Ways Teachers Can Bring 21st Century Skills Into High Schools

US News

Lessons taught in high schools often skimp on 21st century skills such as collaboration and real-world problem solving, according to a report released last week by Gallup.

The research organization worked in conjunction with Microsoft Partners in Learning and the Pearson Foundation to interview 1,014 people ages 18-35 with varying levels of education, asking them to recall their last year of school.

Only 22 percent of students with a high school education or less say teachers prompted them to apply what they learned to a real-world problem, according to the report.

Additionally, roughly one-third reported learning about other cultures and teaming up with classmates on projects. While technology use was common among these students, only 3 percent said they used video conferencing, discussion boards or collaborative tools such as Skype.

Students tasked with regularly deploying these 21st century skills -- deemed by the study's authors, as well as other experts, to be crucial in the workplace -- were more likely to say they excelled at their jobs, according to the report.

[Find out why high school students are ill-prepared for college.]

The Common Core State Standards adopted by most states require teachers to incorporate collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking into their lessons. With implementation of those standards already underway, these tips can help educators bring the real world into their classrooms.

Cull current events: Look at what is dominating the news cycle and think about how it applies to your lessons, experts suggest. Teachers can use severe weather outbreaks and environmental disasters to illustrate everything from climate patterns to the logistics of coordinating relief efforts.

Using separate oil spills in the Gulf Coast and Alaska as an example, Shanika Hope, senior director of curriculum and instruction at Discovery Education, told High School Notes in December that teachers can have students "compare and contrast that cleanup effort, and talk about ways to improve [it]. All of that's real-world, relevant stuff that's important to them, and they're being asked to leverage different tools."

[Discover websites for teachers to try in 2013.]

Educators can also capitalize on the seemingly never-ending campaign season to teach students about everything from statistics to finance and big data. The U.S. Government Teachers Blog regularly posts on ways to do just that.

Tap industry experts: Getting a CEO into your classroom can be a logistical nightmare. Getting them on a Skype call -- now that's another story.

Free online tools open up a wellspring of opportunity for getting experts in front of students. Educators can set up a call or join one hosted by someone else, using resources such as Skype in the Classroom.

The White House, media outlets and other organizations also regularly host Twitter chats and Google Hangouts with top minds in nearly every field imaginable.

Teachers can also turn the tables and have students present a project or pitch an idea to industry leaders, Andrew Marcinek, an instructional technology specialist at Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts, suggested in a recent blog post.

Marcinek's help desk class broadcast their TED Talk research projects and presented at multiple conferences using Google Hangout. He also tasked them with hosting their own talks on the platform, including writing scripts, creating sets and manipulating camera angles.

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