Saturday, May 25, 2013

21st Century Learning Skills: From 4 Cs to 5

I was recently asked what I think is the most important aspect of my school's STEM model, and as I thought about it, it wasn't the science, technology, engineering, or math that we integrate into every content area, but rather the inquiry and curiosity that we encourage, foster, demonstrate and practice through our STEM model.

Students and teachers alike are curious about the world around them, hungry for more information about why things work the way they do and how to make them work even better.  This curiosity is what ignites a passion for learning in our students and staff, and pushes us all to be innovative thinkers.
We often refer to the 4 Cs of 21st century learning ...

  • critical thinking
  • communication
  • creativity
  • collaboration
...and their importance in preparing students for success in a digital, connected world.  These skills are incredibly important, and providing the time, structure and tools to practice them in school is crucial.  

However, I would like to propose adding a 5th C to the list:

Logo Design by
Logo Design by

Without curiosity, students' intrinsic motivation for learning would be squelched.  They would never wonder, never ask questions, never push themselves to try again after failing....  But, just as with the 4 Cs, or any skill, students need to see curiosity in action through teacher modeling, they need the time, structure and tools to practice channeling their curiosity into inquiry, research and learning, and they need meaningful ways to share their discoveries, challenges and reflections along the way.

Curiosity would also fit well with ISTE's NETS*S standards, as it goes hand-in-hand with each of the existing six standards (from which the 4 Cs are taken):

For English learners, curiosity and inquiry are especially important.  Students who are developing their English language skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing may not yet be able to fully express their curiosity on a topic (according to second language acquisition theory, most learners begin forming simple questions in the speech emergence stage, after about one to three years of studying/learning English), however, their curiosity can help engage them in activities where they can authentically practice using academic vocabulary, asking questions, and sharing their own experiences on the topic.  

You can help your English learners, among others, to access the content by pre-teaching and posting related academic vocabulary and engaging students in activities to activate their prior knowledge on a topic.  ELs can also be partnered with other students who share the same L1 (home language), to facilitate discussion and questioning during activities.  You can model and provide sentence starters for questions  to help students express their curiosity in English.

There are some awesome ed tech tools out there for encouraging and harnessing curiosity.  

One of my favorites is ThingLink (website and also a free iPad app), where a teacher or student can post a picture and ask a question related to the picture.  Then, others can tag the picture with their questions, and the image (with the questions) is saved for continual reference and reflection. As students find answers to the questions, they can go back and post again, or add the URL of the site where they found the answer to their question.

Lino boards can be another cool tool for collecting information, posting questions or reporting findings.

Wonderopolis is a fantastic site that acts as a forum for questions and answers for people all over the world.  You can browse hundreds of wonders of the day, or post your own.  They even have an educator's sandbox where teachers can search for wonders related to certain topics.  It's a great way to bring the 5 Cs to life (critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration and curiosity)!

How about you?
How do you foster curiosity in your classroom?  Share your ideas, comments, and questions below!