George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Right now, you have students. Eventually, those students will become the citizens -- employers, employees, professionals, educators, and caretakers of our planet in 21st century. Beyond mastery of standards, what can you do to help prepare them? What can you promote to be sure they are equipped with the skill sets they will need to take on challenges and opportunities that we can't yet even imagine?

Following are six tips to guide you in preparing your students for what they're likely to face in the years and decades to come.

1. Teach Collaboration as a Value and Skill Set

Students of today need new skills for the coming century that will make them ready to collaborate with others on a global level. Whatever they do, we can expect their work to include finding creative solutions to emerging challenges.

2. Evaluate Information Accuracy

New information is being discovered and disseminated at a phenomenal rate. It is predicted that 50 percent of the facts students are memorizing today will no longer be accurate or complete in the near future. Students need to know how to find accurate information, and how to use critical analysis for assessing the veracity or bias and the current or potential uses of new information. These are the executive functions that they need to develop and practice in the home and at school today, because without them, students will be unprepared to find, analyze, and use the information of tomorrow.

3. Teach Tolerance

In order for collaboration to happen within a global community, job applicants of the future will be evaluated by their ability for communication with, openness to, and tolerance for unfamiliar cultures and ideas. To foster these critical skills, today's students will need open discussions and experiences that can help them learn about and feel comfortable communicating with people of other cultures.

4. Help Students Learn Through Their Strengths

Children are born with brains that want to learn. They're also born with different strengths -- and they grow best through those strengths. One size does not fit all in assessment and instruction. The current testing system and the curriculum that it has spawned leave behind the majority of students who might not be doing their best with the linear, sequential instruction required for this kind of testing. Look ahead on the curriculum map and help promote each student's interest in the topic beforehand. Use clever "front-loading" techniques that will pique their curiosity.

5. Use Learning Beyond the Classroom

New "learning" does not become permanent memory unless there is repeated stimulation of the new memory circuits in the brain pathways. This is the "practice makes permanent" aspect of neuroplasticity where neural networks that are the most stimulated develop more dendrites, synapses, and thicker myelin for more efficient information transmission. These stronger networks are less susceptible to pruning, and they become long-term memory holders. Students need to use what they learn repeatedly and in different, personally meaningful ways for short-term memory to become permanent knowledge that can be retrieved and used in the future. Help your students make memories permanent by providing opportunities for them to "transfer" school learning to real-life situations.

6. Teach Students to Use Their Brain Owner's Manual

The most important manual that you can share with your students is the owner's manual to their own brains. When they understand how their brains take in and store information (PDF, 139KB), they hold the keys to successfully operating the most powerful tool they'll ever own. When your students understand that, through neuroplasticity, they can change their own brains and intelligence, together you can build their resilience and willingness to persevere through the challenges that they will undoubtedly face in the future.

How are you preparing your students to thrive in the world they'll inhabit as adults?

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TODD SENTELL's picture
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

My best lecture wasn't about some great moment or thing or person in history or in art or in literature. It was a super short and super effective lecture, and I gave it to only the pathologically defiant.

I gave it to those students who would constantly and untiringly argue and disagree and debate the air around them...while they were in the comfort and understanding and controlled environment of a schoolhouse. I guess it really wasn't a lecture. It was actually a question. I'd ask the defiant student, When you get pulled over by the police one day, and you will, what are you going to do when he asks you to get out of your car?

Really, what are you going to do at that insanely critical moment in your heretofore defiant life?


Todd's teaching memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave," at corkscrew turns hilarious, heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking, will be published this fall by Stairway Press.

Mary Ann Stoll's picture
Mary Ann Stoll
Curriculum developer for K-12

I am very motivated by these six concepts. I could really use some down-and-dirty examples of ways to accomplish any of these.

Judy Willis MD's picture
Judy Willis MD
Neurologist/Teacher/Grad School Ed faculty/Author

Thanks for wanting to apply these concepts, as I'm sure you already do. Here are some links to articles I've written with examples. Email me for more.
LINKS About Executive Function Focus

Understanding How the Brain Thinks: Edutopia Staff 6-PART Blog Series
about Building Executive Functions
Understanding How the Brain Thinks (Part 1)
The Brain-Based Benefits of Writing for Math and Science Learning (Part 2)
Improving Executive Function: Teaching Challenges and Opportunities. (Part 3)
Three Brain-based Teaching Strategies to Build Executive Function in Students (Part 4)
Three Strategies for Using the Arts to Build Student Executive Functions (Part 5)
Executive Function, Arts Integration and Joyful Learning (Part 6)

Beyond the Comfort Zone: 6 Ways to Build Independent Thinking. Edutopia Jan 10, 2014.

The Simple Things I Do To Promote Brain-Based Learning In My Classroom in TeachThough Oct 2013

The Impact Of Creativity On The Brain by Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed., TeachTought Issue 03/16/2014.

What Does Neuroscience Research Say About Motivation And The Brain? In Partnership for 21 Century Skills

Building Brain Literacy in Elementary Students in November 19, 2013.

Farah Najam's picture
Farah Najam
Teacher Trainer and write on education

There is a great deal of energy around the premise that 21st century education needs to organize students to actively participate in a society where problems are increasingly complex and innovation skills are essential. The "education for innovation" calls, coming from academia and government, require new visions of teaching and learning processes, as well as original assessment strategies and technologies.

minosayos's picture

Thanks for this excellent and very helpful material. I share this concern with many teachers who are worried about what the future will hold and how to deal and adapt to its requirements.

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