Seven Ways Service Learning Helps Students to Master 21st Century Skills while Helping Communities to Meet 21st Century Challenges
You have heard it before…service learning is a powerful strategy for helping students to meet 21st Century Skills while transforming communities. Well, it’s true. But how does service learning do that? Over the next few weeks through this blog we are going to explore that a bit. I hope that you will use the comment space to share your own thoughts and examples.
The title above says “Seven Ways Service Learning Helps Students etc…” So that’s it…there are seven. Well, there maybe more, maybe less. In KIDS as Planners: A Guide to Strengthening Students, Schools, and Communities through Service-Learning we identify seven. So let’s start with the idea that there are seven and go on from there.
Here are the 21st Century Skills that students demonstrate through service learning. By the way, these are not listed in order of importance–they are just listed.
1) Solve complex, multidisciplinary problems;
2) Think critically, analyze information and make well-informed choices;
3) Be creative and entrepreneurial;
4) Communicate effectively in person and in writing;
5) Collaborate and foster teamwork;
6) Participate in civic life and democratic decision-making; and
7) Cultivate an ongoing commitment to learning.
Let’s start with how service learning gives students the opportunity to solve complex, multidisciplinary problems.
By its nature, service learning is multidisciplinary. By learning about a problem or community need, researching and planning solutions, implementing and evaluating the impacts of the solution, knowledge and skills from many disciplines are needed.
Let’s look at an example.
In the STEM project Collecting E-waste, part of the Youth as Citizen Scientists initiative, middle school students found that something that at first doesn’t seem like much of a problem—like outdated electronics—is a tremendous and growing problem. As they looked around their homes they noticed a lot of outdated electronics, and that leads to clutter (not a small problem at my house!). But then they looked around some more and learned that e-waste threatens the environment and that leads to impacts for us all in the areas of public health and costs to municipal budgets. Certainly a serious problem, but a complex one, too, because they also saw that consumerism and the global economy are forces at play, as consumers look for the newest, fastest and most capable electronics and the disposal of the old devices is an afterthought.
To fully grasp the issues around e-waste, students learned and used skills from several content areas, including science, math, ELA, technology and social studies. They read nonfiction accounts of e-waste in several countries, did Internet research where they found some informative videos and hosted a guest speaker from a waste management nonprofit to learn about some of the issues associated with e-waste. Synthesizing all that information gave them the background to create a survey. In math class they analyzed the data from the survey and discovered how much e-waste was in their homes, and then extrapolated to understand the amount in homes citywide.
They researched solutions and picked those that would have the most impact: 1) an e-waste collection booth at a carnival; 2) a neighborhood e-waste pick-up; and 3) public service announcements to inform others about why and how to dispose of e-waste responsibly. Once again they were dealing with complex problems as each of the three solutions posed many challenges that the students solved.
Over 2600 e-waste items were collected and categorized by the students–a benefit to the community and a by-product of students taking on complex, multidisciplinary problems.