NSTA [Charting A Changing Environment: A Map of 21st Century Skills for Science Education]

Zipporah Miller, NSTA, Associate Executive Director Professional Programs & Conferences

Susan Van Gundy, NSDL, Director of Education and Strategic Partnerships

“Houston, we have a problem.”

The ground crew for the Apollo 13 mission was challenged with the issue of having a cube shaped filter that needed to fit into a cylindrical filter shaft.  Miller challenged the audience to identify the problem to be solved, the content knowledge needed to solve the problem, and the other skills required in fixing the filter. The crew needed to employ social skills, problem solving, engineering design, collaboration, and creativity. This would be considered non-routine problem solving with a strict time limit.

Today’s Kindergartener’s will graduate in 2023.

Miller asked two important questions: What problems will students need to solve in 2023? What are the career paths for our current students who will graduate in 2023?

It’s difficult to predict the issues our children and students will face and how the career paths we are familiar with will adapt in the future.

Project Tomorrow “Speak Up”

Van Gundy showed pictures regarding the classroom as a learning tool for formalized education. It was apparent that technology and pedagogy has not changed in a long time; the 1920 and 1990 state of the art chemistry classrooms looked exactly the same. Students still sit in rows with the teacher standing at the front – even in computer labs.

The 21st Century classroom is inside and outside the classroom with computer, smart phones, etc. “We used to teach children to be independent learners after high school. We need to teach students to be self-guided learners after 3pm.” Kids aren’t going home and “turning off” – they are going home to interact with one another through social networking online.

Project Tomorrow has been using their survey “Speak Up” to interview students, parents, teachers, pre-service teachers, and administrators to gain a better understanding of how students are learning, what kinds of technology they are using, and which students are the innovators with technology and social networking communication. Speak Up has shown that students want to use technology for their learning in order to use communication, collaboration, creativity, and productivity/organization.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

The 21st Century Skills framework includes core subjects and themes as well as life and career skills; learning and innovation skills; and information, media, and technology skills. These are great goals and objectives, but as Van Gundy points out, they are not sufficient in creating goals and skills that are practical for the classroom.

P21 has partnered with the NSTA in order to create a Science Content Map in order to:

  • Demonstrate the value of Science as a medium for authentic acquisition and practice of 21st Century Skills
  • Highlight the overlaps between scientific habits of mind and 21st Century skills set (e.g., critical thinking, information, communication, and collaboration)
  • Root the map in the key documents of science education reform: NSES (NRC) and Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy.

Literacy is increasingly important in the science classrooms, so the examples given by P21 include Global Awareness, Health Literacy, Economic Literacy, Civic Literacy, Media Literacy, and others. Ideally, these goals will allow students to learn in self-directed ways, interact with one another in different ways, multi-task, and visually process their learning.

The 21st Century Skills Map

On the document Van Gundy and Miller gave to the audience, there is an important definition and goal for science education in the 21st Century for the particular themed areas. For Creativity and Innovation:

Science is, by its nature, a creative human endeavor. Scientific and technical innovations are advanced through processes that build on previous knowledge and the application of theory to real world situations. Modern societal and environmental challenges require new and creative scientific and technical approaches, as well as investigations that are more cross-disciplinary.

These statements were written with the hope that the science classroom will grow and develop in the same ways that the scientific research world is. It is important to allow peer revision and collaboration to occur just as much as involving media and technology.

Supporting Structures

These new goals for science education are not a mandate (or even a suggestion) that teachers completely change their way of teaching. It is a vision for approaching science education differently; this goal is to be achieved in small increments in ways that teachers can manage.

For example, one of Van Gundy’s colleagues at an Oklahoma University simply added online office hours where he was available for his students on instant messenger and he found that his students became noticeably more involved and successful in his course.


The National Science Digital Library is a place to find online simulations for all levels and content areas in science. Just head to the website and click on Teacher Resources.


The NSTA is interested in providing science teachers with the support they need. There are opportunities for e-Mentors if new teachers do not have the support they need in their content area. The Learning Center has over 4,000 resources to encourage teachers to grow professionally in content and pedagogy. There are also Professional Development Assessments in order to test your knowledge for different content areas and use the Learning Center to improve in weak areas. Lastly, NSTA has Web Seminars where teachers can take online courses in different content areas and interact with other science teachers around the country.

You can learn more about P21 at http://www.21stcenturyskills.org


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: