21st Century Skills

Ten Reasons Why a Strong Social Studies Education Is Critical for Living in Today’s and Tomorrow’s World

Categories: 21st Century Skills

Elliott Seif is the author of Teaching for Lifelong Learning: How to Prepare Students for a Changing World.

In my last Solution Tree blog, “Why We Need K–12 High-Quality Science Instruction in a 21st Century World,” I identified twelve reasons why every child needs to have the opportunity to participate in a strong, coherent, inquiry-oriented science program. In this blog, I will explore ten important reasons why a strong, coherent social studies program, beginning in the earliest grades through high school, should be an important goal for all schools today.

Unfortunately, the quality of the social studies program has often been neglected in many schools and districts. In the primary and elementary grades, teachers and schools often limit the teaching of social studies or water down the teaching in order to pay more attention to tested subjects, such as English/language arts and mathematics. Secondary social studies is often taught through textbooks and survey courses that cover content and ignore interesting, meaningful, active, in-depth learning, a focus on understanding, and the teaching of critical skills such as thinking and writing.

Here are ten reasons why we need a revitalized, strong, coherent, and comprehensive social studies program at all grade levels:

  1. Social studies provides students with a broad and relevant knowledge base that helps them better understand and deal with today’s complex world.
  2. Knowledge and understanding of crucial concepts and ideas in American and world history—such as the diversity of American and world cultures and communities, key geographic knowledge and concepts, an understanding of America’s democratic heritage, and basic economic concepts and theory—as well as important concepts from other social science disciplines are critical for an enlarged understanding the place of each individual in the world in which we live, America’s place in the world, and the role of informed citizens in a democratic society.

  3. Social studies helps students develop understanding and positive values that build a common foundation among Americans.
  4. Students are able to build common understanding and a common set of values that transcend geographic boundaries and create a concept of America as one nation. These include stories and narratives about great Americans; the ideals, principles, rights and values tied to the American Revolution and found within the Constitution; the geography and demographics of America; why we fought the Civil War and in World Wars I and II; slavery and the civil rights movement; the importance of immigration to America; Manifest Destiny; market economy principles; the Cold War; common problems Americans face today; and many other key ideas.

  5. Social studies teaches students how to be thoughtful, active citizens in a democratic society.
  6. Students develop an understanding of current issues and events, and develop the context through which to analyze these issues and events and consider alternative perspectives and solutions. Social studies is also how students learn to actively participate in American democratic institutions—through field trips to the courts and governing bodies, learning how to register to vote, community service, and other means.

  7. Social studies is a key vehicle for developing literacy, math and other critical skills, such as the use of evidence, research, argumentation, writing, speaking, listening, numeracy, and data collection and analysis.
  8. From an early age, students should read and analyze varied fiction and nonfiction texts, learn important concepts and vocabulary about history and the world around them, learn how important evidence is for accuracy of opinions and ideas, conduct research and write essays and reports, develop and conduct surveys, interpret and use graphs, and in general develop and reinforce important and vital skills necessary for living in a 21st century world.

  9. By engaging in social studies inquiry, students learn how to be capable, collaborative problem-solvers.
  10. Through essential questions, discussions, persuasive essays and other means, students work together to learn how to discuss, use evidence, and reflect on and solve problems, such as issues about the environment, poverty, race, class, economics, and politics.

  11. Social studies develops critical and creative thinking skills.
  12. Students in social studies classes discern patterns, analyze and interpret maps, take apart arguments, and invent new solutions to challenging problems.

  13. Social studies is a powerful vehicle for creating interdisciplinary, integrated school programs.
  14. Many elementary teachers, along with diverse secondary subject area teachers, can create interdisciplinary programs around social studies themes like community, environment and human interaction, conflict, change, and adaptation. History can be integrated with literature, social studies topics can be infused with science and math, and the arts can help students understand historical events.

  15. Social studies helps to educate and prepare future leaders.
  16. As students learn about positive leadership in America and throughout the world, consider difficult issues throughout history and how they were solved, examine current issues and ways people try to solve them, and take part in civic activities, they build an understanding of leadership and what it takes to be an effective leader.

  17. Social studies promotes self-understanding and the understanding of other peoples and cultures.
  18. Social studies helps students understand their own backgrounds, the values and diverse backgrounds and experiences of Americans, and the wide variety of cultures and customs of people around the world and at other periods in history.

  19. Social studies provides students with important practical information and skills that can be used in their everyday lives.
  20. In social studies classes, students learn skills for financial literacy, career options, how to register and vote, and other important practical skills.

Based on these crucial reasons for creating a strong, comprehensive social studies program, social studies should be given a prominent place throughout the curriculum, beginning in the earliest grades. If social studies are to fulfill the important goals outlined above, there must be a greater emphasis on building a strong, coherent K–12 curriculum that uses multiple resources and powerful instructional strategies. This requires a belief that social studies is as important as reading, math, and any other subject, and that it should be given significant financial support and provided with effective professional development at all levels.

Follow-up reading:
Seif, E. (2003). Social Studies Revived. Educational Leadership, 61, 54–59. https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/social-studies-revived

Why We Need K–12 High-Quality Science Instruction in a 21st Century World

Categories: 21st Century Skills

Elliott Seif is the author of Teaching for Lifelong Learning: How to Prepare Students for a Changing World.

This is the first of three essays that will describe why powerful instruction is important in three content areas: science, social studies, and the arts. This first essay examines the many reasons why good science teaching is so important for preparing students to live in today’s and tomorrow’s world.
I argue here that an important part of a liberal arts education is a strong science education that, among other things, develops a sophisticated understanding of the natural world and offers deep insights into the nature of scientific investigation. Unfortunately, too few school districts today create comprehensive, inquiry-based, high-quality science programs at all levels, kindergarten through high school. Other priorities, such as time limitations, lack of attention, fragmentation, or a traditional coverage-based focus, all conspire to reduce the effectiveness and excellence of science programs in many schools and districts.

Here are one dozen reasons why we must counter these trends and why schools and districts must find ways to provide high-quality science teaching and learning for all children at all educational levels.

1. Learning science is interesting, meaningful, and motivating.
Science questions provoke curiosity and interest in the wonders of the natural world. Students learn to focus on science as a series of mysteries to be explored through interesting questions, such as “What is the nature of the universe?” “How does life exist?” “Why do things grow?” Learning science also provides students with an understanding of its massive contributions to everyday living and the comforts of life. Science programs provide an important avenue for helping students to develop a passion for inquiry and a better understanding of the world around us.

2. Science knowledge provides us with a basic understanding of the natural world.
Scientific knowledge helps us to understand the natural world around us, such as the vastness and characteristics of the universe, how species adapt and survive, the nature of matter, and so many other important insights. Every educated person needs to be provided with background knowledge on what has been already discovered and what is currently being explored in science.

3. Science teaches students to be “skeptics” about claims of truth and to look for rigorous evidence to support statements claiming to be true. Science builds on the idea that knowledge is tentative, subject to change, and that changes to knowledge, theory and understanding, based on rigorous research and experimentation, are an important part of the learning process.

Too many students come away from school thinking that knowledge is fixed and immutable and that there is always a right answer. Good science programs teach students a very important lesson: that knowledge is tentative, changing, and subject to tests of evidence. For example, a study of Galileo’s or Einstein’s discoveries help students to understand that what once was thought to be “correct” turned out to be wrong; that supposedly “accurate” knowledge needs to be tested; research studies need replication; and theory is only an empty idea until there is valid evidence to support and explain it. This “scientific” attitude—the tentativeness of knowledge and the need for evidence to support claims of truth—is important to learn today, in light of so many spurious claims made without evidence that are often believed by too many people.

4. Science promotes democratic thinking and democratic values.
Science teaches children to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking in order to resolve problems. Conflicts in science are resolved peacefully through discussion, persuasive argument, further investigation, and the rigorous collection of evidence. Scientists learn to “disagree without being disagreeable.” Thoughtful criticism is the norm, not the exception. The expectation is that, as Einstein once said, “critical comments should be taken in a friendly spirit.”

5. Science builds positive lifelong learning habits, behaviors, and attitudes.
Good science programs emphasize the value of continuous inquiry. Students learn to solve problems and answer questions by taking small steps, being persistent, having patience, and overcoming adversity. They learn that finding “truth” is often messy and inconclusive. Science teaches that successful achievement and learning often require experimentation, trial and error, making mistakes, even failure. In other words, science teaches habits, behaviors, and attitudes that support self-directed, autonomous, lifelong learning.

6. Science develops critical intellectual skills, including creativity and imagination as well as tolerance for and adaptation to change.
Science fosters the development of critical and creative thinking skills that carry over to learning other subjects and daily living. Through science, children learn to:

  • Ask “what if” questions
  • Carefully observe: “What do you see happening to this plant as it grows?”
  • Interpret and hypothesize: “Why do you think this is happening?”
  • Conduct experiments: “How can we prove it?”
  • Consider many alternatives
  • See different perspectives and points of view: “What are different points of view about why this happened?”
  • Analyze: “What are its component parts?”
  • Synthesize: “How does this all fit together into a pattern? What are the connections and relationships?”
  • Test solutions
  • Draw conclusions: “What are our results? Conclusions? Why?”

Students learn how to create an argument with supporting evidence to justify a point of view and to question opinions that have little backing to support them. Science teaches students that change and adaptation is part of the nature of learning and growing by testing new ideas and adapting to changing circumstances.

7. Science builds reading and “learning to learn” skills.
Good science programs build strong reading skills! As students investigate physical forces, chemical reactions, biological growth, or the solar system, they also learn how to read a variety of science resources, understand new concepts, build vocabulary and background knowledge, and learn the language of science and science inquiry. The investigation skills they learn are a significant part of the “learning to learn” skills they will need for college and future careers.

8. Science helps students to learn and apply mathematical thinking.
Math is the language of science. As students learn science, they learn that mathematics is an important tool to help solve real problems and questions. As students “do” science, they learn how to measure, manipulate numbers, collect and analyze data, form patterns, develop spatial and geometric relationships, and apply many of the higher level and complex math systems to scientific problem solving.

9. Science enriches learning in other subjects.
All subject areas benefit when a student understands science concepts and ideas. For example, science concepts are helpful for understanding historical forces, technological and social changes over time, and current issues and concerns, such as global warming. Science problems can be used to help students understand and apply measurement skills and statistical analysis. The arts are integrated into science through graphic designs and drawings that complement learning about scientific and technological principles and innovations. Science concepts are intertwined with understanding healthy living habits and good nutrition.

10. Science develops teamwork skills.
Through science, children learn how to work together to investigate, test hypotheses, interpret data, and draw conclusions. As they work together, they learn to understand and tolerate difference and diversity. They learn how teamwork contributes to significant learning. Science can also contribute to making schools safer and more peaceful by teaching students how to work together and resolve conflicts.

11. Science creates a growing interest in and preparation for expanding career opportunities.
High-quality science program experiences develop scientific talents and interests. They encourage students to prepare to work in the growing science-related professions, as scientists, health care professionals, technicians, and other science-related fields.

12. Scientific understanding is critical for good citizenship in a 21st century world.
An understanding of science, science concepts, how science arrives at results, and science research is critical if students are to become intelligent citizens in a democratic society. An understanding of today’s complex issues, concerns, challenges and problems require an understanding of scientific principles, concepts, and ideas. Global warming is the most obvious, but others include what to do about atomic waste, how to get clean water, agriculture and food issues, health and illness, hurricane damage prevention, energy issues, automation and robotics.


Every child should have the opportunity to participate in a strong, coherent, inquiry-oriented science program. It should be a priority for 21st century world education. Science education can have a powerful impact on children and learning, and it can make a significant difference in the lives of children.

Teachers, boards of education, superintendents, principals, the community at large, and governments need to make a commitment to support and develop high-quality science programs at all levels, K–12. There are many ways to do this—for example, to widely share and discuss these twelve reasons on why it is critical to develop strong science programs. Teachers and schools then need to adopt high-quality science curricula at all levels. This will require the development of teachers’ science knowledge and skills, to train teachers on how to incorporate high-quality science experiences into their classrooms, to involve local science organizations in promoting and fostering high-quality programs, to apply for funds to implement and support high-quality science programs at all levels, and, ultimately, to develop competent science educators in every school and at all levels.

Avanti Is a Future of Education Technology Top Ed Tech Product Finalist

Categories: 21st Century Skills, Instruction, Technology

Whether you’re a current subscriber to Avanti or are curious as to what this innovative new tech tool is all about, we have exciting news to share. The esteemed organization Future of Education Technology (FETC) has named Avanti as a Top Ed Tech Product of the Year finalist.

FETC hosts the popular education technology conference known worldwide for its influence and innovation. According to the FETC website, for over 40 years, the National Future of Education Technology® Conference has gathered the most dynamic and innovative education leaders and professionals from around the world for an intensive, highly collaborative exploration of new technologies, best practices, and pressing issues. FETC is known to educators and technologists as the best place to engage with the thought leaders and pioneers who are leading the charge in classrooms, schools, and entire districts.

Avanti, the personalized professional learning platform created by teachers for teachers, has earned high marks for its ability to help educators take control of their professional learning. The word is out. Avanti stands ready to provide you with the content you need, created by teachers you can trust, to bring your vision of success to life—for you and your students.

Here are the top five reasons why Avanti has claimed such an honor:

Avanti maximizes educators’ time and ability to impact student success.
With hundreds of videos sortable by grade level and popular relevant topics—including engagement, building relationships, direct instruction, learning goals, and assessments—it’s quick and easy to find a strategy that is applicable to your students’ needs.

Avanti is a tool made for teachers with limited time and a hunger to learn.
Not only is it fast and easy to search for content that’s relevant to you, but the videos are also short, teacher-friendly, and accessible—and they get right to the strategy. The more you use Avanti, the more your teacher toolkit will grow. Plus, Avanti professional development applies toward state licensing requirements where applicable. Check your state education department for eligibility.

Avanti offers a place to reflect and collaborate with other teachers.
You can journal your reflections in the app and keep them private to track your professional development hours—or you can share them with the community, ask questions, and give advice on different strategies.

Avanti allows you to participate in live streams and collaborate with others on a variety of relevant topics.

Ask questions, get answers, and collaborate with practicing teachers for one hour once a month.

Avanti is a small investment to make a big impact on student achievement.
For $98 a year, you get access to hundreds of proven teaching strategies (with new ones added monthly); a place to take notes, collaborate, and learn from other teachers; downloadable implementation, planning, and reflection tools; and live streams with experienced teachers.

At Avanti, our Vision is to empower teachers to choose professional learning that will make the most positive impact on student success and their own personal calling to teach. Discover for yourself the power of this unprecedented online tool for teachers. Claim your free 7-day trial today.

Nine Ways to Create Powerful Teaching and Learning

Categories: 21st Century Skills, Authors, Instruction, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), Student Engagement

 Elliott Seif is the author of Teaching for Lifelong Learning: How to Prepare Students for a Changing World.

In my various roles in education, I have had direct teaching experience, conducted professional development with hundreds of preservice and practicing educators, and observed and had important discussions with teachers over many years. All these experiences have helped me learn a lot about powerful teaching and learning and what seems to work well for many teachers in many circumstances and situations.

My ideas and suggestions below, based on my many years of experience, will hopefully be helpful to educators and suggest ways to think about powerful teaching and learning. I have classified these suggestions into nine categories, and you may find the categories themselves helpful as a way of thinking about how to improve teaching and learning. Read more

Image with text How to Strengthen Understanding by Design

How to Strengthen Understanding by Design: Five Suggestions

Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Authors, Instruction

I’ve been fortunate to be part of the Understanding by Design (UbD) family for a long time, originally as part of a team organized by the UbD authors Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins to help develop the program. Once the program was developed, I also became a member of the ASCD UbD faculty that conducted training across the country and even in several countries around the world.

I am proud of what has been and is being accomplished through UbD, one of the best curriculum design programs that exists today. But my experiences as a developer and trainer also exposed me to what I consider to be some problems and challenges facing UbD designers. In this blogpost, I suggest five ways that I think teachers and schools that are already familiar with and using UbD can strengthen the design model and make it more powerful, relevant and different from traditional curriculum design. Read more