21st Century Skills… Soft Skills? Say WHAAAT? - Part 3

Theresa Lambert

Currently 29 years as an educator.. gosh this is making me sound ancient! However, after 29 years, I can still say I LOVE my job! Most would describe me as a bibliophile because my favourite pastime is to get lost in fiction or devour a recommended educational read. My love of learning has led me to explore various educational roles such as a student researcher (SWST) for the Ontario Ministry of Education, a junior literacy coach, a board-wide special assignment curriculum teacher, and a grade 3-6 classroom teacher.

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Here is an example of our first grade 3-5 STEAM challenge to intentionally use the Makerspace and teach students important 21st-century “c words” skills.

We informally met as a design teacher team to discuss our anecdotal observation notes, and analyze our videos per student team to assess the student progress in the design process. We looked for patterns and trends in our notes/discussions and used them to determine intentional teaching that needed to be addressed as a large group.

As the year continued staff learned how to effectively use and organize the Makerpace and design worthy challenges to help the students grow their 21st-century skills. The students became hungry for this type of work. In December instead of a Christmas concert the grade 3-5 classes crossgraded new design teams to showcase an “elf factory”. It was important to work with different peers and learn from a wide variety of people to apply what they had learned about collaboration and the design process from previous design work. 

This time the design task was to design a form of entertainment,(made in the Elf factory), for a target group that could be sold in stores as a gift. We wanted the students to show off evidence of their 21st-century skills as they interacted with the various types of entertainment when their guests arrived. We wanted the other students in the school to come into the Makerpace to try out each type of entertainment and give feedback so the grade 3-5 students could contemplate the feedback and modify their work. We wanted to start spreading the excitement of this type of learning to the rest of the school and the community.

Students used robotics, circuits, and recyclables to create a form of entertainment and then held a STEAM fair in the gym to showcase their work. The community was invited. The pride and commitment the students displayed had never been seen before. The support they showed each other was admirable. When the students saw the guest responses to their work they grew even hungrier to learn as they saw their thinking and learning mattered. Again no pre-teaching happened, the teaching happened on the spot when needed. Each design team needed different support to learn the required skills. The 21st-century learning skills were learned authentically instead of in isolation.

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Below is an example of students learning how to connect with experts around the world such as Jane Goodall so they can be supported in their habitat work to become part of a global solution. This led to various solutions through collaborative brainstorming such as planting a bee and butterfly garden, writing letters to Premier Ford about changes to the Endangered Species Act, learning how to compost, and starting a garbageless lunch campaign in the school.

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So as you can “C”- ( see what I did here…)- intentional teaching of 21st century learning skills through purposeful design challenges in a school-wide Makerspace is one way to shift students out of ‘summer mode’ and support them in changing their mindsets and seeing school as a place where they can learn how to become creators, collaborators, and critical thinkers. School is a place where students can learn how to THINK. Becoming a STEAM school has certainly been a step in the right direction.

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