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DI Alum Addresses Lack of 21st Century Skills in Classrooms

By: Tina Shaffer

Destination Imagination (DI) has been a big part of my life since I was in fifth grade.  During my high school years in DI, I participated in the projectOUTREACH Service Learning Challenge. The work that I did with my team on building respect and celebrating diversity in our school allowed me to practice my leadership, teamwork, and communication skills. Using my experiences from DI, I applied for and was accepted into the Leadership Program at the University of Denver.

As part of my sophomore leadership class, we were charged with creating a “Community Change” initiative.  This year-long project is required to address an issue the work group is passionate about. For our project, we chose to address the lack of 21st century skills development (leadership, teamwork, communication, etc.) in classrooms. Destination Imagination rose to the top of the list of potential project partners because of the organization’s mission as well as the positive experiences that two of our team members had with DI.   

Our research for the project revealed some motivating background:

•  A longitudinal study of kindergarten children found that 98% of them scored on the genius level of divergent thinking. Five years later, that percent had declined to 50%, and after another five years, after the children had gone through 10 years of the traditional education system, the percentage was less than 12%. (Robinson 2006).

•  Standardized testing trains youth to search for a correct answer, when the skills truly necessary for economic innovation are creativity and critical thinking skills. (Ken Robinson, 2010)

•  “In 1970 the top three skills required by the Fortune 500 were the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. In 1999 the top three skills in demand were teamwork, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills.” (Linda Darling-Hammond, Director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future)

•  Department of Labor lists six important life skills that cannot necessarily be taught in school but are vital to success in the workplace. These skills include communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking, and professionalism (US Department of Labor).

To address the lack of 21st century skills in classrooms, my group has come up with a project that we hope will have impact and sustainability. Our plan right now is to work with students and parents to get them interested in 21st century skills education. We are partnering with a local middle school and are planning to hold weekly after-school sessions that will teach students how to work in teams, communicate effectively and think creatively. This will extend into teaching both students and their parents about programs, like Destination Imagination, that will help them practice these skills. Then we plan to create a website that will allow older students, in either high school or college, to create a program similar to ours in the form of a service project.

I am very excited to work on this year-long project because it is just like working on another DI project. I loved doing the Service Learning Challenge in high school and the possibility of getting other students involved in DI—especially the Service Learning Challenge—is truly an exciting prospect.