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21st Century Skills

14 Feb Back to the Future: Integrating 21st Century Skills into Curriculum

One buzz phrase we hear all the time is 21st Century Skills.  In education, 21st Century Skills refers to the transformation of classroom strategies and curriculum to shape students prepared to meet the demands of an evolving world. Increasingly, citizens in the 21st century must participate in intercultural communication, critical thinking, technological integration, and much more. And, as teachers, students rely on us to prepare them for these new expectations and needs.

Education is in a pedagogical shift. It no longer centers on rote memorization of facts and figures and regurgitation of answers. Rather, education involves seeking answers through analysis, insight, and consideration in unfamiliar environments and subject areas.

To address this change, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning developed a comprehensive framework aimed at integrating 21st century preparedness into curriculum. The framework is significant for several reasons. First, it focusses on skills not usually incorporated or assessed within curriculum. As well, the framework’s benchmarks are necessary for all students and essential for life post-graduation either in higher education or work.

The framework is an amalgamation of skills, knowledge, and support systems necessary to foster students capable of satisfying the needs and demands of the 21st century. It is rooted in the following four pillars:

• Knowledge in Key Subjects: broadens classroom focus to include to real-world applications of content and skills and affirms that subjects are cross-disciplinary.

• Learning and Innovation Skills: advance student fitness for future employment.

• Information Media and Technology Skills: necessitate competencies in these continuously adapting areas.

• Life and Career Skills: equip students with the social competencies, work ethic, and knowledge needed in new work environments and lifestyles.

How should the framework be incorporated in the classroom?

Curriculum is the portal to 21st century skill integration. Therefore, as teachers, we must consider this framework when mapping our curriculum. Here are five tips for beginning this process:

1. Use interactive strategies that compel students to participate in classroom activities.

2. Implement the framework across grades and subject areas.

3. Offer multiple opportunities for practice.

4. Employ assessments to gauge student understanding.

5. Develop classroom environments suitable for debate, inquiry, and experimentation.

We can connect 21st century skills to almost all aspects of curriculum. A few examples include Essential Questions, Enduring Understandings, Content and Skills, Assessments, and Learning Activities. And, Atlas offers many opportunities to incorporate the framework into your maps.

Here are a few of the methods we see used most often:

1. Incorporate a 21st century standards menu into your curriculum map. This category filters the 21st Century Framework so that you can check-off the skills and competencies being targeted in a unit.

Benefit: This approach allows for reporting capabilities within Atlas’s reporting capabilities so you can see how exactly the 21st century skills are being addressed across the school.

2. Input a mapping category for 21st century skills. The textbox allows teachers to reflect on the ways in which the unit will incorporate 21st century skills.

Benefit: This approach allows for reporting capabilities within Atlas’s reporting capabilities so you can see how exactly the 21st century skills are being addressed across the school.

3. Hardcode within existing textboxes a place for 21st century skill consideration.

Benefit: Teachers can reflect in several mapping categories about how the unit will address 21st century skills. The skills are multi-dimensional and appear across the curriculum, so this approach facilitates that malleability and adaptability.

The ways to incorporate 21st century skills into curriculum are numerous and flexible. Moreover, 21st century integration is not a one size fits all approach, but is necessary for student success in the workplace, institutions of higher education, and day to day life. Classrooms are the prime platform for molding students into 21st century citizens capable of diverse social interactions, in-depth reasoning, cross-subject analysis, technology application, and much more. And, through linking 21st century skills to curriculum, teachers will be able to help students rise to these new expectations.

We want to hear what 21st century skills mean to you in your classroom. Send a tweet @RubiconAtlas or find us on Facebook!


Bellanca, James A., and Ronald S. Brandt. 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2010. Print.

“P21.” Partnership for 21st Century Learning. Web. 13 Dec. 2016. http://www.p21.org/

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