on education

thoughts from a graduate student at the university of mary washington

21st century skills vs. core knowledge. week two.


I’d like to start out this week by saying that this particular sided argument is interesting for me. I don’t view this as a one or the other, all or nothing kind of debate. My own personal approach to teaching is definitely a mix between 21st century skills and core knowledge.

I very much so value inquiry learning, as we learned about in chapter one of Using Inquiry in the Classroom. I definitely feel like this is crucial to the learning process and fits very well with my hybridization of 21st century skills and core knowledge approach to the classroom. I believe that there is a set of information that everyone should know, but beyond that I also believe that students won’t value their education and won’t be present in it if they’re not engaged and it doesn’t apply to them directly. “Inquiry ensures that students are not only memorizing required factual information, but are also applying the facts to the development of meaningful questions and their own understanding” (Coffman, 2013, p. 1). I found the Verbs and Inquiry chart on page 5 to be particularly useful for writing objectives in lesson plans. The verbs you choose really do matter. If you don’t know exactly what you want your students to do, how can they possibly know what’s expected of them? Perhaps I like inquiry learning so much because I actually come from a science background. I spent most of my time in high school and college on the pre-med track, and actually entered college as a human biology major, which I was for 3/4 of my time at Texas. Just a little tidbit, there. Coffman tells us that “the inquiry approach to learning originates in science education, where students create and test a hypothesis…” (Coffman, 2013, p. 1). You stick with what you know, right?

I teach the little ones. Like it or not, there are things they just have to memorize. Like their ABCs. And multiplication tables. The knowledge they will gain as they go throughout their schooling is based on this information readily available in their brains. That being said, there is no way that that’s all an elementary classroom should be. These kids are absolutely digitally entrenched, and it’s foolish not to use new and innovative technologies to engage them in the learning process once that factual information is in place. As much as I love a core knowledge classroom (and I really do, isn’t that weird?), we can’t let the one institution that brings children up to be gainfully employed, productive citizens be irrelevant. As educators, we simply are not doing these kids any justice by holding them in the past just because that’s the way it’s always been. You’ve had those teachers, haven’t you? The ones that teach The Iliad every year because that’s just what you do. I remember in my 9th grade English Honors class, we thought it was just the cat’s pajamas that we got to learn about archetypes by watching the Star Wars movies on grainy VHS tapes!

The rainbow you see on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills website really does a pretty nice job of summing up how I feel about education. You see the core knowledge in there, but it’s infused with all of the other categories. “While the graphic represents each element distinctly for descriptive purposes, the Partnership views all the components as fully interconnected in the process of 21st century teaching and learning” (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2011). For example, it’s quite possible to teach your students how to dissect media while reading newspaper articles from the Civil War era. It’s equally possible to teach them this using photographic images from the same era (they’re media, are they not?). Not only are they learning the facts about the Civil War, they’re learning how people felt about it, the propaganda that surrounded it, and they’re internalizing that it’s important to possess these critical thinking and analytical skills in our own time, for our own media. How many extensions can come of out of that lesson that invite inquiry and experiential learning?! Our own media shapes the way we view the world around us, and as the Partnership points out, we need to teach kids that they are global citizens. How can you be a true global citizen if you only pay attention to Fox News or MSNBC? What about BBC? Al Jazeera? Le Monde? With iPads and COWS in schools, our students have access to all of these news outlets. The world is literally at their fingertips, and what a shame it would be for them to spend their technology time playing typing games or Oregon Trail.

It is as Marvin Gaye said: Mercy, mercy me. Things ain’t what they used to be.

So why keep education the same?


And without the proper tools prevalent in 21st century learning goals, would your students know that this song is actually social, cultural, and ecological commentary? Or would they just jam out to Marvin Gaye? Would they even have an opportunity to hear this song in a core knowledge classroom? Of course not! There’s no time for such ridiculous fluff.

I kind of love this video! Rethinking Learning: The 21st Century Learner








Coffman, T. (2013). Using inquiry in the classroom. (2 ed.). New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2011). Framework for 21st century learning. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/overview/skills-framework

posted under EDCI 506
5 Comments to

“21st century skills vs. core knowledge. week two.”

  1. Avatar January 25th, 2013 at 8:19 pm Heather Young Says:

    I definitely agree that there are some things like the ABCs that children will have to memorize. However, they should try to be as immersed in technology as early as possible. What activities do you think you could do with 1st or 2nd graders using computers/technology that wouldn’t be too hard for them to do?

  2. Avatar January 26th, 2013 at 7:00 pm Tiffany Hartman Says:

    Hey this was an excellent post I love Marvin Gaye especaiily since I feel music should help children learn. I feel that this video sets the tone for all things in the world.Great idea!!!!!.

    I think that older students would like to hear what we grew up on. I love it. As far as you working with little ones it sounds as if you have a great little class and believe me the little ones nowadays love technology. As far as with computers and little ones they have great started computes by V tech. Perhaps you have one in your classroom?

    Thanks again

    Tiffany Hartman

    Thanks for the great post.

  3. Avatar January 26th, 2013 at 9:07 pm bwebber Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! 21st century learning is the key to guiding our students toward their futures. Your link to Marvin Gay got me thinking about how culturally sheltered our students really are. I recently played some Paul Simon for my students for a lesson we were doing, and NONE of them knew who he was! It’s so important to help our kids gain the cultural experience they may lack at home. That is certainly part of our job! Great post!

  4. Avatar January 27th, 2013 at 2:31 pm jwomack Says:

    I like that you brought up that some things need to be core. How can we expect our students to be successful in higher level of activity in 21st century learning if they do not even have the basic? With a strong base I believe all students can benefit through a combination of both ideas. It would be interesting to see the evolution of a lesson plan from core knowledge to 21st century skill work. Do you have any lessons like this?

  5. Avatar January 27th, 2013 at 7:10 pm caseycatron Says:

    hi angela – great blog post! i agree, when i started reading about this idea i felt strongly that it didn’t have to be all or nothing in the classroom. It is important to incorporate both for students to have a more well rounded education. It is also our job as educators to consider this when lesson planning….

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