Why I teach skills along with content knowledge

What’s the goal of education?

Ask different people this question- educators, parents, students- and you’ll get a variety of answers, even within the same “group”. Ultimately, in our programs, we aim to teach both content knowledge and skills in the “ESSTEAM” disciplines. To clarify, I’m writing this with a K-12 education program in mind, not post-high school or continuing education programs.

There’s value in content knowledge, because you need a basic understanding within a subject in order to continue to learn. However, as Karl Fisch so succinctly put it in this article, What Should Students Know and be Able to Do?, we live in a rapidly changing, information abundant world. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said back in 2010 that “we create as much information in two days now as we did from the dawn of man through 2003”. For some people, that may indicate we should increase the amount of content we are teaching (which we have; 100 years ago students were taught a much more basic curriculum than is taught today). For others, like myself, rather than try to cram the never ending “more” content into K-12 education, strive to teach the basics and understand that further content knowledge can be gained outside of a K-12 program.

This idea that content knowledge is gained beyond just a K-12 education requires that skills also be taught in education. That’s why there’s value in building time for self directed learning, providing opportunities to play for younger kids, and allowing older students to pursue “passion projects”. Not all of our programs at ESSTEAM Lab are content based for that very reason. We’re not here to dole out information to students and have them regurgitate it to show that they learned the content. We want students who participate in our programs to learn through creating, collaborating, and critically thinking. We work to teach students how to think, not what to think.

In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. ~Eric Hoffer

Reflections on the Human Condition

The times are changing

Think back to 12 years ago. When today’s graduating seniors were just entering the K-12 world of education, smartphone users and Facebook users still numbered in the 100 million; today they both exceed 1.4 billion users. Uber and Lyft didn’t exist, it only took an average of 16 weeks to find a new job (compared to 27 weeks today), and there are jobs that exist today that didn’t in 2007 to name a few changes. It simply doesn’t make sense to teach only content knowledge when the world is changing at such a rapid pace. Learning the basics of everything from math to history to the arts is necessary for students to be an informed member of society, but we also need to equip them with the skills they need to work and live in a world that doesn’t even exist yet.

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