Essential 21st Century Skills Acquired through Project-Based Learning
Posted On:
Thursday, January 18, 2018
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by Susan Jensen, WPCSD Leadership Cadre

A popular conversation amongst educators today is the notion of 21st Century Skills.  The focus today is seemingly on the “soft skills.”  So, what are the soft skills that educators are talking about?

It has long been expected that children need to know how to act appropriately in a variety of social situations. However, soft skills prove to be quite difficult to measure, even though they are essential to success.  

Hard skills in education are a great deal easier to define – core content process skills such as reading, writing, speaking, understanding and using math concepts and operations, and using computers. School has traditionally been the place where kids learned these hard skills in relation to their time and place in the education continuum.  Although these hard skills serve as the foundation for content knowledge for students, are they enough for students to be successful in an educational world that is transforming daily? 

What is different is that the necessary hard skills are not as easy to determine in the 21st Century as they have been in the past. In our world today, teachers and parents aren't exactly sure what information our kids will need to know in five, ten, or twenty years. We aren't even clear about next year. Radical changes in technology occur on a daily basis, and these advances often result in job descriptions and qualifications that we have not seen before.

Luckily soft skills can be applied no matter where the future takes our children, and they serve as tools which can be used in any career.  As we prepare for a world we can't imagine, we can still give our children the tools needed to be successful.  We can give them the soft skills needed for success by incorporating them along with the content foundation learned through the hard skills.

At White Pine Middle School, we are working on a variety of these soft skills through our use of project-based learning.  Skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, teamwork and perseverance are amongst the 21st Century soft skills that our staff has been actively building within our students.  Building these skills will give our students the tools necessary to be successful in the global economy.  While the term “soft” might connote “less than important,” it is the staff’s position that these skills are transferable across academic disciplines and are generally the skills local employers regularly exclaim that they wish their employees possessed.

Near the end of each school semester, grade level teacher teams determine a project-based learning activity based on content standards in Math, English Language Arts, Science and Social Studies.  Students work in teams of 3-4 utilizing the soft skills described above to complete their project-based learning activities.  Communication being a key soft skill, our school has coordinated with the elementary schools as well as community business members to provide a venue for our students to showcase their learning of the soft skills.

Most recently, our grade level teams completed project-based learning activities around creating various amusement park type projects for presentation to students at David E. Norman Elementary and to community panels made up of current and retired business owners as well as community building managers from the city and county.  From creation to presentation, students were called upon to demonstrate their learning of the soft skills.  As a school, we look forward to another project-based learning activity in the Spring to continue to build upon the 21st Century Skills that are essential to our students and their future contributions to our community.