21st Century Skills… Soft Skills? Say WHAAAT? - Part 2

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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So… how does one shift students from continual summer mode to 21st-century learning mode? How does a school create problem solvers and students who embrace a challenge? Why does the old way of teaching need to be re-examined? How does a school reinvent its purpose? (Cacth part 1 here!)

My school wanted to figure out the answers to these questions. It bothered me all last summer and I could not get these questions off my brain. After spending last summer reading and viewing everything I could get my hands on, and connecting with other teachers and experts on Twitter, I pitched an idea this fall to a team that could be a start to help put our school on a different path.

“Let’s design a school MAKERSPACE and embrace the concept of becoming a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) school. Let’s build a space where we can intentionally teach 21st-century skills to provide a motivating hands-on area for students to work through design challenges while learning curriculum at the same time. Let’s change the mindsets of our students as to the purpose of school. Let’s become facilitators and step back more. Let’s let students tinker and then teach as needed. Let’s reverse our thinking.”

And that is exactly what we did. We researched Makerspaces and redefined the concept of a library (as this is where the Makerspace would be built). We connected with others on Twitter to learn, used Hattie research to see what 21st century skills had a large effect size , reached out to sponsors to help finance a school Makerspace and to build community partnerships, educated the parents/students/staff on purpose of a school-wide Makerspace, and built a team of teachers and students ready to build the space. Eventually, we had an intentional space where students could go and learn important skills through hands-on work. We had created a space for students to collaborate, create, and critically think through a design process at the same time as learning the mandatory curriculum.

Each grade received a letter to decorate using things found in the Makerpsace.
Each grade received a letter to decorate using things found in the Makerpsace.

Picture this-..tool boxes filled with tools, nuts/bolts, screws and nails, sewing machines, digital scales/measuring devices, robotics, circuits, pegboards, video game design, coding materials, whiteboards, organized recyclable materials, lego tables, Keva planks, glue guns, cardboard cutting scissors and exacto knives all in the library waiting for the students to come and tinker.

Our grades 3-5 teachers started off the work by designing an intentional challenge. We designed a force and motion STEAM challenge and paired it with Halloween, cross-graded the design teams, did NO teaching to start except to explain the challenge and purpose, got out of the way and let the students begin problem-solving and learn how to work as a team. It was not easy work-but the students were chomping at the bit to get started. This was an exciting new way of learning for them and they loved the autonomy. It appeared that summer mode might begin to slowly melt away.

As a teaching team, we learned how to ask effective questions when students encountered problems, instead of jumping in and rescuing the students. The students learned how to cope with struggle and failure, learned that failure was a big part of design work and that working with new people not in their grade wasn’t as scary as they first thought. I won’t kid you, it was tough on both teachers and the students, however, by the end of the school year teachers and students felt positive about the importance of learning 21st-century skills through this mode.

Part 3 coming soon!

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