The 4 Cs of the 21st Century


When I was in high school, I had limited experience with 21st century learning. I did, however, get to use the computer to master my typing skills on All the Right Type and to create powerpoint presentations with large paragraphs about various topics.

I also remember cracking open what seemed like a century-old textbook to gain knowledge about the unit I was learning in the class. My experience with online learning, collaboration, and gaining knowledge through creativity and critical thinking was limited. However, when I did experience those things in class, that was when my passion and engagement for the topic sky rocketed.

I specifically remember my Biology 20 class. My teacher wanted us to learn about plants and organisms in a critically responsive way. He didn’t want us to learn information through our text book or absorb the content while he spoke at us. On the first day of class, he asked us what our ideas were for learning the content, and our eyes got a little brighter. We couldn’t believe he was asking us how we wanted to learn. Our class ended up deciding, through collaboration and questioning, that we wanted to do a research and inquiry project on finding out how much paper our school had used that year, and in turn, plant enough trees to make up for it. We had to break into smaller groups to research and plan. We were discussing the effects of carbon dioxide on the environment, calculating how much it would cost to buy and re-plant trees, designing posters and t-shirts to promote our idea, and making connections with local land owners. We were learning how to be critical, creative, and collaborative. By the end of the project, we went out and planted trees at a local farm, and we were SO proud of our work. We were also inspired to do more for our environment. The best part about the whole thing? We took charge of our own learning, and it went beyond the classroom.

Bethany Oxford (

There is no question about it – our world is changing, which means our learning and the way we teach have to as well. How can I, a teacher in the 21st century, effectively facilitate an environment that promotes engagement, critical thinking, and creativity, like the experience I had in my Biology 20 class? Well, first of all, I need to understand the goal. According to NCTE, the goal of teaching isn’t about relaying knowledge to students anymore, it’s about developing “active, successful participants in this 21st century global society”, who possess the 21st Century Literacies. These literacies include:

  • Proficiency and fluency in technology tools
  • Asking questions and solving problems collaboratively with others
  • Designing and sharing information with others around the world
  • Critically evaluating information
  • Creating and critiquing various forms of media

and finally,

  • responsibly and safely handling all of these types and forms of literacies.

The new definition of 21st century skills surround the idea of the 4 Cs. The 4 Cs, brought up by Thoughtful Learning, are:

  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Communicating
  • Collaborating

These points all fit into the Digital Literacies and 21st Century Literacies model. As teachers, these types of literacies need to be at the forefront of our teaching. Otherwise, like it says in Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0, the current ways of teaching will not “suffice to prepare students for the lives that they will lead in the twenty-first century.” This should encourage us to educate our students to be active, engaged citizens who desire life-long learning, instead of feeding them information in hopes that they gain some knowledge. They also remind us that “mastering a field of knowledge involves not only ‘learning about’ the subject matter but also ‘learning to be’ a full participant in the field”.

Learning About vs. Learning to Be.

When I think about “Learning to Be” a full participant in a topic or subject area, I think again of the 4 Cs . Here are some ways that the 4 Cs can be implemented in your classroom in a productive, engaging, and beneficial way.

1. Critical Thinking
Technology is integrated into everything we do. We have access to answering almost any question at our finger tips. With this relatively new territory, we need to teach students how to navigate it. Instead of taking these tools away or instilling fear in them, we need to teach them the skills of evaluating information and media and critiquing it. Guided Inquiry in the classroom is a great space for students to learn the skills of critically responding to information while they are engaged in online learning.

Genius Hour, a form of inquiry, is a way for students to take charge of their own learning while using technology tools to plan, research, and present, and all the while, teaching them about digital citizenship. Ed Tech Magazine says that “by using technology to explore their interests, students are less likely to be intimidated by it.” Aaron Warner, a middle years teacher in Regina, states that during Genius Hour, students are “mining for inspiration, practicing accessing and using resources, and recognizing the importance of having a plan”. In a recent article, he says that Genius Hour encourages “resiliency, problem solving, thinking outside the box”. Using these practices in the classroom not only develops critical thinking, but also ignites passion in students and allows them to develop the skills of the 21st century.

2.Creative Thinking
Creativity comes in many shapes and sizes, but unfortunately the classroom has a habit of stifling it. As facilitators of learning, we need to give students the opportunity to create in many different forms. Creativity doesn’t just look like painting or drawing… it’s giving students the chance to design, build, and make mistakes! A great tool for developing creative thinking, along with many other skills, is Maker Space. Danielle Maley, a primary teacher in Regina, uses Maker Space to develop creativity, along with problem solving and social development. In an article about Maker Space, she says “children, when they’re given time to just create or work on their own passions, have astounded me in what they can create”. Through the process of Maker Space, students are able to pose questions, solve problems, and reflect on their learning. Using the tool of Maker Space gives students a chance to think outside the box while they create and use 21st century skills.

3. Communicating
There are so many different technology tools to use in the classroom for developing communication skills in students: social media, blogging, podcasts, and e-portfolios (just to name a few). When integrating technology into the classroom, and using those tools for teachable moments, students are able to learn how to be effective digital citizens at a young age.

My personal favourite tool to use in the classroom is Seesaw. Students are able to not only document their work for their families to see, but also demonstrate their learning, voice their thinking, communicate effectively through oral and written tasks, as well as “develop deeper level thinking”.

Another effective tool to build communication is through blogging. The idea of students taking their writing and learning online can seem daunting for teachers, but by preparing students through lessons on digital citizenship and safety, it gives them a safe space to learn about online tools while they are guided in the classroom. It allows students to grow up knowing how to keep a positive online presence and use their voice for good. When students are given the responsibility of using online tools for their learning, they take ownership over it.

4. Collaborating
This is my favourite one out of the 4 Cs. I believe that students need time to collaborate and work with others. They are able to develop problem solving skills, feed off of others’ creativity, feel supported and encouraged, and build relationships with those around them. We need to give students the space to work with others and prepare an environment that not only allows it, but encourages it.

Not only do students benefit from collaborating with others, but adults do too. In my experience with ECI831 so far, each one of the 4 Cs is present in the course, but the part that I love the most? Meeting with my classmates and teacher every Tuesday to collaborate and learn from each other. Similar to the Terra Incognita project of the University of Southern Queensland, when we break off into small groups and have time to share our opinions and thoughts, we are building our online community. As humans, we thrive when we are in community with others. Think of the best moments in your life. They usually involve other people.

Collaboration = Community.

As an educator, I see it as my duty to teach the 21st Century Literacies just like I would with reading and writing. These skills aren’t just suggestions for the classroom, they are skills that all children need to learn.

What are some ways that you are instilling the 21st Century Literacies in your classroom in a safe and beneficial way? What are some effective tools that you use in your classroom that encourage these skills? As educators, let’s work together to share ideas and come up with plans to demonstrate these literacies in our classroom, and in turn, modelling to students what it looks like to think critically, be creative, communicate effectively, and work collaboratively.

It’s important that students know how to be effective citizens who understand the 4 Cs, and maybe one of these days, I’ll teach them the tricks of All of the Right Type too, just for old time’s sake.


The Piano Project: A Noteworthy Journey

#ECI831, Major Learning Project

There aren’t very many things I regret in life, but quitting the piano before I even got started is one of them. I wish I could go back and tell myself that the practicing, the sore fingers, and the commitment was worth it.

© Josh Wells

As a kid, I didn’t think I needed the practice or the knowledge. I was having more fun playing kickball and watching movies with my friends. Fortunately, I was born with music in my bones, so I could play everything I heard by ear on the piano. However, that only gets you so far.

As I grew older, I became interested in learning the guitar. Thankfully at this time, Youtube was becoming more and more popular, so I decided to teach myself. The strumming and chording took some work, but over all, it came naturally. That only lasted so long though. I felt like I had only scratched the surface and had so much more to learn about the actual music side of things. The more I got involved with music, the more I wished that I had the skills, theory, and knowledge to dive deeper into every aspect of it.

I wanted to pick up sheet music and read the notes. I wanted to transpose keys effortlessly. I wanted to play music like it was my second language.

Fast forward to 2019. 

I decided that it was finally time to learn piano again. I searched on Amazon for a cheap, yet reliable, keyboard and purchased it as soon as I could. 

Fast forward to the present.

I finally get to put my new instrument to the test. For my major project in ECI 831, I get to choose anything that I want to learn and share my process with all of you! It feels like I get a do-over. A second chance. I finally get to learn piano (for real) and put in the time and effort it deserves. Now that I am older and understand the importance of commitment and dedication, I realize the value that this project will bring to my life. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You probably think I need to take piano lessons in order to actually learn piano, which is valid! However, there are so many different ways of learning an instrument online. As part of my project, I want to prove to you that with the right online resources, technology tools, social media access, and with a lot of practice, I can learn the piano.

Here’s the breakdown: 

The Goal: Learn piano. And not just the chords and a few notes. I want to actually have the knowledge and theory behind the sound this time.

But what does that look like for me? Here are some things that I want to be able to do by the end of this journey.

  1. Know and play the scales for each key without error.
  2. Know and play all of the major and minor chords.
  3. Know all of the notes and read basic sheet music.
  4. Play the notes with my right hand while playing chords on my left hand.
    And finally…
    5. Play a song all the way through without error and video record it.

The Process: There are a few ways I see myself accomplishing these goals. Here are some of the avenues I will take to get there:

  1. Online Videos
    I want to use Youtube tutorial videos to help me learn the basic skills, and in the end, use it to learn a song. Channels like HD Piano and Betacustic have videos that walk you through the keys, notes, and rhythms in various songs. Similarly to what Catherine Ready is attempting for her project, I will look up different types of “how-to” videos to help me learn the instrument.

  2. Blogs 
    There are a lot of easy-to-read blogs that explain the theory behind piano. I plan on gaining knowledge, along with skill, as I embark on this project. Sites like JoyTunes, Piano-Keyboard-Guide, and Odd Quartet explain chords, notes, and reading basic sheet music. 

  3. Social Media
    I plan on taking my project to social media and using Twitter to reach out to other musicians. I have started searching different hashtags that have to do with learning piano, and I have already noticed a community out there that wants to share their piano-learning process as well.

  4. Friends
    I have a few friends that play piano and are willing to share their experience and knowledge with me. I plan on meeting with them face-to-face, as well as using Skype and FaceTime to learn from them.

I have just over 8 weeks to accomplish my goal. I know it seems like a lot to learn in such a short time, but with a perseverance and a lot of practice, I know that I can get there. I plan to document my process through Vlogs, blog posts, and Twitter. Even though I want this experience to be authentic and real, I know it will be a struggle for me to put the whole process out there for the internet to see. This will definitely be a growing experience, but I am excited to see where it takes me. 

Before I embark on this new adventure, I have a few questions for you!

  1. What other avenues should I take to learn the theory and skill of piano?
  2. What song should I play on piano for my final video?
  3. What advice do you have for someone who is nervous to share their experience in an honest and raw way through Vlogs, blogs, and social media?

    I am excited to see where this journey of learning piano takes me. I know that this “Piano Project” will be difficult at times, but also rewarding. I think my younger, non-piano playing self would be proud. 

Uncharted Territory: Edtech Endeavours


I always knew that I would go back to university for my Master’s one day, but it feels surreal that it’s actually happening. The decision to go back to school was solidified when I stumbled upon the Master’s Certificate in Educational Technology and Media. I read that title and I instantly felt intrigued. I felt like those words were tailored specifically to me… almost. Educational… sounds great! Technology… even better! Media… not so sure. As a teacher, I have always tried to learn more about technology in the classroom, but learning about Media in our 21st Century world seemed like unknown territory and a BIG task. Even though the full title of this certificate felt slightly daunting, it also felt like a challenge… and isn’t that what learning is supposed to be? A challenge. I feel like I am ready to take on this new adventure of not only digging deeper into technology in education, but also digital media and how it affects our world today. And so begins… #EdTech Endeavours.