Monday, July 29, 2013

21st Century Skills: Require These Skills!

"We need to prepare kids for their future, not our pasts"
                 - Daniel Pink

21st century skills!!!

The emphasis that our national education system places on the memorization of content and facts (which are easily found using Google), is befuddling.  This year I had the opportunity to partner with many businesses in our community, and the same message kept coming through:  "We do not need these students to know many facts.  We need students who can communicate with customers and coworkers, who can collaborate with others, think critically and solve problems, etc...  In the education world, "21st Century Skills" has become the familiar term to describe these skills.  The education world seems to have an obsession with giving everything a name (usually an acronym) that the public cannot stand hearing, because they do not use these words.  In this case, I don't think these skills require a "name".  It seems like common sense that we should be teaching students how to communicate, collaborate, etc.... Despite the obvious need for helping students acquire these skills, we continue to place way too high of an emphasis on content & facts.

This year our family spent a lot of time in hospitals and it struck me as strange that over half of the doctors that we met, would have failed my 7th grade rubric for public speaking.  After reflecting on this, I remember a high number of professors I had with a similar problem.  In fact, many people who have "mastered" our education system have a phenomenal set of knowledge, but they have no clue how to talk with their customers.  I would imagine this has something to do with "playing the game of school", when that game is, unfortunately, broken.  I have so many friends and family members that complain about returning from the doctors office and not understanding what is wrong, or what they should do.  They do not ask questions, because they are left in a haze the first time the doctor drops a term such as "supraclavicular".

Around 30% of Americans graduate from college, yet we continue to prepare every student for two things:
*  Standardized Tests
*  College Exams

Please start preparing EVERYONE to be successful!!!  When are we going to wake up and prepare everyone for their future.  Not everyone is going to college, and that is okay.  Many of those 30% that graduate from college, struggle in the workplace anyways because they have been trained to be students not workers.

Where do we start?  I wish there would be a strong movement to require the teaching of 21st Century Skills and to back off on content.  If we teach students to "LEARN HOW TO LEARN" much of the content learning will take care of itself.  Which 21st Century Skills do we start with?  There are thousands of 21st Century Skills and "soft skills" that people need to succeed in the world, but we obviously do not have time to thoroughly teach all of them.  After reading (relentlessly) on this topic, I have arrived at the conclusion that the "Big Six" are:

*  Communication - this is a broad topic.  Students need to learn how to send an appropriate email, make a phone call, engage in small talk, learn how to speak about a specific topic to different audiences (explaining photosynthesis to a 1st grader, 7th grader, 12th grader, and a biology professor is hopefully done differently), answer questions in a job interview, clarify their stance on something, give a pitch on a project, speak in front of a group, etc....

*  Collaboration - Students need to learn how to work together with other people.  This may be small groups or big groups.  People with similar beliefs or with opposing beliefs.  Online, in person, or over the phone.  Use leadership skills.  Learn how to get the most out of everyone on your team.

*  Critical Thinking - learning how to diagnose a problem, evaluate options, make decisions based on information, analyze the quality of something, understand a new concept, etc...

*  Creativity - this is one major 21st century skill that our school systems seem to decrease in students.  By the time you have finished high school, college, or beyond, you have learned that there is a correct answer for everything (and it is at the back of the book) and that a paper clip is used to hold papers together.  We do not provide much room for creativity when we use standardized tests to assess students or worksheets to have them practice the content.  It is unfortunate that this skill is lacking in our society, but we need to do something to reverse this.

*  Inquiry - through many of the 20-time, project-based, and autonomous projects that I have implemented, I have come to realize that student inquiry skills are very poorly developed.  Our system rewards answering questions, but does not promote asking questions.  For this reason many students, and many of our "brightest" students have no clue how to ask good questions in order to help them solve problems or figure something out.  Many, when not given exact directions to execute, flounder because they do not know what to do, or what to ask.  I believe strongly that we need to place a higher emphasis on the ability to "ask questions" rather than just answer questions.  The reason we have not cured cancer or AIDS is because we have not yet asked the right question.  

*  Using Technology - If students are unprepared for technology, they are unprepared for the future.  Technology is not going anywhere.

There are a plethora of other skills that must be taught.  Many of them could fall within the broader topics listed above, while some deserve their own attention.  We need to start somewhere.  We need to start preparing our students to be successful in their future.....not our past.

Please share how you have implemented successful 21st Century Skills learning in your classroom.  I would love to learn more about this.  In the following weeks, I hope to share thoughts on some of these individual skills and include any resources or ideas that I have come across.  This past year was undoubtedly my best year at implementing these concepts and I have never felt so confident that I was preparing students to be successful in their future, whatever that may be.

Oliver Schinkten
Communities at Oshkosh North High School
Twitter:  @schink10

Saturday, July 20, 2013

5 Ways to Instantly Improve Rapport With Students

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.
                    -Brad Henry 

Building rapport with students is perhaps one of the most important tasks of a teacher today.  I have heard many teachers argue against this by saying statements such as:

* I don't care if they like me, I am here to teach them.

* I am not here to be their friend.
* You will do this, because I said so.
* Etc..... my experience, and I am sorry to offend, these statements are often said by teachers that are not very good at building rapport with students.  I feel that their defense mechanism is to pretend that it is not important, or possibly even wrong to do.  I disagree strongly with them.  With regards to teaching students, they are not going to listen unless they respect you.  There are other ways to gain respect, but one way is to build their rapport and trust.  Ask any student or adult what their favorite class was in school.  About 90% of the time, when asked to explain why they love that subject, they will go on about how awesome the teacher was.  This is so true!  I remember my favorite classes in K-12 and in college and it was almost always correlated with a charismatic and benevolent teacher.  Truthfully, if I would have attended a different high school and different college, I am sure that I would be doing something else right now because it is the teachers I had that shaped my path.

So how can you begin instantly building rapport?  I feel that these suggestions are relevant for someone who has difficulty building rapport all the way to someone who is excellent at it, but would like to improve.

***DISCLAIMER:  These things are not necessarily easy to do.  They are also not "false manipulations".  These are ways to show your genuine respect for students.  If you really do not like the students, quit teaching.  If you do like them, try these:

1.  Names -  Dale Carnegie said that "a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language".  Names are powerful.  People like to hear their names.  People like to see their names written.  My suggestion is to learn all of your students' names as FAST AS YOU CAN and then call them by their name often.  I have actually gone so far as to review past yearbooks and refresh my mind on names of former students in case they visit.  I have had so many times in which a former student stops back to say hello, and when I call them by their name they have a smile from ear to ear and say "You remember me!".  The opposite feeling stinks!  I hate it when I don't know their name and I just use generalities.  Even students in your class at the present time often seem to express a feeling of happiness when you are able to call them by their first names.  I believe these next couple sentences are of ultimate importance!!!  Pronounce and spell their name CORRECTLY.  Trying to use a name, when improperly pronounced or spelled can actually do more damage than not saying anything.  Take the time to learn how to spell their name.  If they have a difficult to pronounce name, ask them (early on) to sound it out phonetically for you....write it down....and say it correctly often.  You will most likely be told, accompanied by a smile, that you are the only person that says their name correctly.  Please do not underestimate this.  ***Try going above and beyond.  Get your class list ahead of time, and if you have access to pictures of the students, learn their names before they are even in your class on the first day.  You will look like a SUPERSTAR.

2.  "Is anyone doing anything cool this weekend"?  - This technique has worked unbelievably well in the past.  On Friday, in the final minutes of class, ask if anyone has plans for the weekend.  After the students leave the room, write down a couple of students names and what they said they are doing.  When "Johnny" comes back on Monday and you ask "How was your visit to your cousin's house, did you end up going to the museum with them", you will have students look at you as if to say "Somebody cares enough about me to remember this is what I was doing?"  The fact of the matter is that you do care, you are often just so busy that we forget to do stuff like this.

3.  Share personal stories - In class, use examples from your life regarding trips you went on, failures you had an how you dealt with them, times that you were nervous, activities that you did when you were in school.  This is an attempt to show them you are a human and once they realize that, they will respect you much more.


4.  Announce to the class that you are someone they can come and talk to - A couple of years ago our school did a student survey in which they (on the computer) checked off any teacher that they felt they could go and talk to because they trusted them and had rapport with them.  This study was done for several reasons, but one of the main reasons was to identify whether every student had someone they could talk to.  We were sad to find out that there were a fair number that could not identify any teacher they felt they could talk to.  This is sad.  Rick Lavoie once said at a conference that every day before school he would sit in his car for a couple of minutes and envision what the worst 30 minutes in the past day may have been like for some of these students.  It is hard to look at life and realize that not everyone is you, with your same morals, support, stability, etc...  Be open to consider things from the perspective of others.  If you tell students they can come to you, and follow this up with trustworthy and charismatic behavior, students WILL COME. This is going to cause extra work for you when you have to give up a prep, stay after school, or miss lunch to talk to a student.  When you have to call social services to report abuse.  When you have to meet with the counselor to discuss some major issues with a student.  If, however, you can prevent one suicide, or even improve the life of one student, this is definitely worth it.  When you tell your kids this, they will realize you care.  Your next job is to keep proving that you do care.

5.  Clothes & Shoes - This one is strange and many people will not agree with me on this, but I have seen a very HIGH correlation to:  The crazier my shoes or clothes are, they easier it is to build rapport.  I recommend finding some rare looking shoes, a rare dress coat, or a pair of funky pants.  Obviously you want to look professional, but in my opinion some people the "looking professional" thing, WAY TO FAR.  In my opinion, and I repeat, In my opinion, dressing up really professionally with a suit and tie and shiny wristwatch is a good way to immediately tell the student "I am different than you".  I am certain that in my experiences I have seen these teachers have a more difficult time building rapport with students (although I have seen exceptions to this!).  Ultimately, I would hope that administration, coworkers, parents, students would judge your "professionalism" on how you act, not how you dress.  Just because you wear a suit and tie, does not make you a professional.  

These are my thoughts.  I have about 5 more that I could add, but I thought these were the most relevant and easy to pull off.  There are, obviously, millions of ways of building rapport with people, so if you already have a way that is very effective.....continue on.  If you think one of these could help you improve your rapport......give it try.  It doesn't hurt to give it a try.


*** My passion is ComPassion-Based Learning in which we give students autonomy & purpose, teach them content & 21st century skills and empower them to change the world.  Please check out my blog on this at:


Oliver Schinkten
Communities at Oshkosh North
Twitter:  @schink10

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why Standardized Tests?

"I feel like I'm taking crazy pills"
     - Jacobim Mugatu

I continue to discuss our obsession with standardized testing with everyone that I possibly can.  About 75% of the time, the person I am talking to agrees that they are an insane way to hold students, teachers, and schools accountable.  Another 20% states that "we have to do something to hold these people all accountable".  I then explain that they are not predictive of future success, explain that they do not assess and relevant 21st century skills that businesses are begging for students to know, and that the questions on them are often absurd (Who discovered the periodic table?  Really?  Who Cares?).  This means that 95% of the people I talk to agree that using standardized testing to the degree that we use it to determine who is "advanced" or "minimal", or to decide who gets into what college, or who gets a specific scholarship, is RIDICULOUS.

So if this many people agree that this is RIDICULOUS, why are we still using them this much?  I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!  In my opinion, it is the politicians (obviously), but more importantly the Universities.  This is a nice, smooth, easy way for them to separate students into groups and to determine a cut-off for who gets in and who doesn't.  They do not seem to have much motivation to change their practices, since most schools turn students away due to the high number of applicants.  Are we not concerned, however, that over 50% of students who start college do not finish it?  In essence, are we so concerned with trying to get students into college, that we are neglecting teaching them how to survive when they get to college, or the job, or everyday life

Why do the ACT and SAT hold such power?  This year I had the opportunity to start a Project-Based or Compassion-Based program at our high school which incorporates social studies, science, literacy, and leadership into hands-on and relevant projects to an authentic audience while teaching a plethora of 21st century skills.  After talking with tons of businesses and community members, it was clear that they felt students need to be able to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and be creative.  They needed to be able to ask good questions, not answer questions.  These are all things that standardized tests do not assess and therefore K-12 schools do not really teach much of.  This is sad.  Although we had more applicants than we could accept, I noticed that many "high performing" students and their parents were afraid to join our program.  In talking with some of them, they loved the concept, but were afraid that they would take their son/daughter off of the proper path for college.  In other words, their child was good at playing the Game of School and would definitely have a high GPA and good standardized test scores if they stuck with traditional education.  Would they be preparing their child to be successful, however?  I can honestly say that in our first year, it was a learning experience for us, but I felt that I was educating students and preparing them to be successful in their future MUCH more efficiently than I ever have in the past.  I would highly, highly, highly, recommend this path for any and all students, yet the "NEED TO DO WELL ON STANDARDIZED TESTS, IN ORDER TO GET INTO COLLEGE" is a scary enough monster to deter many people.  This is unfortunate.

The first step that needs to be taken, is that the Universities head in the direction that Google recently did, when it announced that it would no longer consider GPA and test scores as a strong determinant for hiring.  If the universities began to admit the limitations of standardized tests and drastically decrease their importance, it would undoubtedly make their job of accepting applicants much more difficult.  For the sake of education, however, PLEASE do this.  Take the shackles off of the parents, the students, and the K-12 schools by eliminating our obsession with standardized tests.  For everyone else that believes this concept, you can make an impact by talking with others and explaining their limitations.  That 20% of people that need to be enlightened, deserve to hear it.

I want to start preparing every student to be successful at LIFE!

These opinions are my own, and not my employers.

Oliver Schinkten
Twitter:  @schink10

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

3 Games To Make Content Fun & Memorable

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.      - Dale Carnegie

by @schink10 

     I have recently written about my frustration with the education system's "obsession" with content.  It seems to be the only thing that the authority figures in education care about.  School and education is much more than this, though.  We must begin to improve our students 21st century skills, ability to learn how to learn, passion and enthusiasm for learning, and their life skills in order to prepare them for the future.  With this being said, I am not denying that content is important.  Most of it is.  The only way you can problem solve or think critically about something, is if you know some of the background knowledge.  Students do need to get some content, but how? (I still think the most effective way is through Com-Passion Based Learning....please check out my blog on this topic at: - shameless plug....sorry.

In the majority of classrooms that I have been in and observed, there is a "sit and get" format of a teacher lecturing and the students are writing down facts in a notebook.  THE STUDENTS ARE NOT ENGAGED IN THEIR LEARNING.  Most students I talk to say they dislike school and learning.  Most students say they hate science!  Come on!  That shouldn't be possible.  We are doing something wrong.  I have heard many teachers say that the students need to know the information because we "told them they need to".  This isn't good enough for two reasons:  

*  Students have a right to question why they need to know some things.  Honestly, I do not see why they need to know about the phases of mitosis, the Kreb's Cycle, Calvin Cycle, and so on.  Can you give a good answer as to "WHY" your students should learn what you are teaching?

                                 Are you kidding me?  WHY?

*  If students are not engaged, they are not really learning.  They may do well on a test for a specific unit because of our "Carrot & Sticks" method of grading, but they WILL NOT remember that information.  

We need to get students passionate and enthusiastic about the content in order for them to take ownership.


I have three quick games that I think do a few things:

1.  They are fun.  Students will usually have a blast playing these games and ask to play them more often.

2.  They engage students in a deeper form of learning and a the need to be an active participant.

3.  They tap into most students' natural "game-mode" of thinking in which competition exists.

4.  Students will often remember this information much longer because of the connections that they made.

PICTIONARY:  This is not any creative innovation.  This game is very old, but very useful.  Providing students with terms, people, and concepts that are in the unit being studied and engaging them in discussions offers a way for them to take responsibility for their learning.  Since the information is handed out, less time is needed for lecturing.  Instead play Pictionary.

Write down a reasonable number of words associated with the unit (or review words from previous units).  Divide the class into two groups.  Have group #1 send up a person to "draw".  They have 45 seconds to draw the term/person/concept and their teammates (who do not know the word) need to guess the word.  They cannot use any letters, numbers, and cannot act or talk.  JUST DRAW!  If they fail to get it after 45 seconds, someone from team 2 can steal the point by guessing it correctly.  Then team #2 goes and you keep rotating back and forth.  

This is a great way to have the students think about the content in a deeper way.  They have to draw it, so must be able to interpret its meaning.  It is a fun, competitive, quality way to learn the content.

TABOO:   This is another old board game concept, but with many of the same benefits as Pictionary.  In this game, the teacher creates cards with the terms/words on it (very similar to Pictionary).  This time however, the student will talk to their team and try to have them guess the term.  The teacher must list 5-6 words below the main word that the student CANNOT SAY.  Below is an example:


words they cannot say:
*  President
*  America
*  1st
*  Cherry Tree
*  Country
*  Leader

A person from the opposing team stands next to the person talking in order to make sure they do not slip up and say one of these words.  If they do, their does not get any points.

It is also important that you imply the rule that you cannot say "rhymes with" or "sounds like" or any other rules that may become necessary. This game is not fun if the person says "rhymes with Morge Poshington.

I HAVE, WHO HAS:  This game is very fun and keeps everyone extremely engaged.  The teacher  must create a deck of cards (slightly larger than the class size).  On one side the card says I HAVE: (along with a term) ... on the other side it says WHO HAS: (with a question or statement).  The teacher must be sure to create a deck that flows perfectly.  In other words, create the first card with a question only.  On the second card, first do "I HAVE: (and the correct answer)" and then put the question on the other side.  On the third card.....etc..... until on the last card you put the answer on the "I HAVE" section of the first card.

Warning:  Do not # the cards.  I actually had a friend do this!  The students catch on quick and seem to be whizzing through the vocabulary, when in fact they are just going in order.

Because the deck creates a full circle, you can call on anyone to start....and it ends when it gets back to them.  You keep track of the amount of time that it takes the class to get through the entire deck.  If someone makes an error, I collect the cards and hand them back out with the clock running.  The class gets very into this and stares around the room at each other shaking saying "I know this one".  Eventually everyone knows every term and it doesn't take long for this to happen.  After a while you need to create new decks because they just get used to the order.

Take a picture of the class with the best time for that deck.  Post it on the wall.  Make them feel special and then let every class try to beat their record.  This is fun.

Please let me know if you have any questions on these games.  I am not sure I did a great job explaining them, however, I have had a lot of success and fun using them over the past years.

Also, please let me know if you have any fun games that have helped you reinforce content in the classroom.

Oliver Schinkten
Communities at Oshkosh North High School
Twitter:  @schink10