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Preparing Students for College and 21st-Century Success


Studies abound with statistics reporting the growing number of students who begin their college careers grossly unprepared for college-level work. The cost to the colleges and the students is significant, as the schools are forced to establish remedial courses and the students are forced to come up with additional tuition to pay for these courses.

We’ve written a blog recently detailing the importance for students to acquire lifelong learning skills—something that’s been a focus of SuperCamp’s summer programs since day 1 in 1982. Related to the value of lifelong learning skills is the need for students to become adept in the four key skills that the Partnership for 21st Century Skills defines as essential for workers as this century progresses.

Once again, SuperCamp was on the leading edge of this trend with the learning and life skills taught in our summer programs. Here’s a look at the “Four C’s”—the skills the Partnership for 21st Century Skills has identified as must-haves for every high school and college student.

 

CRITICAL THINKING

In its Framework for 21st Century Learning, the NEA has identified four key components to Critical Thinking, as follows:

Reason Effectively

  • Use various types of reasoning (inductive, deductive, etc.) as appropriate to the situation

Use Systems Thinking

  • Analyze how parts of a whole interact with each other to produce overall outcomes in complex systems

Make Judgments and Decisions

  • Effectively analyze and evaluate evidence, arguments, claims, and beliefs
  • Analyze and evaluate major alternative points of view
  • Synthesize and make connections between information and arguments
  • Interpret information and draw conclusions based on the best analysis
  • Reflect critically on learning experiences and processes

Solve Problems

  • Solve different kinds of unfamiliar problems in both conventional and innovative ways
  • Identify and ask significant questions that clarify various points

Critical thinking is important in career success as well as in higher education success. In everyday work, employees must employ critical thinking to better serve customers, develop better products, and continuously improve themselves within an ever-changing global economy. In a survey by the American Management Association, over 70 percent of business executives identified critical thinking as a priority for employee development, talent management and succession planning. Just taking one component of critical thinking—successful problem solving—requires today’s employees to work effectively and creatively with computers, with vast amounts of information, with ambiguous situations, and with other people from a variety of backgrounds.

Students can begin to acquire critical thinking skills early on in their academic life and can apply these skills across all subject areas, from Arts and Science to English, Social Studies, Mathematics, World Languages and more. In turn, they also become better able to develop other skills, including a higher level of concentration, deeper analytical abilities and improved thought processing.

At SuperCamp, Critical Thinking is a fundamental part of our
Learning and Life Skills training in both our Junior Forum and Senior Forum programs, as well as in Quantum Academy.

At SuperCamp, Critical Thinking is a fundamental part of our Learning and Life Skills training in both our Junior Forum and Senior Forum programs, as well as in Quantum Academy. Students learn that being successful on tests is more than just having a strong grasp on facts. Strategy is involved, as well. We show students how to use divergent and convergent problem-solving techniques, which helps them on standardized tests. But we don’t stop at academics. We also show students at SuperCamp ways that they can use critical thinking to overcome challenges in their everyday lives.

Another contributing factor to effective critical thinking in school is when students pay close attention in class. We show students how they can better manage their own states (thoughts, feelings and breathing) and physiology (body posture). By better learning and absorbing information, a student is more equipped to thinking effectively. To accomplish this goal, we teach students the SLANT technique: Sit up, Lean forward, Ask questions, Nod your head and Talk to your teacher.

COMMUNICATION

By Communication, P21 mean to communicate clearly. They identify the following required skills that contribute to clear communication:

  • Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written, and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts
  • Listen effectively to decipher meaning, including knowledge, values, attitudes, and intentions
  • Use communication for a range of purposes (e.g. to inform, instruct, motivate, and persuade)
  • Use multiple media and technologies, and know how to assess impact and their effectiveness a priori
  • Communicate effectively in diverse environments (including multilingual and multicultural)

Effective communication skills are more important now than ever before because of the power of modern media and the ubiquity of communication technologies present in all aspects of an individual’s life. Despite the need for strong communication skills, employers in studies have indicated that all graduates, in particular high school graduates, are lacking in both oral and written communication skills.

One 21st-century reason underscoring the need for strong communication skills, as noted by P21, is the increased presence of “global teams” that work together in business. As technology gives rise to global work teams that span time zones, nations, and cultures, it is imperative that tomorrow’s graduates communicate clearly and effectively in a variety of languages.

With 81 percent of jobs now in the expanding service economy, where relationships with customers and fellow employees are of vital importance, the value of communication skills is even more significant. Linguistically and culturally effective listening, empathy, and effective communication skills are essential skills for every person in the service economy.

Not surprisingly, communication competencies such as clearly articulating ideas through speaking and writing are closely related to another one of the 4 Cs—Collaboration skills. The interrelationship of these two skill areas comes into play in order to work effectively with diverse teams, make necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal, and assume shared responsibility for collaborative work. Communication cannot be effective unless the message is received and understood.

…we take in information through visual, auditory and kinesthetic sensory channels. We teach students to make the most of their preferences.

The communication/collaboration link is equally important for students and for adults. Young people in school, as well as individuals in the workforce, are impacted by today’s technologies, which shape words and images as we receive many of our messages today through one or more digital devices. Communication skills are intertwined with information, media, communication, and technology skills.

At SuperCamp, we recognize the importance of communication, both in terms of how it is received and delivered. On the receiving side, we take in information through visual, auditory and kinesthetic sensory channels. We teach students to make the most of their preferences when receiving communication and information. At the same time, we teach them how to add strategies to enhance their non-preferred channels and how to match the right strategy to the right learning situation.

We also provide students with several communication techniques that they test out within their respective 12-15 person SuperCamp team. One such technique is “active listening.” For this communication tool, we instruct students that good listening involves sitting facing the person with an open, available posture, maintaining good eye contact, giving encouragement (nods, u-huhs, etc.), reflecting feeling and content, and showing empathy.

Another technique is OTFD, which is used in resolving relationship problems or giving praise. OTFD stands for the steps in this communication process, which are Observe, Think, Feel and Desire. The ultimate goal behind this tool is to articulate feelings in a positive and direct manner.

A very effective communication skill we teach students at SuperCamp is the Four-Part Apology. This technique allows the person to look beyond the actual incident to consequences of behavior. By defining those consequences and choosing a different behavior, both individuals remain thoughtful and supportive rather than angry or defensive. The four steps in this approach are Acknowledge, Apologize, Make It Right and Recommit.

The Affinity Activity is a communication process we teach students to enhance relationships. We put the students in pairs and have one student pose three requests to the other. Those requests are: Tell me something I don’t know about you, Tell me something you like about me, and Tell me something we may have in common. Regardless of the other person’s answer, the first student replies by saying “Thank you.” The two students then reverse roles and repeat the process. From this base of experience further conversation can occur.

Throughout SuperCamp, students learn about the 8 Keys of Excellence, a character framework for personal success. One of the Keys focuses on communication. It is Speak with Good Purpose, defined as: speaking honestly and kindly, thinking before you speak, and making sure your intention is positive and your words are sincere.

 

COLLABORATION

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills states that the skill of Collaboration is essential for all students to learn because it is inherent in the nature of how work is accomplished in our civic and workforce lives. As they say, 50 years ago, much work was accomplished by individuals working alone, but not today. Much of all significant work is accomplished in teams, and in many cases, global teams.

They define Collaboration, or collaborating with others, as follows:

  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member

Teams are given a number of assignments throughout camp that promote consensus-building to find the best solutions.

When students learn to work collaboratively, their group can generate more knowledge, making collaboration a key ingredient to student success in today’s global society. Just as important, they will need to be able to apply this skill throughout their lives. Collaboration is a perfect example of how true the phrase “strength in numbers” is. While the term may have originated in reference to the battlefield, it’s equally important in business—the fact that a diverse group of people will come up with better, more creative and more intelligent solutions than an individual decision maker.

A collaborative effort creates more holistic results than individual efforts and it also creates knowledge for a greater number of people. It’s no wonder, then, that collaboration is a skill looked upon highly by today’s hiring managers.

Collaboration skills are developed in multiple ways throughout each SuperCamp program. At the heart of teaching and practicing collaboration skills is the team concept. Teams are given a number of assignments throughout camp that promote consensus-building to find the best solutions.

SuperCamp’s Outdoor Adventure Day requires students to work together in order to complete various physical tasks such as rope climbing. On the evening of Outdoor Adventure Day, students come together to reflect on the day’s experiences and how working as a team and supporting one another led to greater success.

Another interesting collaboration skill taught to students at SuperCamp employs non-verbal communication. We teach students this skill in an activity called The Maze, where a student needs to successfully step through a maze of squares only with the help of non-verbal cues from their teammates.

Collaborating by supporting one another is put into practice during a board-breaking activity intended to demonstrate to students that they can overcome obstacles on the way to achieving personal goals. Each student breaks a board on which they write a goal on one side and an obstacle or challenge that they feel is holding them back from achieving the goal. Every student receives a great deal of vocal and moral support from the rest of the team. Occasionally, a student may not have the strength to break the board the first time. When that happens, the team ramps up the support and, when needed, they collaborate with other teams to enlist their support as well. Every so often, a student even receives physical support from teammates in order to break the board, for example, if they have to use their foot rather than their hand while teammates help them keep their balance.

Once again, the 8 Keys of Excellence come into play. Relating to Collaboration, several Keys are involved, starting with Integrity, which is about matching behavior with values, and demonstrating those positive personal values in words and actions with others. Flexibility and Balance are two other Keys that tie in closely with well-developed collaboration skills. Flexibility is being willing to do things differently. Clearly, in a collaborative environment, reaching a consensus is going to require flexibility on everyone’s part. Balance involves being mindful of yourself and others while focusing on what’s meaningful and important in your life. As one participates in collaborative activities, an awareness of being mindful of others, as well as oneself, contributes to success.

 

CREATIVITY

Creativity and innovation are key drivers in the global economy. P21 states that if students leave school without knowing how to continuously create and innovate, they will be underprepared for the challenges of society and the workforce. They go on to say that in today’s world of global competition and task automation, innovative capacity and a creative spirit are fast becoming requirements for personal and professional success.

Mind Mapping…employs a two-dimensional structure and uses colors, symbols and pictures to help students make mental associations that facilitate learning.

In a TED talk from 2011, Sir Kenneth Robinson, a leading speaker and thinker on creativity said that creativity is as important in education as literacy.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has a three-part definition for Creativity:

Think Creatively

  • Use a wide range of idea creation techniques (such as brainstorming)
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze, and evaluate original ideas to improve and maximize creative efforts

Work Creatively with Others

  • Develop, implement, and communicate new ideas to others effectively
  • Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives; incorporate group input and feedback into the work
  • Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas
  • View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation are part of a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes

Implement Innovation

  • Act on creative ideas to make a tangible and useful contribution to the field in which the innovation will occur

 

When you look at this definition, you see how creativity is closely intertwined with some of the other skills previously identified. Innovation today has a social component and requires adaptability, leadership, teamwork, and interpersonal skills. Increasingly, today the capacity to innovate is linked to the ability to connect with others and with a facility for communication and collaboration.

At SuperCamp, students are taught several creative strategies. For example, Mind Mapping is a brain-friendly way to take notes. It employs a two-dimensional structure and uses colors, symbols and pictures to help students make mental associations that facilitate learning.

In our ABCs of Writing, Brainstorming is the “B” and emphasizes getting ideas down on paper both creatively and with a specific focus. Skills include Cluster It, See It, Say It, Draw It and Fastwrite It.

Various creative memory techniques are taught at SuperCamp to help improve retention and information recall. One such technique is the Peg System, which entails memorizing a list of 20 items attached to the numbers 1 to 20. Students then see how easy it is to memorize any list of items by associating them with the original peg list.

Creative Thinking is a skill we teach students. This part of the SuperCamp curriculum is based on the following principles:

  • There is always another way of looking at a challenge
  • Look to the world around you and borrow from its treasures
  • Creative thinkers are curious and take risks
  • The best way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas
  • Keep focused on who you are, what you want and what it will take to get there

Creativity is a big part of the Quantum Writing process at SuperCamp, which empowers students with strategies that give them confidence in their writing ability. In our ABCs of Writing, Brainstorming is the “B” and emphasizes getting ideas down on paper both creatively and with a specific focus. Skills include Cluster It, See It, Say It, Draw It and Fastwrite It.

SUMMARY

Now, almost two decades into the 21st-century, the 4 Cs are proving to be even more critical to a student’s academic success and ability to advance in a meaningful career than they were at the turn of the century. In an age when automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are taking jobs from humans, a solid foundation in the 4 Cs is what will keep a person relevant and irreplaceable in tomorrow’s workforce. It is incumbent upon students to develop their skills in these four areas. If they aren’t able to do so sufficiently in the classroom, they must turn elsewhere to learn these skills. SuperCamp is an ideal 4Cs resource for middle school, high school and college students.

 

5 College Prep Tips for High School Students

Learn writing skills

Learn how to listen/communicate

Critical thinking

Set goals – have a plan

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Since 1982 SuperCamp has increased the academic and personal success of 73,000 students. Participants experience breakthrough learning, the 8 Keys of Excellence principles to live by, self-discovery, deep friendships, and fun! They learn valuable collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity strategies, and how to apply their SuperCamp experiences and skills to school, college, career, and life.
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