You know the four Cs right? I mean everyone is talking about them. The four Cs that are going to change education in the 21st century? They are amazing! Do a Google Image Search for 21st Century Skills and you get a beautiful display of the four Cs. Great colors, wonderful wording and multiple ways to explain:




Critical Thinking

I look at this list from the lens of a 4th grade teacher, a tech coach, a consultant or a substitute teacher and I can’t help but think…really? This is new? There is nothing new in this list that educators haven’t been teaching and focused on for years. Don’t get me started on these being “21st century skills,” a phrase I gave up over 7 years ago. So why do these things keep coming up?

As I work with schools and educators, we do focus on these four Cs. They aren’t new…but in a way they actually are new. How we view them is new, what they mean is new. In 2016 these four Cs have a different meaning.

Communication: Teaching to communicate the way the world communicates

Not sure if you have noticed, but we no longer write letters to each other. We write Facebook updates, Facebook messages. We write emails…lots of them actually. We write LinkedIn updates, Tweets, Snaps, and Grams. I’m not saying it’s right…I’m saying this is how the world, both socially and in the business world, communicate. So where are we teaching this in schools? Where are we teaching:

Yes…communication isn’t new to education but how we communicate has changed. Are we teaching these new forms of communication? Where do they belong in our curriculum? At what level should we start and how do we assess these new forms of communication? Those are the questions we should be trying to answer in 2016.

Collaboration: Across space and time

Collaboration isn’t new. I remember doing group projects in elementary school in the 80’s. We collaborated on projects, on worksheets, on reading and science projects. Collaboration….getting along, working with others…has always been a part of education. So why is this a “21st century skill”?

In 2016 collaboration means across space and time. How are your students collaborating across periods in the school day (2nd period and 6 period working on a project together)? How are they collaborating across schools in your district or across schools in your state/country/continent/world?

I think about this every time one of my friends that work for Amazon talks about getting up at 3am to be on a conference call with India, China, Singapore, name-your-country. Or every time I have to get up early or stay up late for an Eduro, COETAIL, or Learning2 meeting. Collaborating across space and time is how the world works today. It’s how business gets done. I was talking about this with a gentleman sitting next to me on the plane today who instantly went to understanding cultures. How his company was doing business in France and failing until they started looking at the culture of France and accepting that they have a different way of operating. Once his company accepted and embraced the culture, it became much more successful. Collaborating with other students in your class in so 1990’s. We need to start creating ways for students to collaborate across space and time.

Creativity: To a global audience

It’s one thing to create something for your teacher or even a presentation for your class where everyone knows who you are. It’s something completely different to create something for an audience that you don’t know. Whether that is a YouTube video, an update on a Wikipedia page or a comment on an Amazon book review. Have you ever noticed how students try a little harder, do a little better, when their creations go beyond the classroom? In 2016 when we talk about creativity we do not mean creating something for a closed audience but rather we’re talking about creating something for a global audience. We’re also not talking about just “putting something out there” but rather finding a community that will appreciate the creation that the students worked so hard to produce. Create a google map of the Oregon Trail? Share it with your local community or local government. Create a recipe? Share it with one of a number of recipe sites on the Internet today and see how others rate it and improve on it.

It’s not just about “putting stuff out there” but rather creating content that has a purpose, has an audience, has a community.

Critical Thinking: Creating Problem Finders

When we talk about critical thinking skills we usually talk about problem-solving skills. We want students to be good problem solvers. I’m not saying that’s a bad goal. But time and time again I’ve been told that what we really need is Problem Finders. That’s a different skill…that’s a different type of critical thinking. We need to be able to find the problems that need to be solved.

What about giving students a mathematical equation that has a mistake in it. Their job….find the mistake (problem finder) and then solve it correctly (problem solver). Where is the bug in the code, or a bug in the production line, maybe it’s a problem with a science experiment. Whatever it is….how are you creating opportunities for students to be problem finders not just problem solvers?

The “C” word of education:

The C word that doesn’t make the list and probably is at the root of a lot of things we’re talking about these days in education is the word CONTROL. It’s a nasty word that many educators struggle with. When we talk about giving up control in the classroom we do not mean giving up structure. If you are going to give the control of the learning over to the students it means you need more structure in place not less. Routines need to be in place, timing needs to be clearly delineated, and a system needs to exist so that students can have control of the learning. Giving over control of the learning to students does not mean less prep-time, less work for the teacher…..at the beginning it actually means more work as teachers learn a new way of structuring their classroom around student interest, student questions and take on a new role as a facilitator and coach of learning.

The four C’s are not new…they are different. We need to come to a new understanding of what these mean in 2016 and beyond. I’m sorry to break the news to you, but your grandkids are not going to write you letters, they are going to Skype or Facetime you. Your next employee might not work in the same room as you, and your next project might have you focused on finding the problem and then handing it off to someone else to solve. Your next job opportunity might come through a LinkedIn connection or via something that you published publically. This is how work gets done in 2016. This is how we need to start defining the four C’s for our students.

A great article out of the New York Times entitled: Can You Become a Creature of New Habits? Has had me thinking today about creating creative cultures in our schools.

David Warlick wrote a post recently that looked at the top 25 economic cities in the U.S. and how a “creative class” played a role in the rankings.

What I found interesting was the Bob Cook, who evaluated the cities factored in the portion of the population (that) were in the creative class. This includes scientists, engineers, artists, and teachers. The belief is, and this is consistent with Richard Florida’s writings, the creative class benefits the economic prosperity of a community as well as culture.

So perhaps one of the challenges of communities today is, “How do we attract creative people?” “How do we convince our creative children to stay?”

Or another question: How do we create creative people?

The authors and researchers quoted in the article has some interesting things to say.

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of “The Open Mind” and an executive change consultant for Professional Thinking Partners.

Do we encourage our students to wonder? I see it all the time in Kindergarten classrooms, see it a lot in 2nd grade, not so much in 5th grade and by 8th grade? I don’t think I’ve ever hear a middle school or high school teacher say “I wonder…….”

Instead we ask students to make decisions. We as them to decide between this answer and that answer. We ask them to decide between fact and opinion.

“But we are taught instead to ‘decide,’ just as our president calls himself ‘the Decider.’” She adds, however, that “to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.”

So by asking students to make decisions rather than wonder about possibilities we’re fitting students into the box of what we believe to be right or wrong.

The article goes on to talk about brain research and how habits play a role in our creative nature.

…brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.

Now that’s cool. I’m sitting here with my legs up on my desk and I cross my left leg over my right. Why? Habit…it just feels right. For the rest of this post I’ll cross them the other way.

So we need to help students consciously develop new habits to stay creative. Think of the habits you could help students consciously develop in your classroom.

What if once a week students in your class had to write with the opposite hand. Just once a week for 40 weeks….new pathways?

What if as a teacher you consciously took a different route home from work. Making yourself pay attention to the road, to signs, etc.

In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

I wonder if that is part of the reason why educational technology people (for the most part) are a creative bunch. Most of us (myself included) started out as a classroom teachers and we tried new things with technology. We tried this tool, that website, we got creative to a point where today….heck, I try stuff just for the fun of it.

I have test sites set up where I try to break programs. I hack PHP script without thinking about it, yet four years ago I would have thought PHP to be a drug.

The current emphasis on standardized testing highlights analysis and procedure, meaning that few of us inherently use our innovative and collaborative modes of thought. “This breaks the major rule in the American belief system — that anyone can do anything,” explains M. J. Ryan

You mean to tell me we can’t test the creativity into students? That the current state of testing mandated by the government is counterproductive to creating innovative and collaborative people. The same skills that companies are looking for in new employees? (I’ll stop there)

Where are students allowed to be creative today. Art class is the first that comes to mind. Maybe it’s because my office is down the hall from the art room where music is blaring and kids take risks with every stroke of the brush. They wonder, they innovate, them try something new, learn, and try something new again. What about the performing arts? Students continually reinventing themselves for parts in a play, acting this way or that way that breaks the habits of what they know and who they are.

What about technology? Kids hack up their Myspace pages to create their own themes, they learn, create and produce their own videos for YouTube. They imagine then create their own avatars for online games. They take risks every time they play a computer game, they make decisions, learn the outcome, reevaluate and try again. They continually try new approaches, new methods until they find one that works for them. How many times have you been working on the computer or playing a game and thought to yourself:

I wonder what would happen if……..

How do we instill this wonder into our education system? Why do we not allow students to explore information, to reach their own conclusions by creating their own answers? Why is it so hard for us to become the schools we know we need to become?

I know…more questions then answers. But what did you expect….my legs are crossed the wrong way!