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Preparing students for success in an ever-changing world

Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 4:03 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 4:11 p.m. CDT

One morning during the summer of 1994, I walked into Omega Restaurant and overheard two gentlemen debating who was the better third baseman for the Chicago Cubs: Ron Cey or Steve Buechele.

In the pre-Internet world of 1994, theirs was a discussion limited by their memories and what had been printed in that day’s newspaper.

Twenty years later, their conversation would most likely retain the same intense feeling but sound very different. Knowledge of facts and figures is no longer the commodity it once was; information is ubiquitous.

Anyone can look up facts and figures anywhere in the world. As such, we are no longer measured simply by what we know, but rather by what we can do with this knowledge. 

In 2002, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, began to look at the needs of learners in the modern world.

The results were startling. We can no longer prepare our children for an ever-changing world simply by asking them to use and analyze the content they could remember, or look for in the encyclopedia. Instead, the recommendations of the commission focused on 21st Century Student Outcomes and Support Systems.

The commission determined that no longer will the student simply supply the acquired knowledge, but rather will need to research information, identify its accuracy and value to the situation, analyze how to apply that information and critique its application in real time.

A decade later, the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills is clearly applicable to the learning that is taking place today.

In Downers Grove, we are transforming our learning expectations from content knowledge based upon the textbook to life skills that emphasize the multiple needs of 21st Century learners.

Research skills, combined with the students adding value through creativity and critical analysis, are becoming the key to our success in the classroom and beyond.

Now, our students, if they were to debate the merits of Cubs third basemen Ron Cey (.275/.346/.460) and Steve Buechele (.272/.345/.436), they could easily discover that these players were statistically extremely similar.

As 21st Century citizens, their conversation could turn to digging more deeply into the impact the players made on their team’s lineups. Critical analysis and collaborative communication are the outcomes of a successful 21st Century education. 

Matt Rich is the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for Downers Grove Grade School District 58.

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