21st century skills are a must in many innovative teaching methods, and they appear so naturally that we don't even notice them. These skills are not an approach or method, they simply represent the needed characteristics for achieving academic and professional success in the 21st century. Teachers usually single out one 21st century skill and make a lesson around it, when in fact, we should use innovative methods which incorporate many of these skills.
Some of these methods are Theme-Based Instruction (TBI), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and Project-Based Learning (PBL). These methods also require more time for lesson development. On the other hand, Inquiry-Based Learning requires less preparation, and teachers with less experience can plan an Inquiry-Based lesson quickly.
Geo-Inquiry, a teaching method developed by National Geographic is a single method which combines all the needed activities for developing new skills. This method can easily be adapted and used from preschool to high school, and it also combines all the teaching approaches mentioned above.
Here are the steps of the Geo-Inquiry process:
- ASK - develop a Geo-Inquiry question;
- COLLECT - acquire geographic information;
- VISUALISE - organize and analyze geographic information;
- CREATE - develop Geo-Inquiry stories;
- ACT - share Geo-Inquiry stories.
Here is a summary of a theme-based unit I developed by following these steps. It's a work in progress, so the last part is not completed yet.
4th grade: Before starting, we shared an instructional poster to explain our investigation steps. We started by brainstorming and ASKING questions about the environment. We discussed major global environmental issues and talked about how they impact our local environment. We selected the most burning issue in our local community by using bar graphs and voting.
The issue dealt with waste pollution on a local scale, and we focused on paper waste. We COLLECTED geographical information which was connected to energy and water used in producing paper, as well as local deforestation in our national park and the city as well. We went outdoors, took photos, mapped the locations, and interviewed people.
We VISUALISED our data, and we used colorful mind maps to group them. By taking a leadership role in investigating, the children concluded that opening paper recycling centers could bring more jobs to locals, while also protecting ecosystems.
We developed communication and critical thinking skills by collaboratively connecting the waste of energy, water, deforestation to loss of local habitats and species decline. We also discussed helping animals in need.
We will continue our project by CREATING a story based on the conclusions we visualized. We will practice digital skills, video editing skills, and digital storytelling. In the end, we will ACT by writing letters to city officials, and we will host a public presentation. Our goal is to encourage parents and school employees to reduce, reuse and recycle paper, as well as to organize paper collecting from the streets, and compost it in our school to advocate for less deforestation.
This may sound complicated, but by achieving deep learning while encouraging leadership, creativity, and collaboration in your students, you also contextually develop their language skills. Language learned this way stays in student's permanent memory, and it becomes a part of their collective knowledge. The only thing that you need to prepare is an instructional poster with the steps - your students will develop the lesson by themselves.
Just remember, to develop the 21st century skills in students, we must develop them in teachers first. In these activities, you are a moderator and an observer, while the students are active participants and peer teachers. Embark on your 21st century classroom journey by letting go of frontal teaching, and let the students guide you - not the other way around.
Take a look at the abstract of my unpublished co-authored TBI and 21st-century skills research and explore the NG materials for Geo-Inquiry for more details.