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Volume 24, Number 5
September/October 2008

Teaching 21st Century Skills

What does it look like in practice?


(Catalina Foothills School District)

Call it a quiet revolution. As 2014 approaches—the deadline for all students to be proficient on state tests—academics, educators, business groups, and policymakers are finding common ground in a movement to bring “21st century skills” to the classroom, prompting state agencies and district leaders across the country to rewrite curriculum standards and even to contemplate big changes to existing state testing systems.

What are 21st century skills, who’s pushing them, and what does 21st century teaching look like in practice?

Although definitions vary, most lists of 21st century skills include those needed to make the best use of rapidly changing technologies; the so-called “soft skills” that computers can’t provide, like creativity; and those considered vital to working and living in an increasingly complex, rapidly changing global society.

“Some of these skills have always been important but are now taking on another meaning—like collaboration. Now you have to be able to collaborate across the globe with someone you might never meet,” explains Christopher Dede, a Harvard professor who sits on the Massachusetts 21st Century Skills Task Force. “Some are unique to the 21st century. It’s only relatively recently, for example, that you could get two million hits on an [Internet] search and have to filter down to five that you want.”

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Catalina Foothills School District:

Christopher Columbus Awards:

Darlington, Wisc. High School Timber Framed Covered Bridge Project:

C. Dede. Transforming Education for the 21st Century: New Pedagogies That Help All Students Attain Sophisticated Learning Outcomes. Available online at

F. Levy and R. Murnane. The New Division of Labor: How Computers are Creating the Next Job Market. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

The New York Performance Standards Consortium:

North Carolina Professional Teaching Standards:
Partnership for 21st Century Skills:

T. Wagner. The Global Achievement Gap. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

West Virginia Department of Education Teach21:

Wisconsin 21st Century Skills Initative: