in 2017.

Jessie recently secured a $130 million investment in DreamBox from The Rise Fund, a global impact investing fund managed by TPG Growth. Prior to joining DreamBox, Jessie served as president of Blackboard’s K-12 Group and LeapFrog SchoolHouse, the K-12 division of LeapFrog Enterprises. Jessie also served in leadership positions at, the interactive division of The College Board, and at Kaplan, the leading test preparation company in the U.S.

Jessie supports the broader K12 industry by serving on the boards of several educational organizations including Rosetta Stone, Newsela, the Western Governors University Board of Trustees, and Ursuline Academy. She is also a board member for Boeing Employees Credit Union, Pacific Science Center, and The Bullitt Foundation. She has been a featured speaker at international events including TEDx Rainier, SXSWedu, DENT and GeekWire Summit 2018.

Jessie is a two-time recipient of EdTech Digest’s EdTech Leadership Award for her work in transformative innovation in education and honored her as one of 2018’s Top 100 Influencers in EdTech. Seattle Business Magazine awarded Jessie the 2015 Executive Excellence Award in the CEO of the Year category and Forbes placed her on its “Impact 15” list for being a disruptor in education. The Puget Sound Business Journal honored Jessie as a “Woman of Influence” and 425 Magazine named her as one of eight “Unstoppable Eastside Women” for having a clear focus on the greater good. Additionally, The New York Times has profiled Jessie and her leadership style in their Corner Office column.

Jessie holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from the University of Virginia. She is also a 2007 Henry Crown Fellow and moderator for the Aspen Institute.
Jessie Woolley-Wilson