“Hey Siri, how many rings does Saturn have?”
“Alexa, tell me what the square root of 1089?”
“ChatGPT: give me HTML code to embed a basic calculator on a webpage.”
There was a day when students had to ask their teachers, librarians, or even consult an encyclopedia for this type of information. But those days are long (like really long) gone, and the teacher is no longer the only keeper of information in the room.
Since the teacher’s role is evolving due to new technologies, and certainly students are not motivated to memorize what Alexa already knows, what should STEM classrooms be focused on? What skills are employers in STEM careers looking for if ChatGPT can produce code for free?
A 2018 survey by the Association of American Colleges & Universities showed, “that just 34 percent of top executives and 25 percent of hiring managers say students have the skills to be promoted. Many of those skills are soft skills — communication, team work, problem-solving — that are critical in a quickly shifting job market. Entry-level skills change every few years; it’s the habits of learning to learn and navigating the ambiguity of a career that will prove most valuable to undergraduates in the long run.”
The National Education Association has boiled these soft skills down to the 4 Cs: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration. Let’s explore why these 4Cs are critical to providing a modern STEM education that gives students real career opportunities.
Imagine a classroom buzzing with questions. Except, not fact-based “how many rings does Saturn have” questions. Questions like: is it possible for New York City to become carbon neutral? What would that plan look like? Or: why does the kind of water (fresh or salt) affect how long it takes an ice cube to melt? That’s the power of critical thinking at work. It’s all about encouraging young minds to ask, “Why?” and “How?” Critical thinkers don’t just accept things at face value; they dig deeper. When students learn to analyze information, separate facts from opinions, and spot patterns, they become problem-solving heroes.
Picture a group of students exploring a science experiment. Instead of just following a set of instructions, they’re asking themselves, “What will happen if we change this variable?” That’s critical thinking igniting their imagination — it’s like a spark that lights up their learning journey.
Creativity isn’t just for artists — it’s a skill that every STEM student needs. It’s about looking at a problem from a different angle and dreaming up new solutions. Think of it as the magic wand that turns ordinary ideas into extraordinary ones.
Take a moment to think about a famous inventor, like Thomas Edison. He didn’t just stumble upon the light bulb; it took him 1000 attempts to find a design that worked. Creativity is what made him keep going, even when things got tough. Encouraging our students to think outside the box, to come up with wild ideas, and to believe that they can change the world — that’s the heart of creativity in STEM education.
Imagine a world where nobody understood each other. It would be chaotic, right? Communication is like a bridge that connects our thoughts to the world. In STEM, it’s not enough to have brilliant ideas; you also need to share them effectively.
Think about a young engineer who designs an amazing new gadget. If they can’t explain how it works to others, their idea might never see the light of day. Teaching students how to express complex ideas in simple terms empowers them to inspire, collaborate, and bring their innovations to life.
Remember the saying, “Two heads are better than one”? That’s the spirit of collaboration. In a world where problems are more complex than ever, working together is key. Collaboration is like a puzzle; each piece has its role, and when they come together, they create something amazing.
Think about a group of students working on a science project. Some are great at designing, others excel at research, and a few are natural leaders. When they pool their talents, their project becomes a masterpiece. It’s the same spirit that built the tallest skyscrapers and sent humans to the moon.
Imagine a classroom where students use their critical thinking skills to solve a real-world problem. Maybe they’re designing a water-saving system for their school garden. They brainstorm creative ideas, like using rainwater and self-watering plants. Then, they work as a team to build the system and explain their design to their classmates. These students are embracing the 4Cs in action: critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration.
As educators, you’re the guides on this exciting journey. You hold the keys to nurturing the 4Cs in your students. Encourage them to question, to dream, to share, and to work together. Make STEM education a playground for curiosity, a canvas for creativity, a stage for communication, and a hub for collaboration.
When students embrace these skills, they’re not just preparing for the future — they’re shaping it.
Prepare the next generation of STEM leaders with digital and hands-on learning aligned to the 4 Cs.
Carolyn Snell started her career in education teaching first grade in San Bernardino, California. A passion for the way technology and stellar curricula can transform classrooms led her to various jobs in edtech, including at the Orange County Department of Education. Her knack for quippy copy landed her a dream job marketing StudySync—an industry leading ELA digital curriculum. Now, as the Senior Content Marketing Manager for Imagine Learning, Carolyn revels in the opportunity to promote innovative products and ideas that are transforming the educational space for teachers and students.