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5 ways to create lessons that teach content and digital age skills

By L. Robert Furman
November 18, 2016
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As I travel the country talking about the need to change current educational practices, I hear so many people agree with the need to revolutionize learning, but I also hear some saying things like, “I just don’t have the time.”

I get that.

Changing an educational system that’s stuck in the industrial age can sound like a daunting task. But we need to start somewhere, because the future of our children depends on it.

So how do we begin? How do we find the time to include skills that are critical to the future of our children?

We must layer.

When you think of layers of clothing or layers of a cake, it comes down to multiple items coming together to produce an overall product or meet a common goal. So as educators, we need to layer our lessons.

Layer 1: Consider required content or standards.
Layer 2: Immerse soft skills or digital age skills.
Layer 3: Engage students in activities that incorporate Layer 1 and Layer 2.

If you include these three layers in your lessons, you’ll make a huge impact on our children’s education.

Here are five ways to layer lessons:

1. With a project. Incorporate soft skills into traditional content projects. For example, letting students create advertisements or video trailers about their favorite books taps their creativity while allowing them to practice skills like summarization and public speaking.

2. With teams. Have students work together on everything from a project to an evening homework activity to build collaboration, communication, digital literacy and other skills, all hallmarks of the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students. Again, you’re layer content with standards and digital age skills.

3. With gamification. Create challenges that teams can work through for points. This could be as simple as having students create a quiz using Kahoot to challenge the other team and see who can get the most correct answers. This strengthens leadership skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, all while using the standards content as the foundation.

4. With debating and critiquing. Give students a voice in issues related to classroom content. Let them share their thoughts through a process of debate and then allow them to critique each other. This kind of learning task teaches students how to deliver and accept constructive criticism. And when students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in learning goals, they are well on their way to meeting the Empowered Learner standard within the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students

5. With community and expert outreach. Our world has become so small that you can bring anyone into your classroom with a simple Skype session or Google Hangout. Bringing a new voice into your classroom gives students real-world perspective on any content or skill you’re teaching. The idea of living in a global society where business teams and business projects are worked on globally through the internet is a valuable skill.

As you consider other ways to layer your lesson plans, remember to incorporate both content and digital age skills students will need to compete and live in a future that is utterly unknown.

L. Robert Furman, Ed.D., is an educator, leader, speaker and the author of Technology, Reading & Digital Literacy. He’s the principal at South Park Elementary Center near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was named to the National School Board Association’s “20 to Watch” list in 2015.

Get more tips for helping students develop the skills they need for the future in Furman’s new book The Future Ready Challenge: Improve Student Outcomes in 19 Weeks.