Maren Schmidt: Learning 21st century skills |

Maren Schmidt: Learning 21st century skills

Maren Schmidt

The latest educational push is for 21st century skills that include analysis, critical thinking and cooperative learning.

I don’t think we can protest that these skills aren’t worthy of developing. But skills also require knowledge based on experiences that allow accurate and timely feedback.

For example, let’s say we have a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

Unless we’ve experienced eating a freshly baked warm homemade cookie, as well as having the knowledge to acquire the ingredients, the necessary implements to bake cookies, along with the obligatory time and supervision to make cookies, not much meaningful learning is going to occur from analyzing the data of our recipe, critically or cooperatively.

The gathering and analysis of data without knowledge and meaningful experiences ends up being so much high-tech busy work. Who cares about a cookie recipe unless you’ve experienced a cookie and cookie baking?

How do we create situations that assure these 21st century skills as well as provide “pertinent” information?

Research is telling us that we don’t remember most of what we learned in school.

When I pulled out my college chemistry textbook 20 years after the fact, I marveled that I ever knew any of the information. Conversely, my grade in beginning typing didn’t reflect that two years later I could type 75 words per minute on a manual typewriter.

Reflecting on my grade school years, here are some of the highlights:

In kindergarten, I tripped over the slide projector cord, breaking the bulb. This was so traumatic that, even today, I don’t like using slide projectors. I was enthralled at recess by building leaf forts under the old oak trees. The lunch ladies brought warm cookies and milk in the afternoon to our classroom.

In first grade, I continued to love building leaf forts, and I learned to cross the monkey bars hand over hand, though it took me most of the year to accomplish it.

Oh, and the lunch ladies brought cookies.

In second grade, my youngest brother was born, and taking care of him was an important part of my life. At school, I asked my teacher about numbers to the left of zero on the number line above the chalkboard in our classroom. I was informed, erroneously, that there were no numbers less than zero. Dad set me straight, and I learned about negative numbers. I gave a report about Hawaii in second grade, and my mother helped me make a poster that had coffee and sugar glued on it, and I served pineapple to my class. The study of Hawaii also linked to my grandfather who served in the Navy in Hawaii during World War II, and I became interested in studying military ships.

In third grade, I spent hours figuring out the puzzles and brainteasers in a Readers Digest book my grandmother gave me. After we finished our work in class, we were allowed to read. That year, there was a school contest on reading the most number of books, and between home and school, I read more than 400 books, ending the year with Sherlock Holmes.

What I hope to help you see with my walk down memory lane, is this: that the learning I remember most involved subjects I had, and still have a passion for – my family, the outdoors, asking questions, solving problems, reading and warm cookies.

Meaningful experiences create opportunities for learning higher-level thinking skills.

Perhaps the learning we need to mentor is about helping children follow their interests, passions and dreams.

Not only for the 21st century, but for all time.

Kids Talk TM is a column dealing with childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Ms. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has over twenty-five years experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is author of Understanding Montessori: A Guide for Parents. Contact her at or visit Copyright 2009.

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