21st Century Learning for the 21st Century STEM Workplace

Preparing students for the future workplace is part of many school district mission statements across the country. As educators, we want to equip students with all the skills they may need to be successful. In the STEM workplace specifically, employers are looking for graduates that are not only strong in the required content areas, but also proficient in soft skills. These soft skills can include communication, teamwork, and technological literacy. When you bring content and these soft skills together, 21st Century Learning is born.

What is 21st Century Learning?

Mastering the content while developing skills is at the heart of 21st Century Learning. The Framework for 21st Century Learning has divided these skills into three main categories:
• Learning: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
• Literacy: how to access an abundance of information, be proficient in quickly changing technology tools, and the ability to collaborate and communicate in a virtual setting.
• Life and Career: flexibility, initiative, social skills, productivity, and leadership.

Many of these skills sound familiar in the STEM classroom setting, but they don’t often get the spotlight. For example, collaboration is essential to inquiry activities, yet how well are the students actually working and communicating with each other? Accessing information is a key to any research project, but how well are students searching and identifying valuable resources beyond the basic Google search? By identifying and focusing on strengthening skills as part of 21st Century Learning, we will help our students be more successful in and out of the classroom.

21st Century Learning21st Century Learning in the STEM Classroom

Integrating 21st Century Learning into your classroom will engage and motivate your students. When starting, focus on one of the 4 C’s of learning skills: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, or creativity.

Critical Thinking

• Provide real world scenarios or problems to solve.
• Encourage students to take risks and be curious!
• Use performance-based assessments to best evaluate critical thinking skills.


• Consider all forms of communication: oral, written and interpersonal. Students may be strong in one form, but not in the other!
• Teach your students how to present an “elevator pitch” to be effective and concise.
• Include diverse audiences to diversify communication skills. This can include the school, parents, community, or business partners.


• Provide opportunities for students to work with a mix of individuals.
• Assess not only individual outcomes, but also group outcomes.
• Focus on planning, managing, and taking responsibility to concurrently foster the development of life skills.


• All students have creative potential; it is your job to help them find it!
• Allow students choice in how they provide evidence of learning.
• Assess creative growth to share with students and parents.

You can also bring 21st Century Learning into your classroom with the addition of these strategies:
• Project-Based Learning: PBL offers a format that captures a multitude of 21st Century Skills. The essentials of most PBLs include collaboration, problem solving, communication, and critical thinking. Learn more about project-based learning and start using it in your classroom today. You can even download our free guide to project-based learning!
• STEAM: Integrating arts can add elements of creativity into your classroom. Engage your students by adding an option to create a musical or theater piece in your next project. Find more tips to transform your classroom from STEM to STEAM.

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