What is a 21 Century Skills Based Education

What Is a 21st-Century Skills-Based Education?

By Maureen Leming

Creativity. Collaboration. Joy. When you think back on your time in school, what comes to mind?

The 21st-century skills classroom recognizes that tomorrow's jobs don't exist yet — and that the way to prepare students for the "real world" is changing.

Imagine a classroom where students are tasked with helping a fictional fashion company determine the logistics of their line of designer leashes for — what else? — flying tea cup pigs. This isn't a business or fashion design class. It's a 21st-century, skills-based physics class.

Students apply their understanding of net force, acceleration, and circular motion to complete this playful, practical activity. The result? They are better able to recall information from the beginning of the year, through a project that encourages play and discovery.


What Is a 21st-Century Curriculum?

Today's world requires a multi-dimensional approach to the learning experience. A 21st-century skills-based curriculum pivots away from content acquisition and rote memorization to focus on the skills and abilities that will best serve our generation of young minds. Student engagement and hands-on, interdisciplinary learning are championed over conferring information.

The 21st-century classroom focuses on a creative, collaborative approach to learning. In a computer programming class, students play musical chairs to solve a coding task. They write a few lines of code, move chairs, write a few lines on that person's screen, then repeat the process. Compared to completing the coding task on their own, students learn more by seeing how their peers approached the problem and found a solution.


This is a 21st-century skills-based curriculum in action.

Top 10 Skills of the 21st-Century Classroom

What are the 21st-century skills that every student needs? Here are the top 10 skills students will master in a 21st-century classroom to pave the way toward academic excellence, a sense of wonder, and a joyful, successful future.

  1. Collaborative Problem Solving
    Students learn through solving problems. A great way to learn is by effectively working as a team to solve problems as a cohesive, collaborative unit. Working together toward a common goal is a hallmark of human society. One Stanford study found that participants primed to work collaboratively kept working on a task 64% longer than those working alone. A 21st-century curriculum emphasizes team-based projects in which groups draw on each individual's strengths to solve problems. This model exposes students to new ideas and opposing viewpoints, while demonstrating the power of the collective mind.

  2. Creativity
    A 21st-century education affords students opportunities to flex their creative muscles beyond the traditionally creative classes. Whether they work to find a new solution to an old problem or find a different way to explain an everyday occurrence, students are constantly finding their own approaches to problems and projects.

    Whatever the next chapter in life brings, creativity is an essential tool to get young minds thinking across disciplines and beyond what's been done before. In fact, one study found that 78% of college-educated professionals say creativity is very important to their career.

  3. Hands-On Learning
    Students in a 21st-century skills classroom are not afraid to get their hands dirty. They thrive on translating textbook material into real-life scenarios in which teachers encourage creativity, experimentation, and trial-and-error. A 21st-century curriculum takes hands-on learning beyond the art studio and science lab.

    In the middle school English class, students create sock puppets and put on a performance of the short story, Tobermory. A European History class decorates T-shirts to illustrate the narrative of the French Revolution. Hands-on learning brings coursework into the here and now through active, project-based activities.

  4. Cultural Competency
    In our diverse, ever-changing world, it's essential that the 21st-century classroom emphasize cultural competency skills, beyond an appreciation for other cultures. The U.S. Census projects that by 2044, the minority population will increase to more than 50%, and the U.S. population will become majority-minority. In a 21st-century skills classroom, all individuals have the opportunity to interact with students from other backgrounds and participate in culturally immersive experiences. These skills will be critical as students fuel future growth on a global scale.

  5. Effective Written and Oral Communication
    Students learn to listen actively, organize and articulate a discussion, present information, and argue points respectfully. Communication skills are not seen as a "given." Effective communication, when speaking and writing, is encouraged and cultivated through activities that challenge students to think beyond their knee-jerk reactions or preconceptions about a topic or problem. Expressing ideas clearly and effectively is essential for success, as one study that shows over 73% of employers look for candidates with strong communication skills.

  6. Ethical Decision Making
    You make about 35,000 decisions every day, from the most simple to more complicated choices. A 21st-century curriculum teaches students how to navigate their own decision-making process by considering ethical factors, such as respect, fairness, equality, and kindness. Students explore how seemingly small decisions they make each day have far-reaching effects on others. Character building is a cornerstone of the 21st-century skills classroom.

  7. Information and Media Literacy
    Our world is saturated with information. In a 21st-century classroom, students learn how to interpret facts and figures and question the credibility of information published online. A Stanford Graduate School of Education study found that the majority of students in middle school, high school, and college struggle to think critically about online media, including what constitutes fake news. Media and information literacy skills are interdisciplinary in nature and essential for students to learn across all subjects.

  8. Leadership
    Today's world needs strong leaders. A 21st-century skills classroom focuses on developing leadership skills related to listening, building consensus, organizing, and motivating a group to action. Students learn what it means to have a responsibility for something beyond themselves. Considering that 47% of managers stepped into their positions without any training, developing leadership skills will pay off significantly as students enter college and the wider world.

  9. Critical Thinking
    The 21st-century skills classroom focuses on asking questions to encourage critical thinking, inquiry, and reasoning. In all courses, students evaluate, synthesize, and translate ideas to solve problems and complete projects. Teachers also encourage students to hone their reasoning and inquiry skills. Well-developed thoughts and approaching problems from multiple angles is expected. Students question and analyze information — an increasingly crucial skill — rather than simply memorizing facts and figures.

  10. Personal Responsibility and Initiative
    Students in a 21st-century classroom are challenged to take ownership of their learning and dive headfirst into projects on their own. Staying flexible in the face of ever-changing circumstances is a critical skill for success. When an assignment or activity does not go as planned, students are encouraged to demonstrate humility and react to obstacles in a positive, productive way. In our fast-paced society, the ability to adapt to change will always be in high demand.

Experience a 21st-Century Skills Classroom at The Hun School of Princeton

Are you ready for an education that equips students with the skills they need to become a generation of world-changers? With countless opportunities for academic and personal growth both inside and outside the 21st-century skills classroom, The Hun School of Princeton could be the place for you. Our skills-based 21st-century curriculum helps prepare students for the next step.

Inquire with any questions about the characteristics of a 21st-century curriculum, or visit our website to learn more!

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