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Prepare Students for Success with 21st-Century Skills

To tackle upcoming assessments and be college and career ready, students need to have digital literacy skills.

To meet the Common Core State Standards, students must develop the 21st-century skills needed for college and career success. Districts must adapt their curriculum to ensure students are being taught these digital skills. This web seminar, originally broadcast on September 19, 2013, addressed integrating technology into the classroom in a practical way, how district leaders and teachers must work together to address curriculum change, and the software that can help students prepare for the rigor of Common Core assessments.

Debbie Core Consultant
Former CTO of Gaston County School District, N.C.

Why do we need to equip students with 21st-century skills? National and state educational goals include preparing students for careers and for college, where 21st-century skills are essential for success. Current curriculum focus needs to be on the rigorous and relevant CCSS and using 21st-century skills to prepare our students. For example, one of the Language Arts standards for grade six states that a student should be capable of producing and publishing what they write using a computer and the internet.

The student must also research, build, and present knowledge using digital sources. Our students may know how to swipe an iPad or iPhone to locate games, how to send a text, attach a picture to a text, post on a social media site, and use the internet to locate information. As educators, how do we expand that skill set so students know how to use existing knowledge to create a movie or presentation on an iPad? How do we teach them to text, tweet, or blog effectively to collaborate with project teams to solve problems? How do we teach them to use the internet to locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media? And how do we ensure our students are good digital citizens? What are some best practices for technology integration?

Successful integration is achieved when the technology is routine, transparent, accessible, readily available, and helping students reach their instructional goals and build a deeper understanding of content. In the district where I worked, Gaston County, the priorities were adequate bandwidth, connectivity throughout the learning environment, access to digital tools, access to relevant digital resources, and ongoing professional development. The goal was to put technology in the hands of students. Collaboration and communication are essential. The cost and tendency of technology to change rapidly mean that administrators and teachers need to work together to determine goals, objectives, and outcomes around the CCSS when using existing or requesting new technologies.

In 2012, the district that I served starting using Google tools. This suite is an excellent resource to address the CCSS. It allows for creativity, collaboration and critical thinking activities. Students may use the tools to write, create presentations, and draw. Last year, as the Instructional Technology Facilitators (ITFs) of this district were evaluated, a model was generated to define how ITFs can work with principals to define and address the 21st-century skills related to CCSS. Communication with the principal is essential in this model. It is also key for ITFs to plan with and assist classroom teachers with integrating technology as an instructional tool into content areas.

As a final step, the ITFs, teachers, and principal need to evaluate the student outcomes as a result of technology in the classroom. A Pinnacle Leaders Network began in 1999 in Gaston County to grow teachers’ technology skills for technology integration in the classroom. The purpose of the program, which is still running, is to build a learning network among teachers to share best practices on integrating technology in the classroom. Technology tools and resources are provided to participating teachers, as well as continuous networking through blogs and shared documents. During the 2012-2013 school year, Pinnacle teachers were given five iPads to use in the classrooms and were taught the pedagogy behind using the devices. Training focused on learning objectives, student outcomes, project-based learning and flipped classrooms.

Jolynn Sapia  
Director of Technology
Half Hollow Hills CSD (N.Y.)

Our job as educators is to prepare students with 21st- century skills necessary to compete for jobs, most of which do not exist today. Students today will not be competing with people in their hometowns for jobs; they will be competing with people all over the globe because of technology! Secondly, companies are downsizing. For better or worse, technology is allowing companies to do more with less.

To give our students a competitive advantage in this Information age and global economy, we must teach them how to learn strategically, to:

  • Organize themselves
  • Process new information efficiently
  • Make critical decisions about information
  • Access information at a later time Educators are constantly faced with state mandates that require more technology, yet tighter budgets.

As educators we need to make this transparent for our students. We need to make their learning experience seamless and prepare them for the rigors of an unknown world. Then came PARCC. The first thing to consider from a technology director’s standpoint, is how can I get my district ready for this massive undertaking? I broke it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. I decided to tackle hardware, software, and brainware separately. Hardware is doable. There are this many computers available, there are this many students, there are this many testing days, the test lasts for this many hours/minutes. These bits of info will tell you how many computers you need to purchase.

You also need to figure out the funds that are available for new purchases, and whether or not additional funds need to be procured. It’s key to have a good tech readiness tool that lets you update your inventory, see what is meeting the minimum specs, and what is required. This will let you stay on top of refresh cycles. We have very tech-savvy students in our district. They have iPads and create and share videos with their friends. They certainly know how to use their iPhones and text. But when I started doing some intensive research as to the type of skills students were going to be required to use for the PARCC assessments, our students did not have a lot of the digital skills necessary to show just how much they learned that year.

This brainware portion is where the individuality of your district is going to come into play. What are we going to do about the questions that need to be read aloud? Are our teachers tech savvy? How do we manage extended time? Who will proctor the assessments? What do we do if a computer turns off in the middle of testing? Our district started using to help standardize curriculum across the board. Teachers were very happy with this type of grade level customization, as well as the pre and post assessments that provided insight into what students knew. As the technology director, I gave teachers an overview of what PARCC meant for them, and how they needed to get these 21st-century skills into the hands of their students. We used to teach the skill sets students need, including charts, graphs, and keyboarding. It goes without saying that students who are motivated with an activity tend to retain the information better than those who aren’t. engages the students and makes learning fun.

What’s next? We as a district will continue to provide our students with the tools and resources that will prepare them to be 21st-century learners, as well as efficient test takers. We will continue to monitor where the PARCC assessments take us, and keep a pulse on the needed hardware, software, and brainware as necessary.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: