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Student Success In The 21st Century

By Staff | Jan 14, 2010

The message was clear. Two photographs–one from a schoolhouse at the turn of the 20th Century, and another of a modern day classroom–were displayed.

“Except for more technology, classrooms are pretty similar to what they were 100 years ago,” said Kelly Josephson, high school English teacher. “The teachers are at the front of the classroom and the students are sitting together answering questions. I don’t want to say that we haven’t changed anything since 1900, but there are a lot of things that we need to change.”

Parents, teachers, school administrators, and other community members gathered at Emmetsburg High School on Tuesday evening to discuss what skills modern students will need to make them successful in the ever-changing workforce of the future.

The Department of Education for the State of Iowa has already tackled this issue with a plan called the Iowa Core Curriculum, a statewide effort to improve teaching and learning to ensure that all Iowa students engage in a rigorous and relevant curriculum that addresses essential skills. The plan’s goal is to unite all Iowa schools with a common curriculum and focused teacher professional development. All school districts in Iowa must have a plan in place by the summer of 2010.

“When you were in school, you might remember learning lots of information, like the state capitals,” said Josephson. “The Iowa Core Curriculum isn’t going to focus as much on the content–it will still be there–but more on skills and what students can do.”

Josephson shared “Keys to Success,” the five main factors which impact student learning: a workable curriculum (using the same curriculum for all Iowa students), challenging goals and effective feedback, parent and community involvement, a safe and orderly environment, and professionalism.

The Core Curriculum includes the core content areas of literacy (reading and writing), math, science, and social studies, as well 21st Century Skills, developed to help students be successful in the quickly changing world they will enter when they leave school. These 21st Century Skills include employability skills, financial literacy, health literacy, technology literacy, and civic literacy.

Josephson displayed a graph that demonstrated how, in 1900, 70-percent of jobs were based in the agriculture and working class industries. Creative and service industries employed few. In 2000, the dominant industries were creative and service-based with agriculture and working class fields employing far fewer individuals.

“Back in 1900, ‘creative’ meant the writers and the artists and the musicians” Josephson explained. “Today, the ‘creative class’ has turned into bankers, lawyers, scientists, and engineers–anybody who does creative problem solving. This is part of the reason why we have to change.”

Josephson continued, “Schools were designed to teach students to enter the agriculture and working class industries. One hundred years later, we’re still teaching that way although the numbers have shifted. We need to adapt and change the way we educate our students.”

Comments from those in attendance addressed the importance of students learning manners, social skills (including face-to-face communication and legible handwriting), and the ability to adapt to change.

“We’re looking for more input from our community, our parents, our business leaders, and anybody who has a stake in the school, which I hope is everyone in Emmetsburg,” said Jay Jurrens, middle school/high school principal. “We’re looking for help determining what we’re missing in the Iowa Core Curriculum. Our district does well in the basic skills, but we struggle in some of the 21st Century Skills area. We know what they look like at school, but we’re not sure that that matches up with what you see in your job.”

Additional meetings will be held with the next meeting tentatively scheduled for either Feb. 10 or 11. Attendees are to consider two questions–and bring their answers–to share with the school district: How will we teach these skills to our kids at Emmetsburg Community Schools? What kind of experiences/activities do we need to provide our students to help them be prepared for the future?

More details about the Iowa Core Curriculum initiative can be found online at: http://www.corecurriculum.iowa.gov