Saturday, May 12, 2012

More on "21st Century Skills"

Thanks to my mom, who works at a school which is committed to staying up to date with research about education in the 21st century, I'm lucky enough to get lists of resources and journal articles that I would probably never have stumbled across otherwise. It makes for very thought-provoking reading. The research is aimed at education in a school setting rather than in homeschooling, but it's still extremely useful when I'm trying to define what my goals are for my daughters' education.

All of this research makes a distinction between content and skills; between the hard facts which kids should know, and the things which they should be able to do with that information. Most of the articles I've read devote more attention to the skills than to the content. Content is (comparatively) less important nowadays, these researchers argue, partly because the information age has made fact-finding so much easier and faster, and partly because the world is changing so fast that we can't hope to give our children all the information they'll need for their futures. So we should focus instead on giving the skills they'll need to educate themselves, and to thrive in a world of fast-changing, highly-interactive information.

Here's a summary of those skills, drawn from several articles I really liked:

  • Problem solve across multiple disciplines;
  • Communicate information and ideas effectively using a variety of media and formats; 
  • Collaborate with others; 
  • Think creatively;
  • Apply critical thinking skills to any field of study, including those that do not yet exist;
  • Preparation for responsible participation in the global community.

I don't really know what our homeschooling journey will look like, in terms of what subjects we'll study or how we'll go about studying them, but at least I now have this list of goals to refer back to when it comes to making choices for the girls' education. We don't exactly have a roadmap, but at least we have a compass :)

What's Basbusa reading?

The garbage-truck book that always comes first to my mind is I Stink, which seems to be in every library display case in the country. We checked it out, but it didn't get more than a few reads, so I had thought maybe it was just more of a boy topic. But Smash! Mash! Crash! There Goes the Trash! proved me wrong, because it's been a favorite for the past two weeks. "Rumbling, roaring. Dragons snoring? Bumping, thumping. Giants jumping? Booming, banging. Cymbals clanging? Nooooo! The garbage trucks are here today!" The book then proceeds through all the usual chomping, mashing and pulping of icky garbage, to the delight of the two little kids (well, pigs, actually) who are watching. I, like Basbusa, much preferred this book to the ubiquitous I Stink, both because the language used is more expressive and because the truck itself isn't directing any of its roaring at the reader. The only thing I wondered about was whether kids today ever really hear the noise described in all these garbage-truck books? I remember the racket I always used to hear when I lived in New York City years and years ago, but all I've heard in recent years is the very polite "daaa-yeep, daaa-yeep!" beeping of our automated suburban waste disposal services.

Guess Again! is a very quick read, but totally worth checking out. It's a series of riddles, with pictures and a rhyme scheme that both trick you into expecting the wrong answer. And in addition to the hee-hee-tricked-you! humor, the real answers are funny both because they're so random and because the illustrations depict the wrong answer and the right answer at the same time. (It's a bit hard to explain, but you can see what I mean if you look at the preview on Amazon.) "He steals carrots from the neighbor's yard. His hair is soft, his teeth are hard. His floppy ears are long and funny. Can you guess who? That's right! My..." But no, it's not his bunny... :)

Z is for Moose is the funniest alphabet book I've ever read. A zebra is directing a pretty routine production of A-is-for-Apple, B-is-for-Ball, etc, but Moose is so excited that he just cannot wait for his turn. D is for... Moose!!! No, no, Moose, not your turn yet. Moose spends the next few letters trying to sneak into the picture in any way he can, until they finally reach the letter M... and Moose discovers that M is for Mouse, in this particular lineup! ("I'm sorry. We decided to go with the mouse this time," says the zebra, checking it off on his clipboard.) Whereupon Moose throws a tantrum. He smashes his way through the N, O, P and Q pages, uses a red crayon to add moose-antlers to the ring and the snake on the R and S pages, and finally dissolves in tears. In the end the zebra takes pity on the sobbing Moose and finds a way to make things better. I just loved this one, and I still giggle even after umpteen readings. Basbusa liked it too, but she doesn't seem to find it quite as funny as I do. I guess maybe a perfectly-captured preschooler-tantrum comes across as more of a factual depiction, rather than a joke, if you actually are a preschooler?

I was going to say that Laundry Day is an almost-wordless picture book, but I just noticed in the Amazon description that it's actually a "graphic picture-book," which I think sums it up really well. It's set in New York City at the end of the 1800s, and the illustrations give a fascinating and detailed glimpse of daily life in a city neighborhood. The story tells of a shoe-shine boy who is trying to return a red scarf to its proper owner, after it flutters down on top of him from one of the myriad clothes-lines strung above his head between the apartment buildings. By hopping up on a stack of boxes he makes his way to the first balcony, and from there he balances along clothes lines, shimmies up waterspouts and clambers along fire escape ladders, meeting all the diverse but friendly neighbors along the way. He eventually does find the owner of the scarf, and slithers down to street-level again, but now the whole city feels different. Before his adventure, the boy had seemed so alone in the busy, impersonal, street, but after meeting all his neighbors and seeing how their lives, like their clotheslines, were all interconnected, the busy street felt like a community. Basbusa and I both loved this one, and since there's so little text, Basbusa can enjoy it by herself just as much as she does with me.

Linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday and What My Child is Reading.