Teaching Today for 21st Century Skills

It is estimated that over the next 10 years there will be two million unfilled ICT-related jobs globally, correlating with a projected talent gap of 8.2 percent by 2022. The 2014 Cisco Annual Security Report indicates a shortage of more than a million security professionals across the globe in 2014. In light of these projections, collaboration and dedication to meeting the critical demand for high-skill workers through strategic programs and collaborations for current and future generations will be needed.

Wanny Hersey, Principal of Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, has specific ideas about how to serve students in light of current and emerging technologies. She and her teachers have worked and thought hard to create an educational culture that prepares students for success in a world that will look quite different than it currently does. Students are learning critical skills that span how to be creative in problem solving, how to work together and how to understand the value of the learning process. Through project based learning, not only are students learning practical skills, but they are learning what questions to ask so they can create things that are solving the problems of the future.

An emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and creative skills will need to be central to curricula if we hope to fill critical talent shortages. Innovative, personalized approaches to education, such as the idea introduced at the Bullis School of “Focused Learning Goals” for every K-8 student based on each student’s unique needs, will be critical. As Wanny says, “Children learn at different rates.” They may also display mastery of a topic in different ways, so assessment of students must become individualized as well.

To help students feel comfortable with technology, Bullis has developed technology-focused Project Based Learning Units for each grade level, as well as design projects that require an age-appropriate level of technology proficiency. Eighth-graders also participate in longer projects each year that focus on STEAM subjects. The students must be able to explain their projects to a group and answer questions as well. As teacher Jessica Lura notes, “If you can’t explain it, you didn’t learn it.” This is one of the innovative methods Bullis uses to ensure immersion and mastery of a topic, and one that I hope other educational institutions will adopt soon.

STEAM education is not merely for students interested in pursuing careers in these fields. All jobs will be impacted by these changes, even non-high tech roles, regardless of industry. Robotics, automation, Big Data, analytics and security (both physical and cyber security) will become part of all of our daily lives. Workers of all stripes will need to be trained, skilled and experienced with technology.

Bullis Charter School provides a model of the kinds of individualized, whole-child learning approaches that will equip students with the skills our connected world requires. Watch the video below of my conversations with Wanny and Jessica and share your ideas on transforming the educational process to better prepare the workforce of tomorrow.

Developing Tomorrow’s Talent

People today generally agree that the goal of education is to convey knowledge. But if all the world’s knowledge is instantaneously available online via a mobile device, how does that affect what we need to teach in schools and through other educational channels?

Education is becoming less about acquiring knowledge and more about how to analyze, evaluate, validate and use the unlimited information that is available to us. We will need to teach more critical thinking, collaboration and social skills. Perhaps we will not teach answers, but how to ask the right questions.

Technology’s effect on education over the past decade has been transformative. As the Internet of Everything gains traction, that effect will continue to expand. The networked connections among people, processes, data and things will change not only how and where education is delivered, but will also prompt educators to reconsider what students need to learn, and why. As technology and networking become increasingly critical to businesses of all types across all industries, there is growing demand for individuals with specialized technology skills.

As an example, the top 10 jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004 (e.g.: Social Media/Online Manager, Sustainability Manager, SEO Optimization Specialist, etc.). These changes mean that students are currently learning information and processes that may well be outdated by the time they enter the workforce. How can the education and private sectors prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist?

Looking into innovative methods for advancing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education, Los Altos’ Bullis Charter School came to my attention. Bullis is helping students build an interest and comfort level with technology, innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration through personalized education and focused learning goals for every K-8 student. The curriculum is centered on building the critical skills of problem solving, creativity and critical thinking.

Teachers at Bullis employ project-based learning assignments that marry instruction with hands-on learning and individual, as well as team, efforts to create an immersive and whole-brain experience that will serve these students well as they face an uncertain, ever-changing technology landscape. This early and steady exposure to STEAM subjects encourages more students to consider careers in these critical fields.

Bullis Charter School’s individualized, innovative approach to learning represents one way in which current educational standards must be transformed in order to meet the challenges of filling technology jobs. Below is a video of my conversations with Bullis’ principal Wanny Hersey, as well as teachers and students — watch and let us know your thoughts on transforming educational content and methodologies.